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From their first interaction with bees people have known that it is possible to use smoke to drive the bees from their honey.  Smoke calms the bees and encourages them to move away from the area of the hive being smoked.  No-one is really sure why smoking works. It may be because the bees think there is a forest fire and they fill their stomachs with honey ready to take flight.  Whatever the reason, a reliable source of plentiful but cool smoke is needed to subdue the bees.

There are many different methods of smoking bees;

  • lighting a fire under the bees, in the manner of traditional honey hunters harvesting honey from the high cliffs in Nepal,
  • the use of a burning brand as is used by traditional beekeepers in many parts of Africa,
  • a simple tin can smoker punched with holes to let the air into the fire. 
  • the easiest way to produce smoke is to use a closed smoker - the standard style is called a bent nosed smoker because the top is bent over to direct the smoke more efficiently. This is made of a fire box that holds the fuel (with a grid that allows air in from below the fuel) and a bellows that blows air into the firebox to fan the fire. 

Open smoker

The smoke needs to be cool, not hot, or the bees will get annoyed and aggressive and there is the danger of starting a fire with sparks from the hot smoker. To create cool smoke good fuel should be used. A wide variety of natural materials can be used. Some of the best are dried leaves and grass, dried maize cobs, cardboard cartons, old sacks, cow dung or any other easily available materials that will smoulder. Some beekeepers use certain herbs or plants to create sweet smelling smoke or to narcotise the bees so they are extra quiet.  No artificial materials should be used - kerosene for lighting, or plastic for instance. Have plenty of fuel available when visiting the bees and make sure the smoker doesn't go out while you are in the apiary.

Firstly, smoke should be puffed in the entrance to subdue the bees. Wait for about two minutes before opening the hive. Then start to smoke at the point of entry into the hive or from the back. The bees will be most affected when daylight is first allowed into the hive so smoke should be used freely at this point. Once they become used to the hive being open the bees will become quieter. Bees that are handled more often seem to be come habituated to it and are less aggressive that those that are rarely handled. Not all bees are aggressive and if they wish for easy handling beekeepers should, over time, breed from the ones that are most gentle.  Water sprays can also be used to calm the bees. This may help by cooling them down.  Smoker entrance

 It is best if one person is put in charge of the smoker while others do the work in the hive. This way the bees will be kept under better control. The person using the smoker should know that the bees are only under control when they are in the bee hive. The bees in the air are more unpredictable. The person using the smoker should occasionally smoke the other people who are handling the bees. This will help to remove the smell of people or stings. If a person gets stung then it is very important to smoke the area of the sting immediately. This is because the sting releases an alarm pheromone (isopentyl acetete) that alerts the other worker bees to danger. They are all 'programmed' to sting the place where the pheromone is coming from because that place marks the danger. Smoking the place quickly hides the smell of the alarm pheromone and prevents the bees from being alerted.

After visiting the bees the smoker should be put out carefully to avoid the danger of bush fire.

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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