How To Properly Operate A Bee Smoker
A bee smoker is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can buy. It is extremely important to beekeeping and while you can be successful without other tools, a smoker is a necessity for safety. Proper use of one makes it much easier for you to control your hives because you put the bees into a docile state when you open the hive. Not using one of these devices is pretty much an open invitation for plenty of stings because the colony is substantially more aggressive without the smoke.
Before you even think about opening the top cover, you have to use your bee smoker to release puffs into the hive's entrance. This will calm your bees down while you are tending to the hive. While you want to apply several puffs into the entrance, you also want to make sure that you do not burn the bees either so don't overdo it. Additionally, releasing too much smoke could also cause contents to fall out of the smoker into the hive. Give the smoke about 30 seconds to work before you remove the top cover. You want to make sure that the smoke has time to travel into the brood box.
Proper use of the bee smoker will mask alarm pheromone that the guard bees secrete who are positioned at the entrance. This will reduce the risk of the rest of the colony reacting and attacking to sting. Also, smoke drives the bees toward their comb to quickly feed on honey because they think their home is burning down and they will have to find a new one. Bees that are full of honey are less likely to sting you.
Lighting The Smoker
Lighting a bee smoker is not nearly as easy as you may imagine. In fact, there are quite a few steps and a lot of work involved.
- Gather Materials – To light your smoker you will need final fuel such as dry compressed wood pellets, twigs, hardwood chips, strips of burlap, bark or other slow burning material. You will also need starter fuel such as paper, dry leaves or pine needles. Lastly, a long-stemmed lighter is crucial. Your starter fuel selection will determine how easy your fuel lights and how fast it burns.
- Prepare the Smoke – Your bee smoker should be free of soot and excess debris before you light it again. Always take the kindling tray out and clean it. When you put the tray back in, make sure that the air holes at the base are not obstructed. Do not light the smoker until right before you are ready to open up the hive.
- Add Kindling – Add in whatever your preferred choice of kindling is. Shredded paper does burn the fastest and seems to work the best for this purpose but other dry kindling material will do. You probably only need a handful or so to generate a generous flame and enough heat to light your final fuel.
- Light Kindling – Using your long-handled lighter or a fireplace match, light the kindling. Squeezing the bee smoker bellow will stoke it a bit and cause it to burn faster. You should keep doing this until smoke comes out of the smoker lid.
- Light the Final Fuel – Once there is flame coming from the lid, add about a handful of your final fuel. As soon as you do this, stoke it to really get it burning good.
- Fill Smoker – Continue to add final fuel by the handful. Allow enough time between handfuls for the fuel to create a generous amount of smoke. Once the bee smoker is about half full, stop adding fuel. Never overfill a smoker!
- Smoke – Close the smoker lid and work with the bellow to create a stream of white smoke out of the nozzle. While you are physically in the apiary you need to work the bellow every couple of minutes to ensure that the final fuel continues to burn steadily.
Never attempt to light a smoker that has been left to smolder overnight. The embers will burn holes in your bellows and your smoker will become useless.