BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Smoke Gets In My Eyes...

Temps Daytime: 50's F Nights: 40's F

There is much wistfulness, even romance, to the speech of a beekeeper about his bees...and that voice seems to come along with you to the bee yard in all the wonderfully worn out hand-me-down apiary equipment that encouraging mentors pass on that day they realize their new apprentice truly glimpses into a future of wildflowers, apple orchids, and furry little floating companions humming with them all through the growing season.

My neighbor had not built one frame when I met her though she was in her fourth season; another had never bought one super or bottom board. Their hive tools were worn, smokers black and bent, and bees happily thriving in fully drawn out dark comb.

So did a veteran beekeeper pass the torch, or should I say, the smoker, to me. It was with some hesitation that I finally bought a new smoker....and this new stainless steel model is a real revelation! SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE...!

I got a little lost along my way, forgetting his original instructions on using the smoke to "just let them know you are coming". All the reading and workshops, even the Natural Beekeeper, really smoke the heck out of their hives! I can see that in the south with the African bee influence; but my routine became scattered and I failed to see any good coming of smoking my bees.

Re-setting my thinking after reading the latest article on smoking in a fall issue of Bee Culture magazine - and also watching Ben and Chris with my bees - I found myself going back to the original advice of my first mentor. The screened bottom board is very helpful. A few puffs in the back of the hive; a few gentle puffs around the entrance; once or twice lightly under the hood; then set it in the bee yard...just to let them know you are coming...and wait a minute or two. COOL smoke...very important!

1 comment:

Phillip said...

This has become my method for using the smoker too. I only started beekeeping last year, but I went from smoking the bees too much, to not smoking them at all (misting them with sugar water instead, which I still do), to using the smoke only sparingly, the way you described. Basically just a few puffs here and there to let them know I'm coming, but not enough smoke to get them riled up and gorging on honey.

I got off smoking them when I read about how the smoke fools the bees into thinking they might have to evacuate the hive, which causes them to tear open the honey cells and gorge on honey, which then takes them several hours to recover from. But I think that only happens if they're smoked over too much.

I misted my bees with sugar water for a while, but learned the hard way that smoke is a necessity when the bees are more defensive, like when nectar sources are low or when the hives are loaded up with honey and the bees are guarding it vigilantly.