Gettin’ Lit

Let’s talk about smokers. When I first started beekeeping I felt bad about using a smoker. These are some of the things I heard: It scares them into thinking there is a fire and they want to abscond. It puts stress on them. It’s bad for them. There are better methods and my personal favorite-the only people who don’t understand bees use smoke.

The only outcome of this was I didn’t feel confident when using my smoker, I wasn’t sure of when to use it, and I wasn’t using it properly. Well, that’s just bollocks and after reading and asking my own questions (rather than only listening only to what others say) I feel much more confident. When used properly, smoke can help protect beekeepers from multiple stings and it can also protect the bees. Fewer of them die from stinging and when smoke is used to move bees away from frames, fewer die from being squished.

Making smoker bundles

Even though you may find you don’t use it every time, I still think it’s better to have your smoker going-just in case. Example: My husband was treating one of our hives with Oxylic Acid and decided not fire up the smoker. 45 minutes later I watched him run down the driveway and down the street still trying to get about 5 guard bees to get away from him so he could come in the house. Now when I ask him if he wants me to light the smoker he says yes. You just never know when you might need it and you might as well know how to keep it lit for a while. It can be stressful to be in the middle of a hive check and have your smoker die right when you need it.

This is a screenshot of a video I took of my husband trying to run away from guard bees (lol)

When I started beekeeping I knew I wanted to conquer the smoker. I’ve always prided myself on being able to light things on fire (hahaha-no, really-ask my ex). My father was a fireman and I’m not sure that makes one good at starting fires but it’s a strong connection to to all things fire. I was even a volunteer firefighter for a couple years. I’ve been inside houses that were engulfed in flames-and, bonus for future trivia-I learned how to drive a stick shift on a fire truck!

Me, with a few other volunteer firefighters back in the day We were given awards from the city.

I grew up with my family camping across the United States and fire is a big part of camping. Fire is a ritual. Once you finished setting up camp, making a fire was the very next thing you did. The smell of smoke triggers good feelings and memories of past camping trips. The smell of smoke is enticing. Think of how you feel when you’re driving down the road in the fall and you smell the familiar, comforting scent of a fire. Why do we love fireplaces, fire pits, and bonfires?

My dad and I on a hike in Colorado

Fire is primal. Our ancestors survived because of fire. They cooked food with fire, made pottery and other necessary tools, forged weapons with fire, and it provided protection from predators. Fire provided warmth in harsh winters and light before electricity. It was and is used in art and in ceremonies. There’s a of feeling of pride that arises when one successfully makes a keeps a fire going…because fire is life!

Magic happens around fire. Laughter, story telling, singing, and star gazing. Fire is romantic. Fire is powerful and humans have a healthy respect for fire. Fire must be contained-kept in its place. If fire gets out of control it can be destructive and unpredictable. Because of this, I think it is wise to approach it with caution and respect.

And now, let’s respectfully approach our smokers…

First you’ll need to gather all of the “Gettin’ Lit” smoker ingredients, including bundle materials (photos at the end of the list). It may seem like a lot at first but it’s probably stuff you already have laying around, you just need to put it all in one place (a bin). And if you are tired of your smoker only lasting 10 minutes at a time it’s worth it to collect all the items and have it ready when you need it. Here’s a list of items:

