The smoker is the bee keeper’s friend. It is the saving grace which might otherwise cause a difficult relationship with your bees. It creates an atmosphere of harmony with you and your hive and it’s important for beginner bee keepers to understand why we use a smoker, and how to properly use it. Also, as a beginner, you may want to enter for a chance to win an entire bee-ginner’s kit! A prize package worth $1,600!
We’ve kept bees now for 3 years and Zach has only been stung once. And it was when he didn’t use the smoker.
The modern smoker we use today, the metal canister with the side bellows, can be attributed to Moses Quinby of St. Johnsville, NY in 1875. wisegeek.org
Why Smoke Bees?
It’s safer! Bee stings can be dangerous, even to someone who has been stung before. It’s important to keeps stings at a minimum to avoid adverse allergic reactions.
It also offers peace of mind for a bee keeper and keeps the relationship with your hive one of interest and amazement, rather than fear. It encourages more routine inspections and keeps bee keeping an enjoyable experience.
It’s also safer for the bees. A bee keeper who is calm has less reactionary movement. The beekeeper can move more slowly and deliberately. You can take time to really learn about your hive, study its activity and care for it in an educated way.
You also loose less bees while carrying out inspections. The bees are more cooperative when smoked. They move more slowly and can be carefully brushed out of the way to avoid getting squished especially when reassembling the hive.
You also loose less bees to stings.
Why Does Smoking Work?
When a bee detects smoke near the hive it senses the danger that a fire might be near by. This sets off a reactionary instinct, that preparation to move the hive is necessary. In a sense, they start “packing” to leave home. The bees begin consuming honey and nectar so they will have ample stores while they look to find a new place for their hive.
They also focus their attention on caring for the queen in this state of alarm. It’s the bee’s focus that creates a safe place for humans to work. They are concentrating on saving the hive and collecting honey, rather than what us humans are up to. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get stung, but it can greatly decrease the instances.
The bees start to become lethargic because they are full of honey. It’s a kind of food coma, similar to the way we feel after eating a big meal. This slower activity makes the bees more manageable.
The smoke also breaks up the pheromone signals that the bees send to each other when the hive is being tampered with. Normally, if the hive was opened without smoke, the worker bees would sense the disruption and send signals to the other bees to attack! The smoke masks those pheromones and confuses the bees.
This is why it’s always important to use the smoker should you get stung. When a bee stings, it sends those same attack signals to let the other bees know that there’s an intruder. They follow suit and attack as well. The smoker stops that communication and prevents multiple stings and multiple bee losses. (A bee dies after it stings).
How to operate a smoker
Open the top of the smoker and make a small fire in the cylinder.
Fuel: Pine works as a great smoker fuel. This high sap content makes for a wet smoky fire. Pinecones, pine needles and wood chips make for great fuel. Cotton, dryer lint, or bits of paper can help get things started.
Once the fire is going, close the lid. When the lid is closed it restricts the air flow and causes the fire to smolder and smoke heavily. When the bellows are squeezed, air is forced out the nozzle hole which feeds the fire. When the bellows open, it sucks air back into the bellows.
Be careful where you set your smoker while tending your bees. The outside can get very hot, in fact I still have a scar where I burned my arm on the outside of our smoker.
Make sure the fire is completely out, and the metal has cooled before storing your smoker.
How to safely smoke bees
Keep in mind, the smoker is not a fog machine. The point of the smoker is not to fog the bees or use the smoker like a can of bug spray.
When opening the hive give a couple of puffs at the entrance. This should begin to get the hive into “prepare” mode. You might see reinforcement bees returning to the hive with great vigor. With these first few puffs the bees will start sending signals that there is a fire danger. You don’t want to mask these signals, so give the bees a few minutes to get focused.
It should now be fairly safe to open the lid. Do so slowly and once cracked give a puff under the lid, holding the smoker about 8-10 inches away. You just want the smoke to drift under. Continue opening the lid and if things are ok you can continue with your work.
If the bees seem agitated, give a light smoke puff over each box top as you work through the hive.
Sometimes returning bees will begin knocking into you as a warning. Give a few puffs around yourself to let the bees know that you are the source of smoke and to steer clear.
Carry out your work and give a puff or two every 5 minutes or so, to let the bees know that the “fire danger” is still present.
Be sure to keep an eye on your fuel source inside the smoker throughout the inspection. You want the smoker ready if you need it, so check that the fire is still going and add fuel as needed. Give the smoker a few puffs now and again to deliver air to the fire.
Have a tip to share about using a smoker? Leave a comment below or visit the Keeping Backyard Bees Facebook Page.
This Giveaway has Ended
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- 8-Frame Ultimate Hive Stand with Frame Perch
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- 5-5/8 No Hook Crimp Wire Foundation
- 8-Frame Metal Excluder
- 8-Frame Inner Cover
- 8-Frame Garden Copper Top
- 8-Frame Entrance Reducer
- Folding Hatless Veil
- Plastic Coated Gloves
- Brushy Mountain Smoker
- 1-pound Premier Smoker Fuel
- 10-inch Hive Tool
- Frame Grip
- Bee Brush
- 8-Frame Escape Screen
- Cold Knife
- Cappings Scratcher
- Multi-Use Straining System
- Multi-Use Straining System Top
- Multi-Use Straining System Upper Unit
- Multi-Use Straining System Lower Unit
- Multi-Use Straining System Screen
- Plastic Gate
- Cross Bar for Multi-Use Straining System
- Multi-Use Nylon Filter
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- 5-Gallon Filtering System
- 5-Gallon Bottling Unit
- 600-Micron Coarse Filter
- 400-Micron Medium Filter
- 200-Micron Fine Filter
- Plastic Gate
- 5-Gallon pail Lid
- Backyard Beekeeper Book
- Bee Culture Subscription
- English Garden Hive DVD
- Online Beginner’s Class CD
- Master Beekeeper Suit
- Clear Vue Hat Veil Combo
- Cowhide Ventilated Glove