An indispensable part of every beekeeper’s toolkit, a bee smoker allows you to safely calm bees so you can inspect, repair or work with your hive. While many keepers have their own favorite fuel, preparing and filling the smoker so it produces cool and even smoke is an essential first step.
The start of the season is upon us, and many beekeepers are anticipating the arrival of their package bees. The best time to check on your equipment and make sure everything is in working order is before the bees arrive. One of the most essential tools in every beekeeper’s toolbox is the bee smoker. When lightly puffed, the smoke it produces causes temporary confusion and disorganization in the hive. This disruption in the bee’s normal defensive behaviors allows you to work safely with the hive.
What is a Bee Smoker?
Humans have been using smoke for millennia to calm bee hives. While the first honey-collectors likely used a smoldering torch to produce smoke, today bee keepers typically use a hand-held smoker. First invented in 1875, most modern bee smokers have three main components: a chamber for holding smoldering material, a nozzle for directing the smoke, and a bellows for pumping fresh air into the chamber and pushing smoke out of the nozzle.
How Do I Start My Bee Smoker?
To get started, you need a smoker, matches or a lighter, newspaper or other non-toxic flammable starter material, and your smoker fuel. There are many materials that may be used as fuel in a smoker, but the most common ones are unprocessed cotton fiber, wood, pine needles, burlap or wood pellets.
Dadant & Sons Pro Tip: Most experienced beekeepers have a favorite material, or mix of materials, that they feel produces the best smoke. We suggest trying a few different varieties to find what works best for you.
Open the lid to your smoker, clear it of any debris and insert some of the flammable starter material into the base of the fire chamber. Next, light a small amount of your starter material and place it into the bottom of the chamber.
Dadant & Sons Pro Tip: When working with an open flame, pay close attention to your surroundings. It is recommended to keep a fire extinguisher close by whenever you are working with your smoker.
Once you see the starter material is burning well, place a small amount of your smoker fuel on top. While adding the fuel, steadily pump the bellows to provide oxygen and keep the fire going. Be sure to add fuel gradually to avoid a large flare up. The body of the smoker may get very hot in this process, so be careful not to burn your fingers.
After the fuel begins to smolder, continue to pump the bellows while adding more fuel on top. Your goal is to build a nice coal base that will last while you are out in the bee yard. With the base established, tightly pack a lot of fuel on top. This will help to provide a cool and long lasting smoke.
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