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Smoking is something that beekeepers have been doing for almost as long as beekeeping has existed. But while this traditional method might be preferred by some people, others are looking to find a bee smoker alternative.
There are many reasons that you might want to avoid using a bee smoker such as an urge to practice more natural beekeeping and as a way to avoid altering the taste of the honey. In any case, there are other things you can do.
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Even if you aren’t an avid beekeeper, you’ve probably seen people going out to their hives, suited up and wielding a bee smoker. This is an age-old practice that is used to keep the bees calm.
You see, when bees feel under threat and become alarmed they send out pheromones that have an incredibly strong smell. These pheromones contain chemicals known as 2-heptanone and isopentyl acetate and when these are detected by other bees, they respond accordingly. They’ll produce similar hormones so that the whole colony is in an alarmed state. This is a way of defending themselves and heightens the bees so that they’re ready to attack at a moment’s notice.
However, smoke gets in the way of the bees’ ability to smell so they’re unable to detect the pheromones of other members of the colony. But it isn’t only smoke that can do this; things like incredibly strong floral scents can also have a similar effect.
But it’s more common for beekeepers to turn to a smoker as this is the most traditional method and it’s more convenient. There’s no concern about the bees being permanently affected; once the smoke dissipates, they’re able to continue to use their senses as normal.
We have already learned that smoke stops bees from being able to effectively use their sense of smell and this is one of the main reasons that it has such a calming effect. When this happens, the bees become distracted and they’ll go about other tasks such as gorging on nectar. While they’re doing this, it gives you a chance to do what you need to do with the hive.
The concept of smoking bees really does have extreme opinions on either end. There are some people that swear by this method of calming bees while others are totally against it. It’s really a personal choice but let’s explore why some beekeepers prefer to use a bee smoker alternative.
A lot of beekeepers are of the belief that using a smoker can affect the taste of the honey. If you want it to be as pure as possible then using any substance around it could have a negative effect.
Other beekeepers simply like the idea of performing a more natural form of beekeeping. The smell of smoke can be quite strong and this doesn’t feel as natural. But the good news is that there are a lot of other ways you can calm the bees without having to have a bee smoker in sight. We’ll look at some of these later in this article.
It is certainly possible to open your beehive without using a smoker. However, if you’re going to do this, we would suggest doing it at the right time and in the right conditions. It’s best to approach the hive when the bees are at their calmest.
If you try to open the hive first thing in the morning or at dusk then you will find that the bees are a lot more touchy. For this reason, most expert beekeepers would tell you that opening the hive at mid-morning is the best option if you’re not going to use a smoker.
Another reason for this is that the bees are far more active at this time of day so they’ll be naturally distracted. Moreover, there will be fewer bees in the hive as most of the foragers will be out doing their thing.
But you should also consider the weather; if the conditions aren’t ideal then even opening the hive at mid-morning might not end well. The best weather for opening a hive without a smoker is when it is warm, sunny, and dry. If there is a lack of wind then this is even better.
The best temperature will be around 85ºF as this mimics the conditions inside the hive as best as possible.
If it is raining or there is any chance of rain then it is very unwise to try and open your hive. Bees get stressed when there is rain, especially when there is the chance of a storm so opening the hive is only going to heighten their stress levels and make them more grumpy. This won’t end well for you and it certainly isn’t pleasant for the bees.
That said, you probably won’t have too many problems if you open the hive in winter without a smoker. Bees are dormant at this time of year so it’s highly unlikely that they will swarm. But it’s super important to consider the fact that opening the hive in winter can let a lot of heat out which could result in the bees freezing to death. The only time you should open the hive in winter should be in an emergency.
We’re all keen to learn new ways of beekeeping so if you’ve been wondering what you can use instead of a bee smoker, then you’re in luck. There are a few viable alternatives to choose from. You might like to try a few to see which works best for your bees. However, which method you choose will largely depend on why you are opening the hive.
If you have just purchased a new package of bees and you want to get them established in the hive then you might choose to use sugar water. This is a great way of getting new bees to settle without raising their stress levels too much.
In fact, a lot of beekeepers will tell you that this is far better than a smoker as in this instance, bees might react badly to smoke. Since they are unfamiliar with their new surroundings, they may mistake the smoke for fire and fly away.
But bees love sugar water so spraying them with it, will distract them. They’ll be lightly covered in the spray and will start cleaning themselves. This then gives them a chance to get used to the hive and settle more easily.
