Tuesday, August 25, 2009

LESSON 63: PROPERLY HANDLING THE SMOKER

DavidSheri Hi! We are David & Sheri Burns from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in Central Illinois. We are a family owned beekeeping business and our niche is to provide a place where you can find everything you need to become a successful beekeeper, from equipment, hives, bees,queens and even a hands on beekeeping education!
Thanks for stopping by and reading today's lesson. In fact, in just a moment, I'll present LESSON 62 about the essential and well known beekeeping too, the smoker. But before I do, let me remind you of a few important things.
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Also, remember we manufacture the woodenware and by that I mean the bee hive components. So, if you need a beehive kit, a complete hive or various hive components, we'd welcome your business. Our hives are hand made and are of the highest quality. We also sell everything else to do with beekeeping and more. So call us today and place your order. 217-427-2678. Thank you.
Sheri and I produce a podcast on beekeeping. We are working on our latest podcast and it should appear today. We'd love for you to stop in and hear our latest podcast at: www.honeybeesonline.com/studiobeelive.html
This fall and winter, I'm taking my Beekeeping Course and Queen Rearing course on the road. If your association would like to host a class in your area, I'll come and do all the teaching. Many people want to take our courses but live too far away. With the help of other associations in other states, I hope to come to those who can't drive over to Illinois. Talk to the members and presidents of your associations and see if this might work for you. It's a neat way to encourage new members, first time beekeepers and even boost the income for your local association. Give us a call at: 217-427-2678.
We are conducting a survey asking beekeepers what is the most important characteristic they want in a queen. Please take the survey by going to our blog www.basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com and you see the survey on the upper right hand side. Choose only one option. So far, disease resistance is the most sought out characteristic.
LESSON 62: PROPERLY HANDLING THE SMOKER
The invention of the modern day smoker is credited to Moses Quinby who was born the same year as L.L. Langstroth who discovered bee space and the removal frame hive. Blowing smoke on bees to calm them goes way back, but Quinby made the first handheld smoker with a bellow to keep the fire burning in a tin container.
Most beekeepers believe the smoke causes the bees to act as if their hive is on fire which forces them to eat honey to prepare to leave the burning hive. A honey bee that is full of honey has a more difficult time of stinging because they cannot curl their abdomen to inject the stinger.
A more modern day understanding is that the smoke masks alarm pheromones (isopentyl acetate)of the honey bees in the hive, disrupting their ability to communicate that there is an intruder in the hive.
STARTING YOUR SMOKER
To start your smoker, you'll need a source of fire and fuel. By fuel, I'm referring to your source of fire, not actual liquid fuel. Most beekeepers use fuel that is easily accessible, such as pine needles. Those of us who run wood shops use sawdust. I've found that very dense and powdery saw dust is not good. Instead we use the more stringy saw dust that comes more from dado blades. Others use burlap, hemp rope, clean 100% old cotton rags...anything that is not toxic and makes a cool dense smoke.
0063cStart your smoker by saving newspaper or an old phone book and tear a page out and place in the bottom of the smoker and light it. I keep a long grill lighter handy and here I'm lighting a used shop rag. Without burning your fingers and suffocating the fire, work the paper to the bottom of the smoker. Once the paper is burning well in the bottom of the smoker, start adding your fuel, such as pine needles or saw dust. Do not add so much that the fire is put out. Gently puff the bellows so that air accelerates the spread of the fine within the canister.
0063b Add the right amount of fuel that generates mostly smoke instead of fire. Never add flammable fuels. You can add a slightly wrinkled up piece of paper to fit into the inside tip of the lid to help prevent stray pieces of hot fuel from falling or blowing out onto the bees. Just be sure it fits lose enough to allow smoke to seep through.
Once your fuel is producing adequate smoke you can close the lid. Remember canister is very hot. Do not touch it. Every year I usually burn something with my smoker. One year I burned a nice circular hole in the bed liner of my wife's truck. Another year I burned a hole in a polystyrene hive lid. I have one polystyrene lid and so I'm used to placing my smoker on the top of my metal top lids when I'm inspecting a hive. And this year I burned three fingers on my smoker. So do be careful.
HOW TO SMOKE A HIVE
Approach the hive with your smoker producing a cool, dense smoke. It should not be shooting out flames or sparks. Remember your hive is made of wood and wax, all of which are very combustible.
