Bee smokers are an essential tool for beekeepers to help calm honeybees and make them less aggressive. Bees have a natural instinct to protect their hive and will send signals to other bees that the hive is under attack. Smoke acts as a natural pacifier for bees and causes them to not feel threatened when someone approaches the hive. The benefit of using smoke is that it is completely harmless to bees.
The use of smoke in beekeeping stretches back for 1,000s of years. A book published in the 12th century discussed using smoke to drive bees from hives to harvest honey. Although humans have known for centuries that smoke pacifies bees, it was in the late 1800s when the first bee smoker was invented. Beekeeper Moses Quinby developed hand-operated bellows attached to a smoke chamber. This could be used to create a cloud of smoke that subdues bees while inspecting hives.
In this article, you will learn as a beekeeper what a smoker does and how to use one safely to avoid harming bees and yourself.
Reason to use a Beehive Smoker
The main purpose of a bee smoker is to reduce alarm and panic among bees if they feel under threat. When bees feel threatened, they release powerful alarm chemicals called pheromones that alert other bees of the threat and impending danger. A bee smoker is used by a beekeeper as they approach the hive to prevent bees going into a frenzy if they sense any danger.
3 Main Ways How a Bee Smoker Works
1/ Smoke doesn’t Harm but Calm Bees
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Insect Science found the reason why smoke makes bees less aggressive. When smoke was released around agitated bees, they released less venom that contains alarm pheromones. The result was the smoke suppressed the honeybees’ defensiveness and thus helps colonies of bees in and near a hive to stay calmer.
So, by using Smoke it is a harmless way to pacify and calm down bees when inspecting the hive. Rather than hurting bees, smoking techniques act as a natural calming mechanism to allow beekeepers inspect hives and harvest honey.
2/ Distracting Bees
Another reason why bee smokers work is that they distract bees. An article by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council reported that the smoke causes some bees to think there is a fire. They start gorging on honey in case they have to abandon the hive. This distraction allows beekeepers to carry out their work unhindered.
3/ Some Bees Choose to Leave the Area
Smoke can also make some younger bees who can’t fly move away from the smoke to the furthest part of the hive. Which will allow the beekeeper to easily remove the honey comb without there still being a lot of bees on it.
Using a Bee Smoker
A bee smoker is a specially-designed metal canister that contains a smoke chamber and bellows. The smoker works by fuel smoldering in the smoke chamber. The beekeeper then pumps the bellows to release plumes of smoke as they approach the beehive.
Before you start using your bee hive smoker, you should prepare the fuel you want to burn. For this, you can use any combustible material that smolders well. Some examples of the best Bee smoker fuel to use, are sawdust, pine needles, pine cones, or other untreated wood.
According to the 2018 study mentioned earlier, the best kind of fuel for a bee smoker is hops. The reason for this is that hops contain a substance called lupulin which is known for its sedative properties.
Steps to Start Using your Smoker in Beekeeping.
1/ Lighting Your Smoker
Start by lighting a small fire at the bottom of the smoke chamber using some kindling that ignites easily. Gently add some more kindling until a small fire is established. If you are having some trouble getting the fire going, pump some more air in with the bellows.
To get the smoke going, add more of the fuel such as larger twigs, pine needles, pelleted fuel, etc. Then gently pack down the fuel in your bee smoker so that it starts smoldering. To get the right amount of smoke, don’t pack it down too tightly or don’t pack the fuel too loose.
2/ Using the Bee Smoker
Once your smoker is smoking, you can now approach the hive. The goal is not to create such a dense cloud of smoke that you can’t see where you are going. The goal is to calm the bees, not hide your approach to the hive.
Usually, a few puffs of smoke as you approach the entrance to the hive is sufficient. If you use the smoker properly, you should notice that instantly the bees’ behavior changes and calms down. However, you may need to wait for a few minutes until the smoke has its desired effect.
When you open the beehive, you could give another couple of puffs of smoke just to calm down the crankiest bees.
To avoid harming the bees with the smoker, keep it away from the hive, but within arm’s reach just in case you need a puff or two of extra smoke. This makes sure that bees don’t land on the hot smoker and injure themselves.
It is important to remember that bee smokers can get very hot. So, always handle with care and avoid any risk of causing a fire. Also, don’t smoke too close to the bees as the hot smoke could hurt them.