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