In the years that I’ve been keeping bees at Brookfield Farm and my other bee yards I have seldom used a smoker. Now it is true that with gentle, slow motions one can often dispense with smoke.
But that’s not the reason that I often forego the smoker, except on very defensive hives. The simple fact is I just could never keep the smoker lit. Happily, beekeeper Pat Ray has shed light on my delima, and my bee hive smoker now stays lit.
In the past, my smoker would light, and I’d work a hive. After the first few blasts, I didn’t need the smoker. Then I’d move to the next hive. Very likey I didn’t need one there. Luck doesn’t hold forever. At some point I’d hit a touchy hive and reach for my smoker, which would be out.
I tried different concepts: Paper with bits of wood to form a base, then larger dry pieces of wood on that seemed a good idea – not for me however. Finally I’d just grab a handful of straw, twist it into a circle to create a chimney, light that and add dry maple leaves. As I keep goats as well as bees on our cedar and maple covered farm, I have a vast supply of straw and leaves. This works for a quick hit, but burns out rapidly.
Pat’s fuel of choice is burlap, acquired from coffee roasters. The burlap is cut into squares which can be easily stashed in a truck or a bee bag.
He pointed out that as I habitually empty my smoker when I’m done with it, I’m creating a problem for myself. I’m taking away all the dry, crispy bits that will help light the smoker when I need it. So the first time I used his method, I simply put ripped, dry newspaper at the bottom of my very empty smoker, lit that and added the burlap. After that I followed his advice.
LIGHTING THE SMOKER
Remove the crispy, burnable burlap, left from the last time you used the smoker.
Knock out any ash
Put crispy, burnable stuff back in - if you can pick it up it will burn (or put in the ripped newspaper if you don’t have any).
Light your burlap square.
Hold it so the crispy bits catch the flame.
Add the new, burning burlap square – loosely, let it catch and breathe.
Close top tightly
After a while, push the burning burlap down a bit but not tight.
This keeps the burning bits in contact.
Remember to pump it even when not in active use.
Keep more burlap squares in your pocket to add as needed.
WHEN YOU ARE DONE WORKING:
Do not empty the smoker when you’re done.
Close off the smoke holes (Pat uses an empty shotgun shell casing pushed into the “spout”)
Let the smoker fuel die out on its own. This leaves the crispy, burnable stuff for the next time.
Pat’s method is simple, effective, and leaves me wondering “why didn’t I think of that before?” But that’s the joy of visiting and working with other beekeepers.
How do you keep your bee hive smoker lit? Do share. Learning is a life-long experience.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington.