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THE BEE SMOKER
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Please increase your pleasure while working your bees by using a bee smoker. I do not know any professional beekeepers who do not have a lit smoker in their hands when they start working bees so it worries me when several of our customers tell me that they never use a smoker. Why not? It does not matter how docile the bees are - they are much nicer to handle if you give them a little smoke.
I think the 4" x 7" is the best general purpose smoker. It is a good idea to put a hook on the bellows so you can hang the smoker from your belt while you move around, or hang it from the end of the opened hive so it will be handy while you are working the hive. There are many different kinds of smoker fuels, but the bees like some better than others. Seasoned 1/2" to 3/4" limbs that have fallen off trees are very good if chopped or broken into 3" to 4" lengths. Seasoned chips or chunks from a log or stump also work very well. While we are sawing out beekeeping equipment we have many short ends of knots that we chop up into smoker fuel. Hardwood chips such as oak stay lit with less frequent puffing than softwood chips such as pine. The bees seem to like both hardwood and softwood smoke. If you know of a fuel you like, then use it. It is good to keep a box or bag of dry fuel handy.
A well seasoned smoker is easier to light than a new one so do not scrape the tar out of the inside of your smoker until it gets too heavy to handle easily. However, a beginner will most likely have a new smoker. Here is how to light one: You can squat on the ground, use the tailgate of a truck, or even the top of the beehive if it is a nice day and the bees are docile. Have your fuel handy. Crumple up one-half to three-quarters of a sheet of newspaper so it will fit into the smoker, but don't get it wadded too tight to burn easily. Light one end of the paper and stick it into the smoker and start puffing the bellows while you use your hive tool to get all the paper stuffed into the smoker and burning very well. Add some small chips on top of the paper. When they are burning nicely add bigger chips until you have filled the smoker. Now close the lid and you should have a nice cool smoke to waft over the bees. If your fire goes out at any stage of this proceeding just dump the whole mess out of the smoker and start all over again. Do not get frustrated if it takes three or four trials before you are successful. After you have worked the bees for perhaps thirty minutes about one-half of the fuel will be burned and you should fill the smoker again. When you have finished for the day you can plug the snout of the smoker with a wad of paper. The fire will go out and preserve the half burned fuel to make the next lighting easier.
When you approach the hive give it a couple of puffs of smoke in the entrance. That seems to alert the bees that you are going into their hive. If you are standing between two closely spaced hives it is a good idea to give both a little smoke in the entrances. When you use your hive tool to pry up the corner of the cover or inner cover puff some smoke over all the frames as you gently lift the cover off. If you have been working without a smoker you will be amazed by how much easier it is to handle the bees with a little smoke. Depending on conditions and the temperament of your bees it might be necessary to give them a little more smoke from time to time. You will soon get the hang of it and will really enjoy going down into the brood nest to look at the quantity of brood and the pattern the queen is laying.
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