The bee smoker is vital when working with bees.
Nothing calms the bees down faster than smoking them. How does it work? Simply put, it is a mobile fire can that puts out smoke with a built in bellows.
What does the smoker do?
The smoke causes the bees to begin eating their honey. The bees probably naturally do this instinctively as a response in preparation for abandoning the hive due to fire. Gorging themselves with honey makes their abdomens swell and they are not able to bend and sting easily. They also become lethargic.
Smoke also masks the pheromones that are released by guard bees and bees injured during the hive inspection, which draw the colony to a defensive response.
Firing it up!
Lighting a bee smoker and keeping it going can be tricky. I find that cardboard makes a great starter to get things going. You can put almost anything in for tender to keep it going.
Leaves, grass, small twigs, even mulch work well. [Avoid magnolia leaves! They spit and sputter, burn to hot, and don’t smoke well.] Just be sure whatever you use does not put off toxic smoke…plastics, Styrofoam, etc.These could be lethal to the bees.
Once the tender begins to burn, keep pumping the bellows till adequate coals are ignited to keep the smoker burning, and then stuff the smoker with the material that will produce the desired smoke.
The low oxygen in the smoker causes the burning to smolder with more smoke, and causes the smoke ejected to be cooler and less harmful to the bees.
The style of bee smoker has changed immensely over the hundreds of years that smoke has been used to calm bees.
Smoldering sticks placed just inside the hive, or flat pans which held the burning material from which the smoke was blown into the hive are just a couple of methods that were used before. The current style used almost universally today came into being in the late 1800’s and is credited to Moses Quinby, who was the first commercial beekeeper in America.
When to use it, or not…
The bee smoker should be lit and ready at every inspection in case it is needed.
The only time to conservatively use it or not at all is at honey harvest. The smoke can taint the taste of your honey, so finding other methods of moving bees off the honey frames is needed. See the Honey Harvesting Page for details.
Next to all your new lady friends, your smoker is your best friend when they get riled at you. The smoker is an essential piece of equipment that is as important as your veil and gloves! Keep it lit and close whenever you are working with your bees.