We received a question from Noah:

My first time keeping bees is coming up. I am going to have four boxes this spring. What is the smoker, and why is it used? I get lots of answers that are different. And do I have to use smoke pellets I see sold at all the stores?

The smoker is an important beekeeping tool. It helps to keep the bees calm and gentle while you work on the hive.

Beekeepers use smoke to keep bees calm during hive inspections. When bees sense danger, they release an alarm pheromone called isopentyl acetate from a gland near their stingers. … Smoking a beehive masks this pheromone, allowing the beekeeper to safely perform a hive inspection.

  • Guard bees give off an alarm pheromone when you open the hive. The smoke masks this pheromone so the bees remain calm while you inspect the hive.
  • A smoker consists of a fire chamber, a tight-fitting lid with a spout, a bellows, and a heat guard.
  • Use a dry fuel source to get a fire started in the fire chamber. Keep a store of dry fuel with your smoker and have some extra fuel on hand to top up when using the smoker. 
  • It is important to use a fuel that does not create hot smoke or toxic fumes, so avoid using anything containing plastic, thick oils, hair, paper, or feathers. 
  • These are some appropriate fuels for your smoker:
    • Dried pine needles are a popular choice.
    • Clean Hessian is popular with commercial beekeepers as it stays lit for a long time. 
    • Angophoras, Stringybark, Tea tree bark, Cypress pine, wood shavings, dry lawn clippings. Dried out flowers such as roses, sunflowers, daisies, zinnias. 
    • You can also use herbs like rosemary, mint, sage, basil, lavender, oregano, fennel, dill. Some people like to add dried citrus peels.
    • Commercial fuels are also available and can be produced from pulped paper, wood pellets or compressed cotton. 

Of course, if you would rather use the pellets that are sold at many off the beekeeping supply houses. They are a great, effective, and efficient way to get your smoker going. Some of them even smell nice as they are burning. My preference is sage, mesquite, or pine needles.

  • Be careful when handling your smoker, hold it by the bellows and avoid touching the fire chamber when lit. If you need to open the lid while it’s in use, use a hive tool or pliers.
  • Be careful where you light your smoker, keep away from any potential fire hazards.
  • Use your dry fuel to get a fire started in the fire chamber. Use the bellows to get a fire going and make the surfaces of the smoker warm.
  • When the fire has gone down to embers in the fire chamber, fill the chamber to halfway with extra fuel, puff the bellows and close the lid.
  • Ensure that there are no flames or sparks coming out of the smoker. The smoke should be cool.
  • If you do have fire coming out of the nozzle, open the smoker and pack the chamber with extra fuel.
  • Keep some water on hand on when using your smoker and avoid using it in very windy conditions.
  • Make sure the fire in your smoker goes out safely when you’re finished using it. You can pour water into it or keep it in a fireproof container and let it burn out, which is what I do. I have had my smoker for a very long time and don’t want it to rust from the inside out.