One of the first things a new beekeeper will learn is how to use a bee smoker. A bee smoker is essential in allowing the beekeeper to do hive inspections without getting stung.
What is a Bee Smoker?
A bee smoker is a device beekeepers use that puffs smoke into a beehive. It is constructed as a stainless steel cylinder, called a fire chamber, with a lid and nozzle on top. A bellows is attached to the back of the cylinder that forces air through it. Bee smokers usually have metal cage built around them so the beekeeper can hold the smoker without burning their hands.
There are different kinds of fuel that can be used in a bee smoker. Cardboard, newspaper, pine needles, burlap, and twigs work well, as well as commercial pellets.
Beekeepers use smokers in order to safely work with and around the bees during hive inspections. This is how beekeepers avoid getting stung.
How Does Smoke Affect Bees?
The reason why smoke is effective in calming bees has to do with their pheromones. When bees sense danger, even if it is a friendly beekeeper, they release an alarm pheromone. This alerts other bees to attack. But when a bee smoker is used, their pheromones are masked by the smoke, keeping the bees calm.
Another way smoke affects bees is that it hinders their ability to sting. Some people think that the smoke makes bees sleepy, but the truth is that they think their hive is on fire. Preparing to search for a new home, the bees will quickly eat all the honey they can for energy. Their abdomens become so engorged that stinging becomes difficult for them.
Properly used, a bee smoker does not harm bees. The beekeeper should always check the smoke to see that it is not too hot before using it.
How to Light a Bee Smoker
Learning how to light a bee smoker can be a little intimidating at first, but after a few tries, you will get the hang of it. You will need a bee smoker, fuel, and a lighter. I recommend using a long utility lighter – the kind used for grilling.
Open the lid and add some starter fuel to the smoker. This should be quick burning material such as crumpled newspaper or pine needles. Use your long lighter to light the fuel.
Allow the fuel to burn on it’s own. You may fan the fire to help build up the flame. Once the flame is established, layer on more fuel. Push it down with a hive tool and pump the bellows a few times to keep the fire going.
You may repeat the process of adding fuel and pumping the bellows a few more times until you have a nice smolder. Add the fuel gradually so the fire does not flare up. The goal is to have a slow burning pile that produces a lot of smoke.
Remember, you are working with an open flame, so use caution. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency. Also, the body of the smoker gets hot, so be careful not to burn yourself.
Once you are satisfied with your smoker, you may close the lid and prepare to smoke your hives.
How to Use a Bee Smoker
Now that your smoker is lit, you can learn how to use a bee smoker. You don’t want to use a lot of smoke, just enough to calm the bees.
First, give two puffs at the entrance and top of the hive. This lets the bees know you are there. Then, lift the outer and inner covers and puff some smoke into the hive. Place the smoker down on a safe area or hang it by it’s hook. Now, you should be able to safely inspect your hive.
If you notice a lot of bees are going near you, puff some smoke around you to ward them off. If you get stung, remove the stinger and puff smoke on the area to mask the alarm pheromone on you.
How to Put Out a Bee Smoker
When you are done with your hive inspection you must put out your bee smoker. Leaving the smoker hot and burning is a potential danger, so you should put it out every time.
Find a flat, non-flammable surface and lay the smoker on it’s side. Without vertical air in the chamber, the fire should go out. Then, empty the ashes into a non-flammable trash can. Let the smoker cool down and store it somewhere dry.
Cleaning a Bee Smoker
You may need to clean your bee smoker from time to time. Soot from the various fuels used will eventually accumulate inside of the chamber. A hive tool or wire brush can be used to scrape down soot. For a deep clean, soak the smoker in white vinegar, being careful to avoid wetting the bellows.
Where to Buy Bee Smokers
Unless you live near a beekeeping supply store, you will have to buy your bee smoker online. Luckily, there are a lot of good, affordable options.
You really can’t go wrong with the VIVO Stainless Steel Beehive Smoker. It’s affordable, well made, and it does it’s job. I like that it also includes a heat shield – the frame surrounding the chamber to protect from burns, as well as a mounting hook.
Beekeepers use a bee smoker to protect themselves from getting stung. The smoke masks the bee’s pheromones so that are not able to communicate. Fuel, such as newspaper, cardboard, or pine needles is used to light the smoker. Then the smoke is applied to the entrance and inside the hive during inspections.