Up In Smoke: Why Beekeepers Use Smokers

A bee smoker is an essential tool for beekeepers. It seems odd to outsiders that someone would intentionally blow smoke into a hive of bees, but beekeepers use smokers very deliberately. The bee smoker keeps bees and beekeepers safe when a beekeeper needs access to a hive. There are many reasons a beekeeper needs hive access, and smokers allow them to keep a pulse on the health and activity in the hive. The smoker enables people to get close to the bees and hives without being stung.

Beekeeping Tasks Made Possible with Smokers

Beekeepers are required to do regular inspections of their hives. Although beekeepers should be careful not to over-engage hives, knowing the state of the bees, resources, and baby bees is critical to hive health. The smoke in the bee smoker is to calm bees during these times that may cause them stress and trigger them to be alarmed and release the pheromones from the stinger glands. The pheromone, which is useful when fending off a wasp or other threat, can create a danger to a beekeeper if the bees get riled up by the pheromone. The pheromone travels through the air and tells bees to attack. The smoke used in the smoker masks the pheromone smell, so bees do not think they are in imminent danger.

Bee Smokers as Tools

A bee smoker allows beekeepers to puff smoke into the hives they need access to. The smoke does not harm the bees but covers up the smell that will make them panic. It was in 1873 that the smoker was invented, and who knows how beekeepers did their jobs safely before that monumental day!

Beekeepers today test the smoke ahead of time on their arms (like a parent trying a milk’s temperature before handing the bottle to a baby) because heat can harm a hive. If the smoke is not too hot, the hive is safe during smoking.

Smoke Doesn’t Drug or Make Bees Sleepy

Many people initially think that the smoke beekeepers use in the bee smokers puts bees to sleep or drugs them. However, this is not the truth. The smoke only masks the smell that sends out an alert to bees to attack. The smoke also makes bees think they must act because their hive is on fire, and they will need to evacuate soon and find a new hive. To prepare to leave the hive (which they never have to do because of the bee smoker’s smoke), they eat more honey to get lots of energy, and their bellies get so big they can’t muster up the energy to sting. So, the smoke works in two ways to create a safe space for beekeepers to view the hive’s health!

What Is It Like for Bees When You Smoke a Hive?

The best analogy I have heard is being at a loud club with many friends and trying to talk over loud music and communicate something. Since bees communicate through smells, the smoke disrupts the scent of the pheromones, so they can’t communicate.

Beekeeper Smoke

The harmless smoke used by beekeepers is a combination of natural organic materials. Twigs, wood pellets, pine needles, and burlaps create the smoke that helps calm bees. Beekeepers should never use anything synthetic in a smoker because this can harm the bees. If the smoke fuel is good, it should burn slowly and produce harmless smoke. Anything that smells chemically strong to you may irritate the bees, so go with your gut, and if it irritates you, it might be best to find a new fuel.

You may be able to find a local beekeeping shop that sells fuel, but if not, they can certainly tell you what combination they use for their hives. Most hobbyist beekeepers make their mixture at home using yard waste collection. Keeping a stash of fuel is wise for beekeepers since it is like gas for a lawn mower – when you need it and don’t have it, it can be incredibly inconvenient.

Tips on Bee Smoker Use

Beekeepers take risks when caring for their hives. It is wise to ensure you feel the bees and you are safe before opening a hive. Starting an inspection only to find out you’ve got them in crisis mode will not go well for any of you. Before opening the hive, it is best to begin with a light puff of smoke to let the bees know you are there. Never rush or be rough with a hive and the bees – care should always be taken and try to do the inspections on days with ideal weather. There is no need to smoke out the bees, so only use a few puffs in most cases.

It is always wise to ask a local beekeeper about their experience with the colonies in the area. Although every hive is unique, professional and well-regarded beekeepers are happy to share their delicious bee products and beekeeping secrets with other bee enthusiasts.