Do you know how to use a bee smoker?

What is a bee smoker

When it comes to beekeeping, most people imagine an older bearded guy dressed in a bright beekeepers suit and a smoker in his hand. Although a beard is not a crucial part of beekeeping equipment, as beekeepers are mostly shaved, the smoker is one of the most recognizable beekeeping tools associated with beekeeping. The smoker is, in fact, a very simple device with which we smoke bees to calm them down. The classic bee smoker has a bellows with which the beekeeper blows air into the combustion chamber on the smoker, which, together with the smoke exits, at the narrow top of the smoker.

Bee smoker is an essential part of beekeeper equipment. As the name describes, it produces smoke.

bee-smoker
Bee smoker

When to use a smoker and why

And why is the smoker so crucial to the beekeeper? To resolve this issue, we have to go back to the past when our ancestors robbed honey from the bee colonies in nature. They found that looting was easier and less painful if they used a torch with high smoke. When bees see smoke, they know that they can’t fight fire with stings and venom. So they calm down or fly away.  In the event of a fire in the wild, bees instinctively leave their old home and find a new one where they continue their lives. Before moving to a new residence, a “mobilization” occurs in the bee family, where the bees collect for some time their precious treasure – the honey that made them work so hard. The honeybees pick up enough honey from honeycombs to get enough food for the first few days.

The presence of smoke in the hive for a short time interrupts the effective communication between the bees and temporarily causes them confusion. Such a breakdown of the organization of work in the bee family provides the beekeeper with the opportunity to open a hive, perform an inspection of the bee family, and planned work before restoring order in the hive. When we smoke bee colonies at the hive entrance, bees which are still too young to fly, retreat to the farthest parts of the hive before smoking. Older bees go straight to the closest supplies of honey and start eating. So that they are prepared if they heave to leave their colony. Bees communicate with each other with pheromones. Smoke can also interfere with communication. How intensive we use the smoker depends on the type of hive. Especially in the LR hive, it is essential to heavily smoke the bees when inspecting them. On other closed hive systems, we don’t need much smoke. We need to use the smoker with sense because too much smoke harms bees, which respond to it with high arousal and loss of orientation.

To work peacefully with bees, we also need a source of smoke that calms down the bees. There are several gadgets for this purpose. Smokers with bellows in various designs dominate, namely manual bellows and bellows driven by a unique mechanism. Formerly, beekeepers used boiled and dried wood mushrooms for good. This emitted a delightful odor during the smoldering. Increasingly, beekeepers are using the simple, canonical, i.e. a metal tube with support into which they jute. This emits smoke without fire, but when done, we simply pull the glowing part into the pipe; this avoids any fire hazard that has many times been the cause of an accident. These types of incense are straightforward and inexpensive.

For loading hives, we need to have good smokers, because when lifting the attachments, we have to smoke the top of the honeycomb well. Unless the bees would hinder us from further work. The leaf hives do not need intense smoke if the bees are not too angry, so we do not cause stress in families.

Some beekeepers still use cigarette smoke. But every smoker must be careful about his health.

The presence of smoke in the hive for a short time interrupts the effective communication between the bees and temporarily causes them confusion. Such a breakdown of the organization of work in the bee family provides the beekeeper with the opportunity to open a hive, perform an inspection of the bee family, and planned work before restoring order in the colony. When we smoke for the first time into a bee family, the beehives, which are still too young to fly, retreat to the farthest parts of the hive before they smoke. Older bees go straight to the closest supplies of honey and start eating it quickly as soon as they have to leave their residence. Smoke also affects beekeepers as they interfere with the odor communication. How intensive we use the smoker depends on the type of hive. Especially in the loading hive, it is essential to heavily smoke the bees when dismantling them. We smoke less with leaf hives. We need to use the smoker with sense because too much use of too much smoke harms bees, which respond to it with high arousal and loss of orientation.

