Keeping bees isn't always the easiest hobby or one you can start on a whim, but it can be an extremely rewarding way to help the environment. Whether you have extensive knowledge of honey bees or you're still learning the basics, you probably still have a lot to learn about bees and keeping your colony healthy. Honey bees are intriguing insects, and their behavior is predictable if you know how to care for them. Follow along to learn how to use a beehive smoker safely and effectively, even if you're afraid of fire.
Why Do Beekeepers Smoke Bees?
Beekeepers use smokers to calm their colony before opening or entering the hive for any reason. Interestingly, bees are genetically predisposed to respond to smoke. When something threatens the hive or the colony's safety, the guard bees let off an alarm pheromone to warn the others of the danger. As a result, they react defensively to protect themselves from harm.
However, puffing smoke inside the hive effectively masks the pheromones and keeps them from traveling. Furthermore, the smoke makes many bees believe the hive is burning down, making them gorge themselves on honey. Luckily for the beekeeper, calmer, honey-filled bees are much less irritable.
Although it can be scary to check on the hive, using smoke is a great strategy to keep your bees from attacking you when feeling threatened.
Parts of a Smoker
Now that you know the purpose of a smoker when it comes to beekeeping, it's time to learn the different parts of a smoker and what they do. Follow along to learn more about the importance of each smoker element.
The bellows are the main part of the device that moves air into the smoker and then into the hive. Because this is the most commonly moved part, it should be made of high-quality materials to prevent wear and tear.
The nozzle is the top section of the device, which comes apart so you can fill it. In addition, the nozzle shape guides smoke into a small hive opening for the most effective and efficient smoking.
The heat shield is a cage-like structure around the base of the device. Although it doesn't play a role in the actual smoking process, it works as a protective barrier for the beekeeper. This feature makes it possible for the beekeeper to pick up the smoker without burning themselves, regardless of whether or not they're wearing gloves.
The hinged top is where the smoker opens. Basically, the nozzle separates from the fire chamber to allow the beekeeper to fill it. The top has a hinge to keep it from falling off during the process.
If your smoker has a heat shield, it most likely also has a hook. This hook isn't special, but it's a convenient feature if you want to hang the smoker on the side of the hive during your inspection or in another location for storing it.
The aeration grate helps to prevent ash from falling to the bottom of the device and blocking the smoke flow.
The fire chamber is easily the most important part of the smoker, as it's where the smoke grows. Although they come in various sizes, you should consider getting a larger one, as it holds the most fuel. There's nothing worse than your fire burning out in the middle of your inspection because it ran out of fuel.
Smokers also come in several different metal types, from various forms of steel to copper. However, stainless steel is the best material for your smoker, as it lasts much longer than other metals.
Different Fuel Types
Fuel may sound harsh, but you should never use chemical fire starters or other toxic substances in your smoker. Bees are incredibly sensitive to chemicals, and using the wrong fuel can harm or even kill your colony.
With that said, there are various natural fuel sources, and you should consider using three sources at once: a fire starter, a kindling, and a main fuel source. Consider the following best practices:
- Newspaper or cardboard is a great fire starter because it just has to start quickly and doesn't require longevity.
- Sawdust or pine needles are excellent options for your kindling, as they help the fire burn longer.
- Wood chips are the best option as a main fuel source because they tend to burn for extended periods.
Preparing and Lighting a Smoker
Now that you know a beehive smoker's important features and fuels, you should also learn how to prepare and light it for the best possible outcome. Read on for step-by-step instructions:
- Gather your fuel and tools before moving toward the hive.
- Light your fire starter and drop it into the fire chamber. Use the bellows to help strengthen the flame, and then add your kindling fuel while continuing to use the bellows. Keep adding your kindling fuel bit by bit until the fire can burn by itself without the help of the bellows. Avoid compacting the fuel, as it may make the fire burn out.
- Once the fire produces smoke, you can pack it down for more space. Add your main fuel source and use the bellows to circulate air throughout the device. Close the smoker and let it burn for a few minutes before using it in the hive.
Using a Smoker in the Hive
Before using the smoker in the hive, you should check the temperature of the smoke on your skin. It should be comfortable or cool rather than hot. If it feels too hot, continue adding fuel and leaves to the fire.
Now you can approach the hive and direct a few puffs of smoke toward the entrance. The natural airflow within the hive moves from bottom to top so that the smoke will reach the entire colony in a few minutes. Next, direct smoke underneath the cover and across the honey frames. The bees will disappear shortly and leave you to work.
You should direct smoke around yourself and your suit to prevent bees from attacking you.
Extinguishing and Cleaning Your Smoker
After using your hive smoker, you must put the fire out and clean the device. Simply set the smoker on its side on a non-flammable surface; the lack of airflow should put the fire out. Next, dump the contents of the fire chamber into a metal garbage can and close the lid. The lack of oxygen will fully extinguish the fire.
Next, use a wire brush to remove the excess ash and other materials from the device. If you notice a lot of buildup, soak the smoker in white vinegar. Make sure you store your hive smoker in a clean, dry place.
Now that you know how to use a beehive smoker safely and efficiently, you're one step closer to becoming a successful beekeeper. Consider purchasing pol-line queens to give your colony the best chance at survival and growth. Keeping bees can be challenging, but gathering the necessary knowledge is well worth the reward.