While I was researching for my eBook on Natural Beekeeping I came across a lot of misinformation with regard to using a smoker on bees. The biggest and most quoted misconception was that the smoke calms the bees and makes them easier to handle. Conventional beekeeping methods rely on this and use a smoker every time a hive is manipulated.
The fact is the smoke does not calm the bees. When bees smell smoke their natural instinct is to prepare to flee. After all in the wild smoke would only mean one thing…. Fire!
A forest fire would of course destroy their nest so as soon as the bees smell smoke they immediately start to gorge themselves with honey. If they find they have to leave their nest and relocate to somewhere safer they will then have sufficient reserves to tide them over until their new nest is located and set up.
A bee gorged with honey will of course act calmer and be unable to sting because she can no longer bend her abdomen easily (how do you feel after a large meal!). So while all outward appearances are of calm they are in fact on high alert preparing to “high tail it outta there”.
That of course is the reason why too much smoke will have the opposite effect. It will cause the bees to become more agitated rather than less.
Smoke has an added consequence of destroying the hive scent and the pheromones within, which are used to control the smooth running of the system. The advantage to the beekeeper being the guard bees cannot mobilise the hives defences against him or her.
The down side, once the beekeeper has finished the task they set out to do is the bees have to repair the damage to their supplies caused by gorging themselves. They also have remove the scent of smoke from their hive so things can return back to normal.
Can you imagine the stress and adverse effect this has on a hive when every ten to fourteen days the conventional beekeeper comes along and subjects them to a good few puffs of smoke and pulls their nest apart?
It is good practice as a natural beekeeper to avoid using smoke on your bees. If you want to inspect them chose your time so most of the foragers are out away from the hive. Handle your bees gently; calmly and methodically then nine times out of ten you won’t have any trouble at all.
If you need to get them to move out of the way, when you are closing up the bars for instance a light spray from a garden spray bottle of water or water and a few drops of cider vinegar will get them to duck out of sight.
You can then shut up your hive in the knowledge you have not left behind the chaos caused by a smoker.
Having said that, for the one time things don’t go to plan you should always have a lit smoker on the ground within reach. That way if things do start to get out of hand you can give them a few puffs of smoke so you can shut them up and return another day.
Because of how a smoker works on bees it is a waste of time smoking a clustered swarm. The smoke would in fact agitate the swarm and may make them fly. If you are trying to collect a swarm either use nothing on them at all or spray them with weak sugar water. They would then be too busy licking it off one another to bother about you.
If you have not yet read my book on natural beekeeping for beginners than you can get it with a special subscribers discount here: Natural Beekeeping
There seems to be a lot of misinformation and myth circulated around the web and in some beekeeping publications regarding Natural Beekeeping.
The first and to my mind the most damaging myth put about by exponents of conventional beekeeping methods is that Natural Beekeeping is a return to the ancient ways of beekeeping before the ‘great’ invention of removable frames by Langstroth.
To paraphrase an all to common opinion; “The basis of natural beekeeping was to catch swarms and stick them into hives, the most primitive of which were just hollow containers made of wood, clay or straw. When the bees had filled the nest with honey, they were smoked out or killed and the honey and wax harvested. Just one step away from stealing honey from wild bees! So the old ‘natural way’ was to catch bees, gave them somewhere to live, then kill them and take their stuff.”
Then the clincher question would be asked. “How is that in anyway better than modern beekeeping?”
My answer to that is it’s not any better, modern conventional beekeeping is probably about the same!
I would suggest that modern Natural Beekeeping started with Abbé Émile Warré (1867 – 1951) who lived in France and kept bees in a wide variety of hives with the aim of finding the best hive for both bees and beekeeper.
Abbé Warré developed The People’s Hive based on his studies of 350 hives of different systems that existed at his time as well as of the natural habits of the bees themselves.
He advocated a method of beekeeping that involved minimal interference. After all the bees have had over 100 million years practice why do they need us to strip their nest apart every two weeks to check they are doing it correctly?
His hive uses top bars so the bees can build their own comb the size they want unlike conventional frames and foundation where the bees are forced to build comb larger than they would otherwise. (The thinking there was that larger cells means bigger bees resulting in more honey) The actual effect is larger cells make it is easier for the Vorroa!
The main draw back with Warre’s methods is his hive. It is expanded by adding new boxes to the bottom. The existing stack of bees and honey has to be lifted so the new empty box can be inserted. Towards the end of a heavy nectar flow you would need two fit people to lift it. Not a beekeeping method for anyone with a bad back!