Egg cartons with pinecones are good to help fuel your smoker. I pour a little wax over mine to help fuel my smoker fire.
  • Smoker. (duh)
  • Way to light smoker. Sometimes I use a torch and sometimes I use a long lighter.
  • Scissors. I use scissors to cut the twine and cotton.
  • Twine. I use this to wrap the bundles.
  • Some paper. I use torn up old mail or newspaper. It’s best to use something that doesn’t have a glossy, shiny surface-like some magazines. You can even use printer/computer paper if it’s all you have. Gather about 2 sheets worth.
  • Storage Container. I put all of my smoker stuff in a bin (with a lid). It’s come in handy a time or two when it’s begun to rain while I’m prepping.
  • Dry Wood. Key word here is “dry”. That’s why it’s important to collect stuff early. If you wait until the day you are getting into your hive(s) it’s possible you will have damp or wet wood. I usually collect small sticks or branches that have fallen. I also collect pieces of bark because I like options.
  • Pinecones. Easy peasy. The smaller the better.
  • Pine needles. Also easy peasy. (I am allergic to pine so I just try to stay out of the direct line of smoke. I’ve realized pine is an easily accessible resource so I’ve added it to my smoker ingredients. Plus, lots of people are already using pine needles and pines are found across the US.
  • Old toilet paper rolls. Another thing I use is paper towel rolls. I cut them into thirds.
  • Dried flowers. Generally herbs (mint, sage, basil, lavender, etc.) give a nice white smoke (and a sweet smell). A good rule of thumb is to only use edible plant materials. You can even save your orange peels and use those. Rosemary is good, too. You can experiment with your own blends!
  • Egg cartons. I save my egg cartons. They are made of pulp and burn well.
  • Beeswax. If you really want to get fancy you can step it up and notch and melt some beeswax and pour it over pinecones in your egg cartons. Just place one pinecone where the eggs are normally placed and pour some wax over them.
  • Cotton. I buy mine from Pigeon Mountain Trading Company in Lafayette, Ga. They are made of 100% cotton and have a long burning time.
  • Green grass/leaves/ferns (If they are free from chemicals)
Small pieces of dried wood and bark I’ve collected in the woods behind my home, and my front yard
“Smoker Circles” produce a slow, steady burn. They aren’t expensive and they last a long time!
Pine needles collected from a neighbors yard because they have way more pine trees than I do and they are nice and think it’s interesting that I have bees. It’s fun to be able to educate people about bees!
This was a paper towel roll. I cut it into thirds and tossed it into my smoker bin.
Bundles of lavender, thai basil, rosemary and some goldenrod I dried by hanging them up for a few days.
Super easy to store everything in a bin. Keeps stuff dry and you will always know where it is!

The first thing I do with my smoker is dump out the ashes from the last time you used it. After that I place some torn up paper into my smoker and grab my lighter. In this case, some IKEA directions (haha IKEA directions-that would be long enough to light the smoker a few times).

Next I drop in the egg carton beeswax pine cones.

This is how I begin the smoker bundle. (You are going to want to do this before you get your smoker ready to light) First I add the pinecones and I will add the dry sticks and bark to the outside of the toilet paper roll and I will roll the twine around it all to hold it in place.

Here’s what the bundle looks like from above once it’s wrapped with the twine

and this is what your bundle will look like when you add your dried herbs

Once you have your bundle ready you are ready to add it to your already lit smoker! Don’t forget to use the bellows gently as you begin to light your smoker. Soon the bundle will catch fire and you will see more smoke-keep pumping the bellows and you will soon have a steady smoke. I like to add some green plant materials to the top of the smoke to help with a cool smoke. This time I added some ferns, because I had plenty.

You want to make sure you don’t see fire coming up through the bellows when you press it-only smoke. You should have a nice white smoke with this smoker recipe and it always lasts over 50 minutes.

When I took a few videos to make a REEL on Instagram I recorded the time stamp after my husband treated our two hives with Ox Acid and it kept going for a while after that, I just forgot to go back and look. You can I see I took the video at 1:39 and when he came back I checked my time and it was 2:19. So, that’s 40 minutes and 45 minutes is more accurate since it took a moment to make sure it was lit, close it, add ferns, pickup my phone to take this photo.

*Flashback to the first time I ever lit my smoker*

I hope this helps you become more confident in your smoke making abilities! If you have any questions please message me! If you want to see a video on this checkout my Instagram. I am considering creating a YouTube but I’m not sure what type of content I’d put there.

Thanks for reading!

~ Carmen