Why do beekeepers use smoke?
The use of smoke when it comes to keeping bees has been a trick used by beekeepers for centuries. That is because it is an essential beekeeping tool that protects both the bees and the beekeepers.
Bees have a defensive tool that alerts everyone in the hive that danger is coming. This tool is a pheromone called isopentyl acetate. This pheromone is located in a gland near its stinger.
When danger comes a bee or several bees release this pheromone and alert the rest of the hive to the upcoming danger. What smoke does is fill the air and mask all other smells so the bees cannot communicate with each other.
Plus, it calms the bees down so the beekeeper can do his work and get out of the hive safely.
What is a bee smoker?
A bee smoker is a handy little device that blows smoke into the hive and calms the bees down. Since the smoke covers all other smells, the bees cannot alert everyone to the beekeeper’s presence.
The hive smoker consists of three parts: the bellows, the nozzle, and the fire chamber. What the bellows do is restrict the flow of oxygen enabling you to keep the smoker working for a very long time.
All you have to do is squeeze the bellow to get the amount of smoke you need to calm those bees. History tells us that the modern hive smoker was not invented until 1873 by a man named Moses Quinby.
What does smoke do to bees?
For those who do not understand beekeeping and everything involved, they think that smokers put the bees to sleep. That is far from the case.
All these smokers do is ensure that the bees cannot send out warning alarms. With their smells covered by the smoke, the bees remain calm and do not mind the beekeeper. That is because they do not sense any danger.
When the bees sense the smoke, they start eating their honey and when their stomachs are full, they cannot use their stingers that well. As long as the smoke is not that hot, it is safe to use on bees. You can test the temperature of the smoke by squeezing some onto your arm.
What is the type of fuel used in the bee smoker?
That means using the right type of smoke. The smoke that the beekeepers use is from burlap, pine needles, newspaper, wood pellets, twigs, or cardboard.
Since the role of the smoke is to calm bees you avoid using synthetic materials or paper that has been bleached. The odor from these types of smoke does irritate the bees, not calm them.
How to light a smoker
This is a common question. Once you get it lit how do you keep the smoker hot enough to blow smoke. Many beekeepers say that once they have finished one hive the smoke is too cold to use on another one and they must start another fire in the smoker.
#1. The basics
You will need fuel, oxygen, and heat to get the fire going. You are basically building a little campfire in the smoker. If you have gone camping, you know how to do that.
Start with small twigs and quick lighting fuel, and light them. Once the fuel gets hot enough, you add more wood till you have a nice fire. You do the same but on a smaller scale with a smoker.
#2. Do not light the top
This will just let the fire go out as there is not enough fuel for the flame to burn. Always light the fuel at the bottom so the flame can grow by consuming the fuel on top of it.
#3. Use good smoker fuel
These are materials that catch fire quickly, burn slowly, and produce a lot of smoke. Be careful of the odor. If you smell a chemical odor, then put the fire out and start again with new fuel.
You can buy smoker fuel, which is wood pellets in most cases. Or you can use brown wrapping paper, newspaper, or pine needles to create that perfect smoke. Make sure to keep a supply of this material so you do not have to search for any.
One tip for using a smoker
You have to be careful when you do beekeeping. The honey bee’s sting is strong enough to kill a fellow bee. But it is only powerful enough to bring a lot of pain to a human.
That is why the right smoke is so important. When you light your smoker, pack a lot of fuel inside so that the smoker will not go out until you are safely far enough from the hive.
Steps for lighting a smoker
Following these steps should help you keep the fire in the smoker lit long enough to vacate the hive area before the smoke gets cold and the bees send out an alert.
#1. pack your smoker with quick-starting starter fuel like newspaper, etc. Don’t pack it tight as you want the flame to catch and start burning the fuel.
#2. once the flame is ignited and burning well, use your hive tool to push the fuel down into your smoker.
#3. squeeze the bellows to bring some air to the burning fuel. Once this is done repeat these three steps
#4. repeat the first three steps at least twice. Then once the flame is going well, add larger fuel items to the fire chamber. Don’t forget to add more oxygen.
#5. now that the larger fuel sources are burning, close the lid and let the fire smolder. Add a little oxygen from time to time as well and check the smoker to see if you need to add more fuel.
Using the smoker
Using smoke is not just about the fire but the technique. You have to use the smoke wisely to make sure the bees are not harmed and that they are calm enough to let you do your job.
#1. put a puff of smoke at the entrance to the hive. This just lets the bees know you are going to open up the hive.
#2. work when the weather is good and remember to stay calm, gentle, and work smart.
#3. you do not need to use too much smoke unless you are working with an aggressive colony. Just a few puffs will do the trick
#4. if you get stung, smoke the area. If one bee gets irritated, you know others will as well. Keep the bees calm all the time
If you are looking for a smoker to use on your hives, do a quick search on the internet. You should find some good ones for about $20. There will be different shapes and sizes available so pick the one that suits your build well.
The smoker does get hot
What this means is that you have to be careful once you light the smoker. Even though most smokers have heat shields, you can still get burned if you’re not paying attention.
Also, be careful where you lay the smoker. The heat can burn other wood items and cause a big fire if you are not careful. You do not want to burn your house or barn down when you forget that the smoker is still hot after a long day of bee hive inspections.