How To Use A Bee Smoker – Step By Step Guide

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Being a beekeeper comes with a pretty obvious risk; getting stung. While honeybees are a relatively docile species, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. But there are ways to subdue them so you can take care of your hive, and one of these methods is using a bee smoker. But I’ve had a lot of new apiarists asking how to use a bee smoker.

After lighting your bee smoker using your chosen fuel, you’ll need to move it closer to the hive and allow the bees a few minutes to fall under the ‘spell’ of the smoker. You can then use the smoke to calm the bees while you check the hive and even use it to move them from one place to another.

It can take some getting used to when you first start working with a bee smoker but that’s part of the fun of learning about beekeeping. In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about bee smokers and how to have the greatest success with them.

What Is A Bee Smoker?

Most bee smokers are made from stainless steel and are cylindrical in shape with a tapered top that leads to a small opening where the smoke is emitted.

Bee smokers are tools designed to help beekeepers calm their bees and avoid riling them up and getting stung. This can come in very handy when trying to perform maintenance on the hive or when you are doing routine checks.

What Does Smoke Do To Bees?

Bees use many methods of communication in order to pass messages between members of the hive. However, when they are exposed to smoke, their main sensory method of communication is hindered.

You might wonder how stopping the bees from communicating with each other would stop them from stinging but it’s all about how they work together to protect their home.

When a bee feels threatened or notices a danger lurking around the hive (such as a beekeeper in his suit) it will begin sending pheromone signals that alert other members of the colony.

This process is repeated so that all of the bees are sending out alarm signals, telling each other that danger is present and they need to go into defense mode. Of course, where bees are concerned, this means being ready to sting.

Do I Have To Use A Bee Smoker?

No, you don’t have to use a bee smoker in order to complete things like checks, maintenance, and harvesting in your hive. However, if you don’t, there’s a very good chance that the bees will become agitated and this means that they’re more likely to sting.

While you will have your beekeeping suit for protection, you can never be too careful and having a smoker ensures that the risk of being stung or upsetting the bees is lowered.

There are some people that worry using a bee smoker will harm the bees but this is a misconception. While smoke will hinder the bees’ communication abilities, this is a temporary effect and typically wears off around 20 minutes after the smoke exposure has ended. Plus, there are no lasting effects so you bees will be back to normal in no time.

What Fuel Can You Use For A Bee Smoker?

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a fuel type for your bee smoker. You can even purchase packets of bee smoker fuel on Amazon and other websites which are quite affordable.

Of course, you might gather items like wood-stove pellets, pine shavings (make sure they’re dry), cardboard, burlap, or twine. As long as the material doesn’t give off any toxic fumes as it burns, it should be safe to use for your bees.

However, there’s a lot of talk about how hot the smoke gets when burning each of these things. This is why a lot of people opt for cotton as it burns much cooler than anything else so there’s less risk of harming your bees. Plus, unlike other fuels, cotton has a much cleaner burn so you won’t end up with any build up in your smoker which can be tricky to clean.

Step By Step Guide On Using A Bee Smoker

If you’re new to beekeeping then one of the first things I’d recommend is familiarizing yourself with the bee smoker and how to use it. It may take a little getting used to and you’ll have to figure out exactly how your colony responds and how much smoke should be used. But before you know it, you’ll be smoking like a pro.

  1. Start by selecting your bee smoker fuel. As I mentioned earlier, cotton is typically considered to be the best option but you may have another preference. Just make sure that the fuel does not produce toxic smoke as this is detrimental to the health of your bees.
  2. Now add your fuel to the bee smoker and set it alight. Your bee smoker has bellows and you can use these to boost the fire and really get it going. However, you should keep in mind that your end goal is to create a low-burning fire that doesn’t have an open flame but produces lots of smoke.
  3. Once you have successfully lit the fire, you can use your hive tool to tamp the fuel down to the bottom of the smoker before adding some more. Keep doing this until the smoker is filled with fuel and then continue using the bellows to create plumes of smoke.
  4. The smoke your tool should produce should be white, puffy, and cool.
  5. Now take the smoker over to your bee hive and start with just a couple of puffs of smoke around the entrance and where you remove the lid. This should be enough to initially calm the bees but of course, if you need more, go for another puff. Just be sure not to use too much smoke as this isn’t good for the bees.
  6. Depending on how long you’re going to be working on your hive, you may need a couple of additional puffs down the line but play it by ear and see how your bees respond.
  7. When you’re finished with your bee smoker, it’s important to let it cool down before attempting to clean it. When you’re ready, you can use your hive tool to gently scrape away any residue and have your smoker ready for its next use.

Precautions When Using A Bee Smoker

While a bee smoker may only have a very small, contained fire, it’s a fire nonetheless so it’s really important to make sure you’re following proper safety rules.

I actually read a story online about how a bee smoker was the source of a vehicle fire and from what I could see, this wasn’t an isolated incident.

So, before you light your bee smoker, make sure that you’re wearing the appropriate clothing. If you wear a veil, make sure to remove this first as the smoker can chuck out some pretty wild flames initially and these could catch your veil (or any other loose clothing.)

When you’re using your bees smoker, make sure that you place it well out of the way of the hive in between puffs. This will prevent it from falling into the hive and causing devastating damage.

After you’ve finished using your bee smoker, you can plug up the opening with an old wine cork or even some grass. This will prevent oxygen from getting to the fire which will then soon go out. As I mentioned earlier, it’s vital to allow your smoker to properly cool down before you try to clean it.

Finally, it’s worth noting that different colonies have different temperaments. For this reason, you will likely need to get used to how your bees respond to smoke and this will tell you how much they need to become suitably subdued. But remember, start with just a few puffs and only repeat if the bees really don’t seem to be settling.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever wondered how to use a bee smoker, you might be surprised to learn that it’s not as complicated as many people first think.

While using these beekeeping tools does take a little learning, it’s something that you’ll master pretty quickly.