A friend of mine told me that his wife accidentally caught the grass on fire in their apiary and over 80 hives went up in smoke in a matter of minutes.
Put a few puffs of smoke near the entrance of the hive to disarm the guard bees. Now, slightly lift the outer top telescoping lid and blow a few puffs of smoke under the lid and put the lid back down and allow the smoke to settle in the hive. Usually 30 seconds works well. Now, slowly lift off the top cover and smoke gently as you see the bees.
The bees will become more noisy as you smoke them, but they should. That's normal and does not mean that they are mad. It just means your smoke is working. They will settle down and you can begin your inspection. The smoke causes the bees to head for honey and put their heads in cells to eat. They generally run away from the smoke so if you smoke from the top, many bees will head to the lower boxes. If you smoke from the bottom they will all run up. And if you are looking for the queen, smoke causes her to run too, making it harder to find her.
You will need to keep your smoker handy as you inspect your hive. I've noticed after a few minutes, the effects of the smoke begins to wear off and the bees will start to inspect what's happening. Their little heads will look up at you between frames. When you see this, it's time for a few more gentle puffs of smoke across the tops of the frames.
HOW TO PUT OUT A SMOKER
0063z I used to empty my smoker out in a safe area, away from dry grass, like on a gravel road or concrete. But when I was taking my Master Beekeeper tests in New York, my field inspector showed me a trick I had never seen. Take a half sheet of regular paper and open your smoker and place the sheet over the top of the canister and close the lid. Wow! This works great.The lack of air suffocates the fire and the fuel that remains in the smoker will light more easily next time, and you can even use the paper as fuel.
IS SMOKE HARMFUL TO BEES?
Non toxic smoke used in moderation has been used for years to work beehives and there has been no associated problems.
It is my opinion that no one should work a hive without a smoker. The trade off of being able to inspect your hive regularly with the use of smoke to calm bees certainly out weighs not inspecting often because the bees are too aggressive.
WHAT ABOUT LIQUID SPRAYS INSTEAD OF SMOKE?
I've tried using a spray instead of smoke and it does not work well for me. It is commonly called a spritz spray and is usually a sugar mixture with additives such as Honey-B-Healthy.
I see several problems in using a liquid spray to calm bees. It's a liquid and sticks to the bees causing them to need to be cleaned, and perhaps interfering with their movements and flights far more than smoke.
Liquid sprayed into open comb could effect the developing larvae. The water is also cool and if used when the bees are already cold, it could chill the bees and cause a change in their work and behavior until they re-heat.
The smell of sugar water on and around a hive could invite robber bees. Some people have found it to be better for them than smoke, but I prefer smoke.
WHICH TYPE OF SMOKER IS BEST?
The type of smoker used is based more on personal preference than anything else. I prefer the old traditional smoker without the protective heat cage. There is usually a smaller 7 inch smoker and a larger 10 inch smoker. Obviously, if you need your smoker to burn longer, then a larger smoker is what you need. For a hive or two, a smaller smoker is fine.
0063eBefore you get all excited about buying a stainless steel smoker, remember that when you heat stainless steel it changes properties. So, if you use your smoker often, say every other day, you might put a new smoker in your budget every few years. For me, smokers usually last about 2 years, then the billows rip and hinges break. I get some extra months out of mine with duct tape.
Thanks for joining me for today's lesson, and I hope you learned a few things about using your smoker today.
Remember to check out the lower portion of this Lesson (if it was Emailed to you and you can forward it to a friend. We'd appreciate you helping us let other beekeepers know about these free lessons.

If you wish to contact us, here's how:
PHONE: 217-427-2678
EMAIL: david@honeybeesonline.com
WEBSITE: www.honeybeesonline.com
BEE-Have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

2 comments:

Gasser said...

I love your blog. I'm a first year beekeeper. I just love the hobby!
The person who is teaching me has been keeping hives for decades. He sprays vinegar on his bees without any ill effects and with great results. The vinegar also mitigates pain when you are stung. I do prefer a smoker, though!

Gasser said...

I love your blog. I'm a first year beekeeper. I just love the hobby!
The person who is teaching me has been keeping hives for decades. He sprays vinegar on his bees without any ill effects and with great results. The vinegar also mitigates pain when you are stung. I do prefer a smoker, though!