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Getting Started: How to Light a Smoker

The smoker is the single most important accessory for minimizing stings – even more important than protective clothing. Directed smoke has the effect of disrupting the bees’ normal cascade of defense responses when they perceive their nest being invaded. Smoked bees tend to flee from the source of smoke (the beekeeper) rather than advance in a defensive reaction. The result is less flight and stinging behavior.

In Georgia it’s hard to beat pine straw as a smoker fuel. It is readily available, flammable, and makes a good dense smoke. To properly light a smoker, it’s helpful to remember that air is forced into the fire chamber from below, proceeds through the ignited fuel, and exits from the spout at top. This means that the flame should be below the fuel, not above.

To light a smoker, take a handful of pine straw, ignite it, place it in the fire chamber, and puff several times to encourage a brisk flame (Fig. 1). Once the pine straw is fully enflamed, pack in more pine straw directly on top. Once this layer is ignited, you may cap the smoker (Fig. 2 & 3). The objective is a cool, dense smoke.

A smoker is used when one initially opens a colony. Crack the lid, direct a puff or two inside the hive, briefly recover the lid, then proceed to open the hive. Direct several puffs of smoke downward between the frames. It is normal for bees to buzz loudly as they flee the smoke. This degree of smoking is frequently sufficient to allow the beekeeper to do most jobs. However, if the bees get testy, give them another few puffs to defuse the defensive behavior.

Fig. 1Fig. 1
Fig. 2Fig. 2
Fig. 3Fig. 3