Bee Smoker – A Beekeeper’s Friend
One of the most iconic tools in beekeeper – the bee smoker sometimes gets a bad reputation. Instead of intending to do harm to the honey bees, this is one piece of beekeeping equipment that is intended to save bee lives.
A bee smoker is a valuable tool used by most beekeepers. It is an iconic representation of beekeeping. Almost every beekeeper has a smoker.
Contrary to the information from “The Bee Movie”, beekeepers do not smoke bees to cause harm. In fact, the true purpose for using it is to make things easier for the colony.
Every good beekeeper understands the importance of colony inspections. Proper use of a bee smoker will calm the honey bees and help save bee lives.
When bees attack to defend their hive, some bees will die. Honey bees sting to protect their colony. Stinging usually results in bee death.
Anything that will calm the urge to defend the hive will save bees. Thousands of years ago, beekeepers learned that smoke would result in fewer attacking bees.
Today, some beekeepers strive to avoid the use of smoke. They feel it is unnecessary and consider it “mean” or harmful to the colony.
This is an opinion issue and you will need to form your own. If you choose to not smoke your bees, that is fine-if it works for you.
However, I fire up my bee smoker for each trip to the bee yard. I have found that it is much better to take a valuable beekeeping tool, like a smoker, with you than to need it and not have it.
I consider a veil, hive tool and smoker to be the big 3 important tools for any beginning beekeeper.
The beekeepers smoker is actually a good thing for the colony when used properly. Every new beekeeper should learn how to properly light their smoker.
Bee Smoker’s Primary Function
The science involved may sound complicated but the purpose is straightforward. When guard bees at the front of the hive sense a threat, they release alarm pheromones.
This is a call for help that will encourage other bees to come join the fight to protect the hive.
The beekeeper may smell a distinct odor like bananas when the hive is aroused.
When I need to inspect a hive, the bees do not know my intentions. (Wouldn’t it be nice if I could talk to them –
” Um, excuse me girls – I just need to make sure you are healthy and have everything you need. It will only take me a few minutes. Pardon the intrusion).
Alas, the bees see me as a predator and will “sound the alarm” to create a stinging force. This is where the use of a beekeepers smoker becomes important.
Why The Bee Smoker Works
The fact that smoke calms bees has been known for thousands of years. The beekeepers smoker of ancient times was a simple pot with fire.
Today, we understand that this smoke most likely disrupts the pheromone communication of the honey bees.
A honey bee smoker masks the alarm scent preventing “the call to battle”.
Some researchers think that the bees fear a forest fire is imminent. When honey bees smell smoke, they go straight to their stores of honey.
The bees fill their stomachs with honey in case they have to evacuate.
Fortunately for the bees, the harmless smoke will quickly dissipate and colony activity will return to normal.
A respectful beekeeper uses smoke in a careful manner. Cool white smoke used sparingly calms the bees.
The fuel used inside a honey bee smoker can vary. We are using the term fuel to refer to a combustible substance, not a liquid !
Commercial smoker fuel products are available from beekeeping supply stores.
Most beekeepers use whatever material they find available in the area. I have talked with many beekeepers using a variety of materials.
Cotton, burlap cloth, wood pellets, pithy wood, dried sumac flower heads, corncobs and other items have been used in bee smokers.
My Favorite Bee Smoker Fuel
Of course, this may depend on where you live. But for me, it is dry pine needles. They are free but have to be collected.
This requires thinking ahead as I have to collect them when the ground is dry. A long period of rainy weather can leave one in a pine needle shortage.
It is a good idea to collect a large quantity of pine needles and store them for the rainy season.
A beautiful Carolina afternoon finds me driving through the forest on my Honda ATV.
Yes, I have many other chores that need attention but this one won’t wait.
I arrive at my destination and dismount from my 4-wheeler. The forest is quiet and still except for a few birds in the trees.
The solitude is wonderful but I am on a mission. I need dry pine needles and lots of them for my honey bee smoker.
I keep an old plastic pail with a lid (recycled cat litter bucket) on the front of my ATV.
As I fill the pail with pine needles, I enjoy the warm pine scented air. My smoker fuel is free and renewable.
Smoking the Hive
Use your smoker to place a few puffs of cool, white smoke at the hive entrance. Wait a minute for the smoke to spread through the hive.
Loosen the top and puff a little smoke inside – wait a minute. Then proceed to open the hive.
If you see a lot of bees lined up along between the frames giving you the stink eye (looking at you with interest), a few soft puffs should move them along.
A bee smoker is a useful tool that can help any beekeeper in managing honey bees. We want cool white smoker from non-toxic burning fuel.
Hot black smoke makes bees mad – you have been warned…..