Whenever we get a new package of bees, before we begin working with them, we spray them with a 1:1 ratio of water and dissolved sugar. This calms the bees and allows you to maneuver them into the hive while keeping them docile.
It’s not a good idea to use a smoker with a new package because you want to encourage the bees to accept their new home. If they sense that there is a danger of “fire” (the smoke coming from the smoker) they may flee the new hive and all will be lost.
I was thinking about how we use the sugar spray only when placing a new colony, and then after the bees are established, we switch to the smoker. I began to question why we don’t use a sugar spray for hive inspections other times of the year.
A sugar spray might be great for people who are sensitive to smoke like asthma sufferers, those who have allergies or those who live in dry climates and are worried about any type of fires (though this a pretty small risk with a smoker).
After a bit of research, I found that people do in fact use sugar spray as a bee calming solution, but there are some risks involved.
How each method works:
When you spray bees with sugar water they begin cleaning themselves frantically. This activity keeps the bees busy while you work with them and the hive. They’re too distracted removing the syrup from their bodies to sting or defend the hive.
A smoker, on the other hand, sends a message that the hive might be on fire. The bees begin gorging on honey in the case that they have to leave the hive. They lap up stores of honey for the journey. The bees fall into a sort of food coma, where they become so full that they’re too lazy to sting.
Pros and cons
-The sugar water is easy to mix up.
-You don’t have to worry about finding fuel to burn.
-You also don’t have to worry about keeping the smoker lit while working with the bees.
-You can’t burn the bees with sugar water, and it’s not a fire hazard
-No smoke for people who are sensitive.
The biggest con with the sugar water is that you have to open the hive to begin spraying. With a smoker, you can begin at the entrance and crack the lid and give a few puffs to get the bees distracted.
You also run the risk of missing bees with the sprayer. If a bee doesn’t get sprayed there’s no reason for it to not become defensive.
If you have a docile hive and you work slowly and precisely the sugar water may be beneficial.
It might be helpful to use both methods when you’re out in your beehive. You could initially begin with the smoker and then as you work with the colony occasionally spritz them with the sugar water. This would keep the bees distracted on both accounts and you don’t have to worry about keeping your smoker lit throughout the session.
In the end, it seems like an established hive the smoker is the best way to keep sting free, but if you’re looking for an alternative method, sugar water might be worth a try.