Bee smoker in action

In the case of smoke products, care should be taken to use natural products whose smoke does not adversely affect bees, honey, and the beekeeper. Today, there is a large selection of ready-to-use smoke products on the market for reasonable prices. These are mainly briquettes and strips of pressed cotton or sawdust. To the extent that they do not contain harmful chemical substances, we always make them available. They will be available to us at times when, for specific reasons, we will not have our smoke resources at hand. The oldest incense still commonly used today is a boiled and dried wood sponge, e.g., beech found on dead tree trunks. Smokers often use cigarettes as a source of smoke, which is not recommended. Otherwise, we can use other agents that give enough smoke (hardwood, hay, sackcloth, skimming, etc.). All-natural materials are more or less useful, and chemicals, especially oil and petroleum products, should be avoided.

There are different models of smokers on the market, which differ in size and size. Although historically, smokers have been made from various materials such as copper and galvanized sheet metal, today they are mostly made of stainless steel, which has proven to be the most acceptable. They last longer and are easier to maintain. Among the models are also those that have protection on the outside. This is a small but important detail that prevents the burner from getting burned. So if you are buying a smoker, I advise you to buy a larger one with an outside temperature shield. Beekeeping stores also have a variety of sprays (sprays), usually based on timol, to calm bees. The effect of these sprays, however, is occasionally opposed to desirable – it even upsets the bees rather than calming them down.

The smart beekeeper protects the spots and does not even open the hives when the bees are severe. If necessary, he should defend himself with proper clothing, gloves, and appropriate cover with a spider and use a smoker. The beekeeping novice should also be involved in these means until he or she fully understands the bee rumor. An experienced beekeeper observes and listens to his pet. When opened, he immediately hears the mood of the bees and adjusts the work. The intended intervention may also be omitted if the bees inform him that they are not in the company.

When to use a bee smoker

Beekeepers with a lot of experience usually don’t use so much smoke. They are calm when approaching the hives, and bees sense this. We can only go inspecting beehives when there is optimal weather; this is how we can reduce bee hostility towards us.

Beekeepers can use smoke always when working with bees. Usually, there is enough small puff to the entrance of the hive or on the frames when we open the hive. Just enough smoke to disrupt communication between bees.

What is the best fuel for bee smoker

There are many different fuels for bee smokers. Beekeepers use wood, green grass, leaves, tree fungus, sawdust, hemp stem, and so on. For me, tree fungus works the best. If they are dry, they quickly light a fire, and they produce dense smoke. One full fuel of tree fungus usually produces smoke for up to 4 hours.

tree-fungus
Tree fungus. Before usage must be dry.

How to light bee smoker

The easiest way to light a bee smoker is to use firelighters cubes. But use only organic firelighters, not the one with kerosine. I use firelighters or matches to light chopped wood in a bee smoker then I wait a couple of minutes. When the flame is high, I add chopped tree fungus. Also, other fuels work well.  But from my experience, tree fungus works the best. Then I leave the bee smoker open for a couple of minutes. When tree fungus starts to burn is a bee smoker ready to use. Then I closed the lead and began with a beehive inspection.

Step by step how to light a bee smoker with tree fungus.
Step by step how to light a bee smoker with tree fungus.

How to clean bee smoker

If you regularly use bee smoker, by the end of the beekeeping season, it is lead full of soot remains. Before the beginning of the beekeeping season, it is time to fix and clean beekeeping equipment. Bee smoker is no exception. You can clean remains of soot with a wire brush. Or with a flamethrower, burn it away. But be careful with the second choice. 

Fire safety guidance in the usage of bee smoker

We must beware of the hot temperature of the bee smoker.  Inside a bee, the smoker is a temperature around 260 to 450 degrees Celsius (500 to 842 Fahrenheit degrees). Metal parts can also reach high temperatures, especially when we add air to the bee smoker. We must be careful not to touch metal parts, especially the bottom of the bee smoker. We can get severe burns. When we use bee smoker, we always have to watch where we put it. Because we can start a fire in nature, leaves, paper, or plastic will light a fire very quickly. After the end of the usage of the smoker, it is best to empty the bee smoker and pour water on ashes.