How to smoke bees: A Dozen good tips
At Beewise we are frequently asked “How do you start a smoker and what does the smoke do?”
Learning to use a smoker with ease will simplify beekeeping from day one. Learning to use a smoker effectively is one of the basic skills a new beekeeper needs to learn. The following frequently asked questions will help get you started.
1. What does a smoker do?
A smoker is a delivery tool. It is a simple device that burns fuel, makes smoke, and allows you to put the smoke where you want it.
The modern smoker has not changed much since its invention in 1873. It has three main parts: a fire chamber, a bellows to pump oxygen onto the fire, and a nozzle to direct the smoke.
2. Will smoking harm my bees?
It depends. Smoking should be done judiciously with smoke from a smouldering fire with no open flames. The smoke must not be too hot, or it will singe the bees, especially their delicate wings. To protect your bees, you should use only cool smoke.
3. Cool smoke? I thought smoke was hot.
Cool smoke, sometimes called quality smoke, is smoke from a smouldering fire. This smoke is usually white or light grey and thick. The best smoke for bees should be cool enough that you can direct it onto your bare wrist without discomfort. It will feel warm, but not burning hot.
4. How does smoke calm my bees?
We think that smoke masks pheromones secreted by bees. For example, if a guard bee detects an intruder, she may emit alarm pheromones that send a danger signal to the other bees, making them defensive. The smoke may effectively block the scent, keeping all the bees calm and easy to handle.
Another theory is that the smell of smoke simulates a fire. The fear of fire causes the bees to eat large amounts of honey in case they need to flee the hive and build a new home elsewhere. When bees are very full of honey and preparing to leave home, they are less likely to sting.
5. Can I use too much smoke?
Yes, colonies that are smoked too much may be driven right out of the hive. Also, after a certain period, bees may overcome their fear and become agitated by the situation.
You should take your well-lit smoker, lift the hive cover, and puff a few times before lowering the cover back into place. Then wait. You need to give the bees time to react, communicate with one another, and eat some honey. It does not happen instantly so wait for a couple of minutes as there’s no benefit in rushing.
6. What fuels can I use in my smoker?
An endless array of fuels can be used safely in your smoker. Purpose made Beewise smoker pellets are best but dry pine needles, melaleuca needles and eucalypt leaves will work, some are better than others.
7. What fuels should I avoid?
Be wary of anything that may contain hidden toxic chemicals as your bees are going to breathe whatever you are burning. Avoid fuels that contain bleach, dyes, glues (including plywood, chipboard, and some corrugated cardboard), pesticides, plastic, and dryer lint.
Although both burlap and baling twine have been popular with beekeepers for decades, modern versions are usually treated with fungicides.
Dryer lint is usually loaded with plastics from polyester clothing, or even nylon and rayon; burning plastics emit some nasty by-products.
8. How can I light my smoker and keep it lit?
Lighting your smoker correctly is vital to keeping it operational. Basically, you want to build a hot, fast fire and then smother it with slower-burning materials. By smothering the fire and reducing the oxygen, you make the smoke cool enough for bees.
Below are five key steps to building a good fire in your smoker:
- Begin by putting quick-burning fuel like crumpled newspaper or pine needles in the bottom of your smoker. The pile should be light and fluffy with lots of air between the pieces.
- Ignite the fuel with a match or torch. Once it starts to burn, compact it with your hive tool and add more quick-burning materials on top. Repeatedly squeeze the bellows to force more air through the pile.
- After it burns down, add more quick-burning fuel and more oxygen. Repeat this procedure several times, always waiting for the fresh fuel to begin burning before you push it down with the hive tool.
- Once the fire is burning well and flames are licking the inside of the fire chamber, you can add your desired cool-burning fuel and some more oxygen.
- Once the cool-burning fuel starts to smoulder, you can close the lid. Remember to check the fuel supply from time to time, and always add a few puffs of air along with the fresh fuel.
People who have trouble keeping the smoker lit often skip the first steps. The initial fire is everything. If you simply fill your smoker to capacity and light the top, it will go out in no time.
9. How can I extinguish my smoker?
To extinguish your smoker, keep additional air from going in. Many beekeepers stuff the spout with a wad of green grass or a cork. Do not put a still-burning smoker in your vehicle.
If you decide to dump the smouldering embers, be careful to bury them or put them where they will not start a larger fire. A Stainless-Steel smoker bucket is ideal for dumping hot ash.
10. Are there times I should not smoke bees?
People who specialize in comb-honey often do not use smoke in their hives when honey supers are in place. That is because the customer eats the comb as well as the honey, and smoked combs often retain an annoying smoky flavour. Also, as bees often rip open capped cells when they are smoked, the appearance of comb honey can be severely degraded.
11. FIRE PREVENTION
Keep a Stainless-Steel Bucket filled with water ready to extinguish any small fire outbreak. When the day is over, empty the smouldering smoker ash into the water
12. NEVER USE SMOKER DURING FIRE BAN PERIODS
Starting a bush or scrub fire can devastating and the associated penalties eyewatering.