Natural Beekeeping 101: Smoking: Part 1

smockerSmoking is a hot topic among Eastern European beekeepers. A few things discussed year after year on forums and in Pchelovodstvo journal are:

• Smoke is dangerous to beekeeper.
• Smoke is stressful to bees.
• Smoke particles will end up in the beeswax.
• Polluting and potentially setting a whole neighborhood on fire is not something to be proud of.

So, after reading all about it, I tried (yes, I honestly can say that) several times to not use the smoker at all. I do not recommended it as a rule, since the bees are never happy when they are disturbed, but I manage to do regular feeding in the fall and checking whether I need to add another super, without using smoker at all.
Now, for regular inspection/maintenance, using smoker is a must for me. I highly recommend carrying an extra lighter (or a torch) and a bag of fuel! I also use an organic vapor blocking face mask.
For a usual inspection, I do the following:
1. I come out to my apiary early in the morning or 2-3 hours before sunset.
2. I set my well-lit smoker in front of the hive in a large metal (dog) bowl, with about a half inch of water (to prevent dry grass catching on fire), and leave it there for two minutes or so, while preparing my equipment (sanitizing from the previous hive inspection). It is usually enough to start inspection.
3. When I am ready to open the hive, I set the smoker a few yards away.
4. I remove the outer cover, set my frame holder on it, peel off the corner of the canvas cloth, and watch the bees for a minute or two.
5. I record how the bees are behaving, or if I see any SHB running on the top of the canvas.
6. If, and only if the bees are agitated (they may fly out immediately into my face), I slowly go and get the smoker and install it under the hive (the mesh floor lets the smoke in) and count to five.
7. I remove the smoker and walk away for a minute or so. If the bees are not calm, I return and decide whether I am dressed appropriately (I will need thick gloves) and prepared to deal with the unhappy colony.

to be continued…

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