As a new beekeeper, one of the most important tools in your arsenal is a bee smoker. This tool helps keep you and your bees safe while you are managing your hive by helping to calm them when necessary.
Learn seven essential tips that every beginner should know about using a bee smoker for the best results.
Learn the Basics of Bee Handling.
It is not a secret that bees can sting. So before you even think of using a bee smoker, it is important to first familiarize yourself with the basics of bee handling. Knowing how to properly handle bees and how to stay calm in their presence is essential for safe beekeeping. Learn about bee anatomy and the importance of appropriate clothing and tools when working with a hive before you light up your smoker.
Why do you use a bee smoker?
Every worker bee in the hive is able to assist with protecting the colony. They have a stinger that is typically a single-use weapon. If the bee stings, it dies.
The smoke from the bee smoker reduces the risk that the guard bees release certain pheromones that alert the colony to an intruder. Smelling smoke also signals fire to the bees. This causes bees to prepare for evacuation. To do so, they eat as much honey as they can in case they need to abandon the hive. The result is that the bees get too drowsy to attack and can be easily managed by the beekeeper.
When do you need to use a Bee Smoker?
Using a bee smoker is necessary for a range of activities, including:
Types of Bee Smokers
There are two types of bee smokers on the market, a conventional bellow smoker and electric smokers. An electric bee smoker is a standard smoker which uses a battery-powered fan instead of bellows. Although it offers some additional convenience, many beekeepers find traditional bellows work just as well. With regard to cost, bellow smokers are relatively inexpensive but electric smokers usually cost a bit more.
One alternative for bee smokers is liquid smoke. Liquid Bee Smoke is made from a concentrated liquid similar to smokey BBQ sauce that is used for cooking. The liquid is added to water, and then sprayed as a replacement for the traditional smoker. I have not come across any research on this and found that only very few experienced beekeepers with calm bees have tried it in the right conditions. They reported mixed results but all concluded that there is a good chance that the situation gets out of control.
Another suggestion I have come across is to spray bees with a sugar-water solution. Some even added essential oils to the sugar-water solution. Most beekeepers who tried this advise against it as it does not calm the bees and triggers robbing.
A good bee smoker should have a heat shield and be compact and portable. It should also be easy to identify while inspecting a hive.
Additionally, make sure your bee smoker is in good working condition. Check for any obstruction or damage before using. Also, keep children and pets away from the bee smoker at all times, as an overactive or malfunctioning bee smoker can cause harm. Finally, always clean out the soot inside the bee smoker after every use once it has cooled down.
Here is a bullet list of the tips for safely using a bee smoker:
- Light the smoker out of the wind, sheltering it so fire doesn’t escape. Some beekeepers light material in their hands, then push it into the smoker pot. That’s risky as the fire may escape. It is recommended to drop a burning match low into the smoker where it will light the material above it.
- Avoid using gasoline as an ignition method, and keep a fire extinguisher and jug of water nearby when using a bee smoker.
- Never dump ashes from a hot smoker in the bee yard since embers may be lingering without being seen during the day. Instead, plug the smoke spout to stop its draft and set the smoker on its side before taking away with you while still hot.
- Watch out for sparks if you are working in dry climate area or use the smoker at night, though sparks usually happen due to overheat; add fuel to filter them and use paper or burlap atop wood shavings to prevent them from falling.
- You can control the effort of smoke by standing up or laying down your bee smoker; if it has been on its side for too long and already went off, pump its bellows pointing towards sky until revitalize it.
- When setting aside your bee smoker between uses, do not drop it (the lid might open) nor set on grass in order to avoid fires spreading around.
- Smoke sensibly! You only need a small amount because over-smoking can harm yourself and your bees.
Types of Fuel to use in the Bee Smoker
When building the fire in your bee smoker, be sure to insert the appropriate fuel. There is a wide range of fuels for bee smokers on the market, from special smoke pellets to hessian (burlap) and wormwood. However, you can also make your own fuel with pine needles, unprocessed cotton fiber, untreated wood
The most common ones are unprocessed cotton fiber, wood shavings or wood chips, dried pine needles, burlap or wood pellets, small twigs, and straw. Most experienced beekeepers have a favorite material, or mix of materials, that they feel produces the best smoke. To start the fire, most people use paper or ripped-up egg cartons.
What not to use in a bee smoker
Avoid putting any plastic, grass, leaves or any other combustible materials like gasoline inside your smoker. Even wood that has been painted or treated with chemicals must not be inserted as it can affect the smoke and make it toxic for your bees! Also avoid synthetic materials or bleached paper as the chemicals can irritate and harm the bees. Some people ask if you can use dryer lint in a bee smoker. Although it works well, the lint contains chemicals and should not be used.
Start a Smoke-Producing Fire
Now that you’re familiar with the basics, it is time to start the fire for your bee smoker.
How to use bee smoker pellets
Start by lighting a corner of the paper or egg carton and drop onto the pellets. Once the pellets ignite, blow out the flame and close the lid. Start pumping the bellows to get the smoke going.
Using Other Materials
Gather small, untreated twigs, dry pine needles and kindling from the ground or a nearby tree. When you use wood from the ground, check for insects and that it has not been sprayed recently.
Place them in the smoker’s chamber and light them with a match or a lighter using newspaper, egg cartons. Once you have achieved a good blaze in the smoker’s bellows, add larger pieces of wood chunks on top of the embers. Close up the chimney and you are ready to go!
Light the Smoker and Test Its Strength
Before using a bee smoker, be sure to light it and test its strength. It needs to produce enough smoke to reach the entire colony. The amount of smoke should also not be too powerful. This can cause stress and unnecessary panic, which could result in an angry reaction from the bees. Test the smoker before applying it on colonies to ensure effectiveness and safety for both yourself and your swarm.
A few Tips:
- Always handle the smoker with care, as they get very hot.
- Puff a little smoke near the entrance before opening the cover.
- Use only a few puffs of smoke unless the bees start to act aggressive. Too much smoke can contaminate honey.
- If you get stung try and keep cool and use smoke to keep the other bees at bay.
- Test the smoke’s temperature before using it on the hive.
- Do not point the smoke directly at the bees. Keep the smoker at a distance when pumping because it can burn the bees’ wings.
- Pack sufficient fuel into the smoker but don´t overdo it. This avoids having to refuel halfway through an inspection.
- Inspect hives calmly and gently even after smoking them.
- Check that the fuel does not obstruct the air flow from the bellows when filling it up.
- Be careful not to place the bottom of the canister on plastic or any surface that may catch fire easily due to its heat. Use a stand or a piece of cloth made from fire-proof material.
- Keep a spray bottle of sugar water handy for quick peeks. It also works great for “hot” bees that won’t leave you alone. They can ignore the smoke but the sugar distracts them and the wetness slows them down if you spray them in mid-flight.
There are plenty of bee smokers available, so it is important to find the one that fits your needs. If you’re just starting out with beekeeping, make sure you choose a smoker which is easy to use.