You see beekeepers smother beehives with smoke and you are left wondering why they need to suffocate these poor innocent creatures. In this article, we’ll help you answer these questions and find more interesting things about the world of beekeepers.
Why smoke bees? Smoking subdues bees by blocking their sense of smell, therefore preventing them from attacking beekeepers. Bees pick up certain pheromone smells as a threat, which will then prompt them to feast on honey as much as their bodies can, making them drowsy and calm.
Firstly, What is a Beekeeper?
A beekeeper is an individual who specializes in raising honey bees. Some beekeepers specialize in raising queens (they are called “Queen Breeders”) or other types of bees to sell to other bee raisers or scientists who need live specimens to study bee behavioral patterns. They also harvest bee products like honey, propolis, royal jelly, pollen and beeswax.
Other beekeepers have pollination services wherein they spread the pollen they collect so that many fruits and vegetables can be produced more efficiently. Aside from wearing the trademark mask and suit, they also use devices called smokers to aid them in handling the bees in a more gentle approach.
What is a Bee Smoker?
A Bee Smoker is a device made with metal or other similarly sturdy alloys. It has two parts: the body and the bellows. The body has a spout on top. The spout is where the fumes come out. The bellows are basically pumps that blow the air inside to manage the flame. It also has a fuel compartment for burning wood, grass, and other eco-friendly materials.
The smoke that is produced from these burning substances are then used through its spout in the form of fumes required to manage bees. This tool is crucial to make harvesting easier, it will essentially make the bees less of a hassle to deal with in terms of moving.
Why Do Beekeepers Use Smoking Devices?
Bees communicate through Pheromones which affect the behavior of the same species. They are transmitted by direct contact as a liquid or vapor. Bees detect these pheromones through their sense of smell. These “smells” dictate what one bee needs to do from another. Pheromones are used in coordinating and connecting with each other. The reason they are so coordinated in both attacks and beehive construction is because they have several different meaning pheromones they can produce.
The smoker’s job is to trigger one type of pheromone that helps calm down the bees and aid the beekeeper in handling the bees as safely as possible, and to avoid threatening the colony and aggressively attacking the beekeeper in particular.
Smoking the hive activates the alarm pheromone which alerts the bees to gorge on honey, making them lethargic and calm, disabling their ability to attack and sting.
The reason behind this is when they feel that their hive is going to be destroyed, they rally and call other bees to help gather honey, which is required to make beeswax in building a new home. It takes about 8 pounds of honey to produce the wax that makes the structural walls inside of a beehive.
Does Fuming Bees Affect Their Health?
We know that bees are becoming more and more extinct. Are these practices for making the bees docile actually safe for them? The answer is yes! The way a smoker works is that you fill it with small biodegradable sources that can burn lightly.
Beekeepers never use non-biodegradable materials such as plastic or styrofoam to burn. You should be careful to only produce just enough smoke to induce the alarm pheromones, avoid bees from getting injured, keep them stationed in the hive, and steering clear from contaminating the honey. It is completely safe for the bees for as long as you burn natural components such as wood, leaves, or grass.
How to Use A Smoker Device
Most beekeepers use the traditional type of smoker (a metal can with a hole on the bottom, with bellows attached behind the can and covered by a lid with a spout) because of its simplicity and usability.
These are the materials that you will need to gather to start your fire:
- Spark – You can use either lighters or matches to start the fire. Preferably, Grill Lighters with the long nose to light those hard to reach places in the smoker.
- Starter – Starters are elements that can burn easily, and stay lit enough for the Kindling to follow. This can be cardboard, pinecones or paper. If you don’t have any of these materials, you can just go to Kindling right away, though it will be harder to start a fire without a lit starter.
- Kindling – Kindling is all about the small pieces that can be fodder for the flame. Pine needles seem more potent, however wood shavings or something similar will work just fine. This step will ensure that you can have a small spark flaring.
- Fuel – Now this is where it gets easy. The fuel can either be more kindling or small sticks and leaves. The trick here is to get something that will burn and last longer than the rest. Not too big though! Using large sticks can risk the fire being put out. Balance it out to maintain it burning.
- Lighting Technique – Now you start a tiny fire at the bottom of the smoker. You gradually pile the Starter-type or Kindle-type fuel on top of it until it smokes. Pump the bellows until the fire becomes stable enough to produce smoke.
How to get a Bee Smoker’s fire started:
- Gather the best materials to start a small fire inside the smoker.
- Fill the smoker with fuel for the fire. You don’t need to fill it to the brim. You need to start out small first before you decide to put more fuel.
- Carefully light it up. You also need to manage the airflow to keep the fire going.
- Careful not to fume closer than 6 inches or risk ruining your hive.
Helpful Tips for Handling Bees
- Slow and steady is key to avoid getting stung by bees.
- Don’t wear any perfume or any type of strong smelling products. The bees will get attracted to your smell and will think you’re a flower. Always take precautions.
- Approach the bees slowly. Sudden movements may make them aggressive. Bees are extremely easy to tick off – you tick one off and the rest will follow. Watch your step to make sure they do not mark you as a threat to their colony.
- Never open the hives on a whim. Only open them if you need to potentially harvest resources, checking the queen or checking the colony. They don’t like it if they’re always exposed.
- The ideal temperature for handling bees is above 70 degrees F. The reason for this is that this temperature likely means that the bees are actively searching for pollen around and not guarding the hive. So when you manage them, they will not suddenly explode on you. Also be careful not to immediately open the hive if the weather is exceptionally cold. You’ll only risk killing the colony by exposing them to extremely cold weather.
- Always sneak behind their hive. Never walk into their flight path to avoid making them think you are a threat and attempt to attack you.
- When using the bee smoker, an ideal location to fume would be where the bees use to enter the hive. Focus at least three puffs of smoke to the entrance so that you can affect the bees returning from pollen hunting. You have to make sure you hit a lot of bees. Unaffected ones may sting you if you’re not careful.
- Don’t use too much fuel. Using too much will make a fire and the smoke will be intense it will cause the bees to consume more honey. You may also melt the bees’ wings or drive them away from the hive.
- Do not smoke the bees too much. Yes, they won’t be likely to sting you, but they also don’t like to be disturbed.
Knowing the important bits and pieces of bee smoking, the steps, and the devices that come with them will help you in being more precise and cautious whether you are an experienced beekeeper or starting your own bee farm. Keep this up and you will be rewarded with grand results.