You might have seen the Bee Smart puzzle yesterday was about beekeeping equipment. Every week I pick a new topic not just for the puzzle, but for the website as well. In my post for this week, I’ll continue on that topic to chat about something to do with beekeeping equipment.
First of all, beekeeping equipment is a pretty comprehensive subject. It contains everything from hive parts and safety head to beekeeping tools and the pest management things we implement in the hives. Not to mention the materials we use to make and implement in those tools and items.
That last, the materials, is what I want to mention today. From the fuel we use in our smokers to the liquid we put in beetle traps, there is such a variety that it can take days, even weeks to cover just those.
Some are toxic, others are not. The features are myriad. All are chosen by the individual beekeeper for their perceived or real results. Like smoker fuel. Some of the most informative, fun and still divisive at times is what materials we burn in a beekeeping smoker.
Pine needles, cow chips, burlap, dried grass, cigar smoke, mesquite. There are possibly dozens more items and combinations of them that beekeepers use. Perhaps there are just as many reasons.
My personal favorite is to make a little bundle of mostly dry pine needles wrapped in burlap. My own reasoning is that I have always found pine needles to have the most calming effect on bees here in my neck of the woods (Omaha, NE). I wrap them in burlap to help keep the smoker smoldering, especially in case I make my most common error and stuff too many pine needles in and choke off the burning before it can “take”. My burlap wrapped pine needle bundles give me the best of both worlds.
I have beekeeper amigos in the American South/South-West who swear by cow chips or misquote, or both. I know some fellas, and a couple women, who grew up with mentors who showed them how to just fire up an aromatic cigar and blow the cigar smoke effectively into the hive.
Smoker smoke should be a cool smoke, that is, not too hot at a distance of about 6 – 12 inches away from the smoker. Smoke that is too hot agitates instead of pacifies bees. Ideally, in my own experience anyway, smoke should be dense and thick. Thin, wispy, smoke in my opinion is not usually as effective. The more dense the smoke, the less that is required to be used. When it comes to using smoke, less is more when craftfully applied.
The materials we burn in a smoker most assuredly should not have a toxic, paralyzing or “drugged” effect on the bees. If you have bees dying, freezing in place, or acting abnormally, check that smoker fuel quick!
Beekeepers use our smokers to pacify bees (somewhat) and to “herd” them out of the way while inspecting or moving hive parts around. We also use them to cover the alarm pheromones released when bees sting us or our gear to minimize the attention from a potentially growing number of bees tracking us. Why have bees sting and die unnecessarily. It only needlessly leads to greater consternation, more dead bees and higher levels colony distress.
Well folks, it’s time for me to wrap this up. Feel free to post questions and comments in the comments area here or in the Bee Smart forums. Yeah, I know it’s slow in there, but hey, start up a topic and that will help pick things up.