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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a Master Beekeeper! Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to Light a Smoker

The smoker is a metal, spouted container with a hinged lid and a bellows attached. We build a small fire in the smoker with the plan to create a cool smoke that will cause the bees to react by gorging themselves with honey. Beekeepers say that the bees think there's a forest fire and go to ingest the honey to remove it from the hive.

I don't like to smoke the bees. They are upset by smoking and they take a while to recover from the smoke. In addition the smoke affects the honey in the hive. I do always light the smoker when I am going to inspect the hives. You never know when a hive will be cantankerous -- upset by the weather, the loss of the queen, your bad timing, whatever. I want to be prepared to distract them if I am liable to be stung unreasonably.

There are so many hard parts in lighting a smoker. This is the beginning of my third year in beekeeping and I still find it difficult. When I went to the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute last spring, I found the first part of lighting the smoker (lighting the lighter to light the smoker) to be the hardest part!

I can't light a cigarette lighter - my thumb just rolls on the mechanism and nothing happens. I'm not fast enough. The solution for me has been the hand held propane lighter. It's simple to use and easy to light.


There are lots of fuels used to light the smoker. The fuel needs to be one that will release a cool smoke. Most people in Georgia use wads of pine needles. Others use burlap cut into strips and rolled up. Leaves provide smoker fuel. Some of the bee catalog companies sell fuel for the smokers. Sometimes it is pressed cotton , sometimes it is wood pellets, sometimes baling twine.

The goal is not only to light the smoker but to keep it lit. A friend of mine uses cedar chips for hamsters. I find cedar hard to keep lit, but she swears by it. Virginia Webb (a well-known Georgia beekeeper) uses wood chips and puts some in the bottom, lights them and keeps feeding the chips. Bob Binnie (president of the GA beekeepers Association) uses Dadant pellets. Bob starts his smoker with a wadded up paper towel and then feeds in the pellets.

A by-product of using the solar wax melter is the wax impregnated paper towel filter through which the melted wax drips into the collection container. I keep the paper towel filter infused with melted wax residue on hand to be a smoker fire starter, more powerful than the plain paper towel that Bob uses.



Once you've lit the smoker, the main challenge is to keep it lit. To do so, one must remember to pump the bellows every once in a while to keep the fire burning or at least smoldering and providing smoke going up the chimney to use on the bees as needed. I said "one must" because I always forget about the smoker - I rarely use it and it often goes out before I am finished with my inspection.

There are some pictures from some earlier posts on learning to light the smoker here and here.
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2 comments:

  1. By far the easiest AND fastest way to light a smoker is to use a propane or MAPP gas torch. Throw your kindling in the smoker, torch it and then put on your smoking material when the kindling is red hot coals.

    Works like a charm EVERY time!

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  2. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Agree with Brian. We are first year beekeepers. After watching all the videos and reading all the books, we started with building a smoker fire the old fashioned Boy Scout way. It always took about a half hour and the smoker went out 75% of the time. We quickly learned to grab some dead, dry pine branches, some pine needles and pine cones and put the MAPP gas torch to the smoker. It fired up and stayed lit 90% of the time and only took 5 minutes to get it going. You don't need to be a Boy Scout to get a smoker fire going and you don't need more aggravations.

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