How to Use a Bee Smoker
Probably one of the hardest tools to use properly in beekeeping is the humble smoker. A skilled operator makes it look very simple but there are many difficulties that beginners struggle with. A wise beekeeper once said that he knew when a new beekeeper was ready to go out on his own – when he could light the smoker and keep it burning.
Smoke controls bees. It interferes with the “alarm” scent put out by the other bees and adds a layer of confusion into the hive. This seems to calm them down and make them workable. Even quite aggressive bees will be much calmer when the correct amount of smoke is used. Many an “aggressive and unworkable” hive has been calmed with the proper use of smoker.
Types of Smoke
White smoke is the coolest smoke and the one you want to use. If the smoke is blue it indicates the smoke is too hot and will actually have the opposite effect on the bees (ie make them aggressive) as they will “panic” and think that a bushfire is near. If your smoker is producing blue smoke, in most cases you can cool it down by adding more fuel. This reduces the oxygen content and causes the base to smolder at a cooler temperature.
There are many different fuels that are available to use in a smoker. You will find some work better for you than others, and you will probably change with the time of season and availability. Pine needles, leaves, dry grass clippings all work really well. Avoid things that produce strong scents and this can have other effects on the bees. Also as mentioned earlier – make sure it is something that burns “cool” not hot! Remember – the not only is burning “hot” bad for the bees but it will burn out quickly and you will have to relit the smoker in 5 minutes!
Getting it going!
Lighting a Smoker
There is almost as much art in lighting the smoker as there is in keeping it going for an extended period of time. Always light your smoker in a cleared area (dead patch of grass, tailgate of a ute, on a fireproof board etc). Remember you are dealing with a fire and when a fire gets out of hand.......
Add a small, lit tube of newspaper, wax cardboard, or such that is ignites easily and then slowly add a handful of your chosen fuel. Avoid sticks and bark as these will burn hot and singe the bees wings. Add more and more fuel as the smoke ensues and after a minute or two – close the lid to stifle the flames. Pump the bellows often to maintain the smoke and keep an amount of fuel handy to use as required. Once it is going properly you can usually only pump the bellows a couple of times every 5 minutes or so to keep the base smouldering.
How to use the Smoker
Two or three firm puffs of smoke into the hive entrance and the same under the lid is usually enough at the start. Allow the smoke to “settle” inside the hive for a few moments before full opening up the hive.
if you are doing a bee swarm removal - just use two or three puffs around the bulk of the swarm. Don't blast away with the smoker or you will break up the swarm!
Smoking bees and the hive should be a gentle, calming process for both the bees and the beekeeper. The object is not to drive the bees out of the hive nor burn them with massive amounts of heat and smoke. If you do you will make the bees angry, probably do harm to the brood and taint the taste of your honey. Use as little smoke as you can to gently calm the bees. If you have the hive open for an extended period you may need to apply a couple more puffs of smoke later – but you will learn when and how much as you gain more experience. When you have used the smoker, if possible place it slightly upwind from the hive so the smoke gently drifts over the hive. This will also help in keeping the hive calm.
When you have Finished
When the hive is reassembled and the smoke has left the hive, bee activity will return to normal. There is no lasting effect from the smoke.
If you no longer require the smoker – ensure the fire inside is out. Whether this be by plugging the end of your smoker to stop the oxygen getting in or by emptying the contents onto the ground and ensuring all embers are out is up to you. PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT IT IS OUT THOUGH! There have been many expensive and dangerous fires caused by smokers that have been put out!
Smoker Safety Tips
Treat you smoker with respect. It can cause burns, injury, fires and destruction of property.
Never puff smoke in anyone's face. Sparks and dust in the eyes is not pleasant never mind the risk of setting someone's veil on fire.
Handle the smoker by the bellows only. The rest of the smoker can be very hot and can burn you instantly.
Do not allow loose embers or sparks to blow or fall into leaves or grass.
These may be helpful resources!
About the Author
I have been involved with bees since almost birth - raised in a family of beekeepers. For all bee removals in Gippsland in Victoria Australia go to my homepage www.bluegumgold.com.au