Enter the Horizontal top bar hive, a style of cheap low-tech hive that has been about since ancient times. It could be adapted to the new minimal interference methods suggested by Abbe Warre without the heavy lifting.
Therefore I would suggest that ‘Natural’ beekeeping is in fact a more ‘modern’ method of keeping bees than that supported by the conventional beekeeper. Their assertion that natural beekeeping is nothing more than a return to the old days of slash and burn beekeeping is just a load of hokum.
Perhaps it is the conventional methods of manipulation, exploitation, constant interference and the use of chemicals as a cure for everything that should be regarded as old fashioned?
Check out my website Natural Beekeeping Using Top Bar Hive
If you have read my beekeeping posts on a regular basis you will know that I advocate and use Horizontal Topbar hives (My Natural Beekeeping website can be found Here)
If however you decide have a go at keeping bees in a vertical top bar hive then please have a look at DIY Beehive by Nick Hampshire, who is a Warre Beekeeper and Beehive Builder
He has produced a step by step guide which takes you through building your own Warre hive from his plans.
The plans and guide are in this instance not free but with his bonuses I think it is a worthwhile investment.
The Warre hive has one disadvantage (which for me was a killer!) It involves heavy lifting. To expand the hive and give the bees more space you put an empty box on the bottom of the stack. The bees natural instinct is to build downwards as they would do in a hollow tree. The Warre method of bee keeping works with this instinct.
(With conventional bee hives you add new sections to the top of the stack forcing the bees to expand upwards which is an un-natural enforced response for them).
With a Warre hive you have to lift the whole stack to put the new box underneath. On the upside the Warre method is almost totally hands off so you more or less leave the bees to themselves.
With these instructions you will learn how to:
Choose the best materials for your beehive
Easily build your own hive parts
Quickly make either frames or top bars for your hive
Select and apply your preferred wood finish for your perfect backyard beehive
Choose a good location and install your finished beehive ready for your own honeybees!
Here’s the best part. This is an all in one package…it has all the information you need to build a garden beehive in less than one afternoon!
So if you would like to consider the Warre method of beekeeping rather than the horizontal top bar method (better for old farts with bad backs like me!) and constructing your own hive then I recommend to you the DIY Beehive as a good place to start
Once you have read my ebook Natural Beekeeping (available here) I would strongly recommend purchasing the Barefoot Beekeeper by P J Chandler.
The Barefoot Beekeeper is a revolutionary book about ‘sustainable’, chemical-free beekeeping, showing how it can be simplified and made accessible to all, including people with disabilities, as with this method there is no heavy lifting involved.
The author strips away all unnecessary complication and confusion, demonstrating that ‘modern’ beekeeping methods are largely to blame for the poor state of health of the honeybee and that the commercialization of beekeeping marked the start of the disease and parasite problems that honeybees have been trying to deal with ever since.
The author advocates small-scale, sustainable beekeeping, with minimal disturbance to the bees and more time spent observing and learning from them. This book shows how you can make everything you need to keep bees yourself, using recycled materials and simple tools: you do not need to buy any additional equipment at all, nor do you need synthetic medications or other chemicals.
This is the companion volume to ‘How To Build a Top Bar Hive’, which is available as a free, downloadable supplement to The Barefoot Beekeeper.
Barefoot Beekeeper discusses sustainable beekeeping using Top Bar Beehives in depth and is over 111 pages of useful information.
It can be read through or picked up as a reference book as and when required I highly recommend that you buy this book if nothing else!
It is available in ebook format for instant download: Click Here!
My new website specifically designed for anyone who would like to know more about bees and keeping bees naturally is now fully functional.
The site is designed with beginners or those just interested in finding out about natural beekeeping in mind. The home page is where you can sign up for a series of free articles about bees.
After you have signed up you will get a special discount code for my new ebook Natural Beekeeping Using Topbar Hives. The normal price is $10.00 the discount price is $8.00.
There is enough information in its 50 pages for you to make an informed decision about whether you would like to take up bee keeping as a hobby and the different methods you can use. Click on the link above for more details.
There is also a page that lists further reading for you. I have personally purchased these myself and I can recommend all of them as being useful to you in your journey to become an expert beekeeper.
Finally there is a section with resources if you would like to become an affiliate and promote my ebook. You will get a good commission for every book you sell. If that interests you then please visit this page;