A bee smoker is a tool that beekeepers use to help prevent aggressiveness when inspecting hives or harvesting honey. It works based on a bee’s natural reaction to smoke. Smoking is not necessary, and some beekeepers even frown on it. But for those who do prefer to smoke, there is always the question of what constitutes the best bee smoker fuel.
Is there a best kind of bee smoker fuel? New beekeepers ask that question all the time. The simple answer is ‘no’. To date, no one has bothered to survey bees in order to get their opinions on smoke aromas. So when beekeepers choose certain fuels because they like the scent, they do so for themselves rather than their bees.
The truth is that you can use just about anything for fuel, just so long as the material you choose is not noxious or toxic. You do not want to kill your bees; you simply want to reduce their aggressiveness. Sticking with natural fuels is the best way to guarantee you don’t injure them.
Why Smoking Works
The first thing to note is why beekeepers use smoke to begin with. Smoke does not actually scare bees away. It doesn’t render them unable to attack. Rather, smoke triggers a natural reaction linked to their preservation. It is that natural reaction that reduces aggression.
Bees are programmed to protect the hive at all costs. In the presence of smoke, their tiny little brains assume that a forest fire is burning. They immediately make plans to abandon the nest should it become necessary. Those plans include gorging themselves with honey.
Bees are already limited in the amount of time they can fly without feeding. The fuller their crops are, the more effort it takes to fly. Therefore, self-preservation demands that they expend as little energy as possible after gorging on honey. Therein lies the secret of smoking.
Bees engorged with honey are in survival mode. They are planning to abandon the nest should the fire get dangerously close. They do not have the energy or desire to be aggressive because they need to preserve what strength they do have in case they need to flee.
Smoke Blocks Attack Pheromones
An added benefit of smoke is that it blocks the pheromone bees secrete in order to warn away intruders. The pheromone is an odiferous chemical that bees can rely on to communicate warning. So even if bees secrete it as a beekeeper checks the hive, smoke blocks it so that other bees can’t smell it. Blocking the pheromone renders the bees less likely to become aggressive.
Very Basic Instruments
Bee smokers are very basic instruments. They consist of a chamber to hold the fuel and a nozzle through which the smoke is injected. The modern bee smoker was invented in the 1800s by a man known as Moses Quinby. But even before Quinby’s invention, beekeepers had other ways to smoke out their bees.
The key to using a modern smoker is to find a fuel that burns well in it. Success can be determined by a number of things ranging from fuel choices to air circulation. Not every smoker works equally well with all fuels. You just have to try different things until you find something that works.
Common Smoker Fuel Choices
Again, there is no best kind of bee smoker fuel. Just stick with natural fuels and you and your bees will be fine. A good place to start is burlap. Burlap is a woven fabric normally made of natural fibers like hemp or jute. It is incredibly durable, which is why it’s used to make animal blankets, potato sacks, etc. It also smolders quite nicely.
Smoldering is the key to finding a good bee smoker fuel. You want something that smolders at low heat because that is what produces the smoke. The slower it smolders, the longer your fuel will last. Burlap certainly fits the bill.
Other common smoker fuel choices include:
- Cotton – Cotton rarely burns fast enough to create an open flame. As such, it smolders nicely and produces a consistent smoke. It also doesn’t leave behind a lot of residue.
- Pine Needles – Pine needles are nice because they are easy to find. Unfortunately, they tend to burn hotter than burlap or cotton. You have to be careful that you don’t get too much heat.
- Citrus Peels – Believe it or not, citrus peels work very well as a bee smoker fuel. Their oily nature produces a consistent smoke that actually smells pretty good.
- Rose Petals and Stems – Dried rose petals and stems create a nice aroma that you will probably enjoy more than your bees.
- Various Spices – A lot of amateur beekeepers use a variety of spices they can buy cheaply at the dollar store. They can also grow them as well. Mint, basil, oregano, and sage all work well.
- Wood Pellets – If you simply want to buy a fuel rather than collecting and drying organic material, wood pellets will do just fine. Just make sure they are made with natural wood rather than scrap lumber.
In closing, this post cannot emphasize enough the need to stay away from synthetic fuels. Do not burn kerosene, oil, or plastic. Don’t even burn cardboard or newspaper. Stick with dried, organic fuels to guarantee the health and safety of your bees.