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.