“Smoke is the beekeeper’s third line of defense”

The topic of the post this week is the bee smoker.  It’s one of the most useful tools in the bee-keeper’s arsenal, but what exactly is it for?

In order to get into the hive to check on the bees or top up their sugar water (yet again this week the bees showed how hungry they are at the moment, managing to consume two full bottles of sugar water over the course of the week), we need to make sure the bees aren’t too cranky.  Blowing smoke into a hive has been a method used to pacify bees for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that we knew a bit more about why it works.

Here’s the most simple explanation the interweb could offer:

“Under normal circumstances if a beehive is threatened, guard bees will release a volatile pheromone substance, iso-pentyl acetate, better known as an alarm odor. This alerts the middle-aged bees in the hive — the ones with the most venom — to defend the hive by attacking the intruder. When smoke is blown into the hive first, however, the guard bees’ receptors are dulled and they fail to sound the pheromonious alarm.”  You can read more about the science behind bee smokers on WiseGeek or on Wikipedia.

We’re using a classic version of the bee smoker, and lighting it with cardboard along with a piece of twine.  The twine is included to ensure the fire stays smouldering for longer, guaranteeing smoke for the duration that the hive is open.  We generally give the bees a few puffs of smoke every time we want to manipulate a bit of the hive, such as putting back the queen excluder after we’ve checked on the frames.

Find out in the upcoming weeks what the other lines of defense are!

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LSE Bees

This is a blog to follow the bee hives at LSE.

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