The smoker makes the beekeeper’s relationship with honey bees civil. Without the smoker, beekeepers would suffer many more stings during a hive inspection. More stings equate to more bee deaths, so all around the smoker is a good thing.
What is a bee smoker?
A smoker is a tool used by beekeepers to calm bees while they inspect and work in the hive. The smoke produced by the smoker triggers a reaction in the bees and leads them to believe that their hive is on fire. The bee’s natural response is to prepare for a possible relocation. They begin consuming honey so they will have food stores if their escape journey is long. The high consumption of honey leaves the bees in somewhat of a food coma which leaves them lethargic and are much more docile.
For more on how to use your smoker, visit my post Understanding Your Smoker.
Bee smoker fuel
In order to use your smoker, you have to have burning material. It should be something that lights easily, but burns slowly and of course, produces smoke.
You can purchase smoker fuel from beekeeping supply companies. Many times this comes in the form of wood pellets, cotton fiber, or burlap. These products work well, but smoker fuel can be made for free and may even be medicinally beneficial to your hive if you have the time to gather and prepare the right materials.
What not to use
- Synthetic materials
- Plants that may harm or deter insects (For a list of plants harmful to bees click here)
- Lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene etc.
What makes good bee smoker fuel?
- Dried materials with high oil content make great smoker fuel. The oil keeps the smoke billowing, but stops the material from burning too quickly.
- Natural materials like pine needles, dried citrus peels, and dried herbs make great, long-lasting burning fuel.
- You can mix these ingredients with material that lights fast to get things going. Brown paper, dried deciduous leaves, small twigs, cotton, and straw work well.
It’s good to collect and prepare fuel items ahead of time so that you have stores ready for hive inspection. It can be frustrating when you need to open your beehive and have to start rooting around for smoker fuel. If the weather has been wet, it can be especially hard to find natural ingredients to burn.
Some claim that burning certain dried plants in your smoker can lend health benefits to your hive. Much like incense or a smudge stick, lavender smoke would have calming benefits, eucalyptus, and sage would have antibacterial properties etc.
In any case, you want your smoke to be safe and healthy. You should also think about the fact that you are puffing smoke around the honey and wax that you might be consuming, so sweet, fragrant smoke is desirable.
I found this list over at Modern Farmer. It is a great start to collecting, drying and preparing ingredients so they’re ready to go.
|Oily or Resinous||Herby & Sweet||Other|
|Cut flowers (in the rose, mint, and sunflower family)
Flowers from pruning/deadheading
Dill flowers and stems
Fennel flowers and stems
They suggest storing packets of the above ingredients in brown paper bags folded in envelope shapes, which makes fueling your smoker a breeze.
You could also make bundles with natural cotton thread and store in an airtight container with your beekeeping supplies.
Many of you grow a garden to benefit your bees with the intention of pollination in mind. When you plant seeds next year, consider growing a few plants for your smoker too! It’s another way your bees can benefit from the healing power of Mother Nature.
One other natural thing to burn are the berry’s from a Sumac tree. They are the reddish berry cluster, at the end of the limb. They have been shown to knock down mites. In fact, many of the members of our bee group use them regularly, to keep the mite levels down.
You can find them everywhere. Urban alleys are loaded with them. They are those palmish looking trees, with the gray trunks.
What a great post ! Thank you I have all this
I also use red sumac. It makes a nice cool smoke.
You sure got the smoker fuel wrong. The best way to make smoke that will burn for a long time is this. Fold about 7 thicknesses of newspaper make a tube and put in the smoker around the inside face. Put pine cones or similar in the annular space best lighter is a few seconds with a small propane flame you would use to solder Try it
Pine needles and pine cones together produce good smoke.
I’ve heard of burning dried shelf mushrooms. I wonder if all those spores would harm the hive? Anyone else heard anything on mushrooms?
A very useful article and very concise. Thanks for posting!
for smoker fuel also try second cut alfalfa or oat straw if you live in the west also try cedar bark it produces very dense smoke burns well but produces a lot of resin in your smoker.
I use hay or straw or pine bedding or cedar chips, all work well and it takes seconds to light with a lighter and all burn cool. No need for a torch.
Just got to learn how to pack the smoker so it stays lit and for it to make cool smoke,
It takes me seconds to fire up a smoker and it stays lit for an hour giving me cool smoke. Just got to play with it and get used to it. Some can keep a smoker burning longer than I need to.
Once a friend developing some land here in Texas had a tree to remove with a beehive in the center.
We extracted the comb and the honey was fermented. Exciting times.