Tired of buying compressed smoker fuel, I looked for alternative fuels that would work better and were available around me. I have already used pine needles but after some research found oodles of natural materials ripe for the picking in my backyard.
The variety of materials that you can use is only limited by your environment. Take a walk on your property and I am sure you can find at least four or five different organics. Also, check your house. String, cotton and muslin, brown paper bags, and newspaper are all appropriate.
- Pine Cones
- Cotton Fabric
- Wood Chips
- Baling Twine
- Brown Paper
- Wood Shavings
- Wood Chips
- Dried Lavender
- Dried Flowers & Herbs
- Palm Spathes & Mesh
- Citrus Peels
- Cotton Bolls
- Cotton String
- Egg Cartons
- Pet Bedding (shredded cardboard)
Scientists have found that smoke from burning certain organics contains natural chemicals that control honey bee mites. An alternative to using chemicals to control varroa mites, the domestic honey bee’s worst threat, is always welcome as I organically maintain my hives. The most promising are dried grapefruit leaves and creosote bush, a woody perennial. Creosote bush smoke and grapefruit leaf smoke drove 90 to 100 percent of the mites off bees after a one-minute cage test according to scientists. The link for this study is “Smoking Out Bee Mites“.
Since I don’t live in the West (creosote bush) or the South(grapefruit leaves), I use what I have here in the mid-Atlantic region of Maryland. Tons of pine needles, pine cones, and wood chips litter the ground and I have ample supplies of them. I also dried a lot of flowers from summer, mostly lavender and have plenty to spare. So figure out what’s abundant in your yard or in your house and put it together into packets. Herbs that I would normally throw onto my grill fire, like dried sage, mint, lavender, rosemary, and scented geranium are all used to make up packets. Tying these herbs up into bundles for stuffing into your smoker is a winter job and I am stocking up. Eucalyptus leaves are highly flammable and have a strong cough drop scent—they are great for getting your smoker lit. Even though Eucalyptus is not native for me, I used it as a dried flower in arrangements so have it on hand.
You don’t want to produce noxious smoke so stick to plants that are commonly eaten, used in skin care, made into home-care products, or distilled into essential oils. Be careful to avoid plastics, and inorganic substances.
I usually use two packets per beehive inspection, and I keep a bag of loose, dry pine needles and torn pieces of egg cartons with me as supplemental fuel. Placing the packets directly onto a bed of pine needles in the smoker chamber, I light the mixture with a propane torch until it is burning briskly. It usually takes a few squeezes of the bellows to get the flames to catch. Don’t skimp on the oxygen! Once you have a good flame,then continue to feed the fire with progressively larger fuel to get a good hot fire going- just like a good campfire! For lighting a smoker, see my post on Smoker Know How.