Have you ever been told to use some essential oils in a diffuser when you’re feeling stressed? That’s because certain oils can be incredibly calming and this effect isn’t exclusive to humans. Bees can be just as easily calmed through the use of essential oils.
Keep in mind that spraying the bees directly isn’t going to calm them. In fact, the moisture from the mixture of water and essential oils might just annoy them. However, if you spray the mixture around the inner walls of the hive, this will have the desired effect.
There are lots of essential oils that are used for calming but two of the best for bees are lemongrass and spearmint. Just place a few drops of each into a spray bottle of water and get to work.
You can use either of the above methods with a bee cloth or you can simply use the cloth on its own; it’s down to personal choice. These cloths protect the bees and keep them in the dark while you inspect the hive which is great if you’re performing a scheduled check. They’ll remain under the cloth feeling happy and calm while you do what you need to do.
To use a bee manipulation cloth, you will need to carefully open the hive and place the cloth over the bee box. Being covered like this will prevent the bees from being able to hover around the hive but it’ll also offer them protection from being accidentally crushed.
While there are special bee cloths that can be purchased from specialist beekeeping stores, it’s just as easy to use a clean rag or towel.
If you aren’t planning on using smoke when you open the hive and you don’t want to try any of the methods we have listed above then it is possible to approach the hive with nothing other than confidence and crossed fingers. You’ll need to make sure that you consider the following points.
It doesn’t matter whether you are wearing a bee suit or anything else, you must make sure that your clothes are clean. It’s a terrible idea to wear the same clothing you wore last time you checked the hive if it hasn’t been washed. This is because there is a risk of stings being left in the fabric which will automatically release pheromones putting the bees into a state of alarm before you’ve even begun.
Just as you will need to wear clean clothes, it’s also a good idea to have a quick shower before you head out to the hive. This is because bees do not like the smell of old sweat. That said, they will be attracted to fresh sweat because of the number of minerals within it.
Showering will also remove any perfumes or scented products you have used as these are not attractive to the bees and may upset them.
When you approach the hive with nothing but yourself, you must take your time. Bees will be alerted if they pick up on vibrations so the slower and gentler you can keep your movements, the better.
There’s really no need to rush, which is why it’s a good idea to choose a time to check the hive when you don’t have anything else to do.
As well as movement causing the bees to become alarmed, you’ll also find that loud or sudden noises will stir them up. For this reason, you’ll also need to make sure that you approach the hive calming and quietly. This includes talking too loudly. Remember that you are going into the bees’ territory so being respectful is the best thing to do.
When you move towards the beehive, it’s really important to make sure that you breathe through your nose. When we breathe through our mouths we expel warm air and bees are surprisingly good at picking up on this.
The reason for this is that hot breath to bees, tells them that there is a predator about. They’ve become so adept at noticing this that even the mere presence of carbon dioxide can extract a response.
Practice staying as relaxed and calm as possible as this will make breathing out of your nose much easier. But even so, you’ll still need to make sure that you don’t breathe too heavily, especially as you get closer to the hive.
If you aren’t going to use a smoker then one of the main disadvantages of this is that your colony will be a lot more active. As a direct result of this, there is a much higher chance of the bees getting crushed while you do what you need to on the hive.
Of course, no beekeeper is going to actively try to harm their bees but this is often unavoidable without a smoker. As soon as one or more bees become crushed, they’ll send out those alarm pheromones and before you know it, the whole hive will be in a flustered state.
If you ensure that you move slowly while inspecting the hive and pay close attention to every movement you make, you shouldn’t have too many issues.
A lot of beekeepers will wear gloves that are too large. This gives less control over movement and can result in the hands bumping into things which will crush the bees. There’s also more chance of dropping things.
While we are 100% behind anyone who wants to try opening their beehive without a smoker, there may be times that it becomes unavoidable to use the smoker. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a smoker on hand in the case of an emergency.
For example, if you happen to crush a bee unintentionally, you can give a couple of blasts of smoke to cover their pheromones.
We all want the best for our bees so using a smoker to keep them calm while we perform hive inspections and maintenance is common practice. However, there are some people that don’t like the idea of using a smoker so will look for a viable bee smoker alternative. Ensuring that you open the hive in the right conditions and in the right manner is a good place to start. In some cases, this will allow you to open the hive without the need for a smoker or any alternative methods. However, you can also use things like sugar syrup, essential oils or a bee manipulation cloth in place of a bee smoker.