The Smoker

One of the biggest mistakes a new beekeeper makes is not taking a class! There is so much to information to absorb.  Even the most experienced beekeeper learns something new every time he  or she visits the apiary. Bees invariably challenge our preconceived notions of best management practices. Take the time to invest in education.  

We will teach you how to become a hobbyist beekeeper! We offer one on one and group classes to introduce you to the basics of backyard beekeeping. We encourage an interactive environment of learning in the classroom and the apiary. Contact us if you are interested. Here is a partial list of the various topics we cover:


  • Hive Management
  • Types of Hives
  • Bee Biology
  • Stings
  • Pest Management
  • Honey Harvest Methods
  • Expanding Your Apiary
  • Sustainable Beekeeping

Lighting a smoker successfully as well as maintaining smoke production are the keys to a good hive inspection as you want it accessible when the time demands it. Nothing sucks more than angry bees and an extinguished smoker! 

First and foremost, the smoker is a tool against bee aggression, but it is not foolproof.  It works in collaboration with other tools and behaviors on the part of the beekeeper. The other tools are well known (ie, the forementioned veil and suit), but some experienced keepers rely on mostly established norms around hives.  For instance, slow, deliberate movements are a must. Wool and dark clothing can be an attractant so beekeepers are apt to dress accordingly - bees may think they are being attacked by a bear. They will respond in kind.

People who work around bees have known about the protective nature of smoke for thousands of years. A simple burning stick would do, but the single handed bellows model smoker common to modern beekeeping is attributed to Moses Quinby, America's first commercial beekeeper, in 1875. However, he did not patent it. You might think that that his smoker design helped to calm many of his over 1000 hives in upstate New York, but he invented it late in life at a time of poor health. He died that same year.

​Education

Don't get lost while beekeeping!  Take a classs!

When using a smoker, there's are certain do's and don'ts:

 

  • DO NOT bang the smoker against the hive. Slamming the hive on top of, the side of, or near the hive will only agitate the bees.
  • DO NOT smoke and fire the bees. If fire comes out of the end of the smoker, stop using it. You're probably providing too much oxygen throught the bellows. The smoke should be cool, white, and dense.
  • DO smoke the entrance before you enter the hive. Make sure you see it go in. Smoke pushed away from the hive does you no favors.
  • DO smoke the bees gently if you see some of them looking at you. They are the guard bees. Once they look away or retreat, there's no need to continue smoking.
  • DO use the smoke immediately between boxes as you crack them open.
  • DO ​re-smoke the bees if you have been away for a few minutes and are reaching in to the hive.
  • DO use dry fuels when lighting your smoker. The drier the better. Do some investgating on the net. There are some very long lasting fuels out there. Here a video of a very long lasting smoker fuel:


One of the tools you will become aquainted with as a beekeeper is the smoker. Aside from the suit and veil, the smoker is most associated with the art of this trade. But how does it work? (Why not a flyswatter?) What is its origin? How can the smoke be maintained over a long period of time?

Useful Tips for New Beekeepers

Why does a smoker work? Altough its mechanism of action isn't completely understood, bees exposed to smoke react by gorging on honey stores. It is thought that this reaction evolved from the need to flee the hive due to an encroaching fire.  (A feeding bee is one that isn't paying attention to the beekeeper.) Furthermore, smoke masks any alarm phermone that may be produced by the guard bees due to the provocative actions of the darkly clad newbie beekeeper. 

First, you'll need fuel. You'll find beekeeping catalogues filled with fuel options. Personally, I'm a cheap bastard.  I fill the bottom of my smoker with crumpled paper. After lighting it, I place old pine needles on top. In addition, I line the inner circumference of the smoker with cardboard, but not competely. I make a conscious effort not to block the hole that allows air to enter the chamber from the bellows. I nurse the fire with a few puffs from the bellows and then close it up.  Presto! Smoke!

Philadelphia Regional Beekeepers

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