Caring for our bees - Why do beekeepers use smoke?

Our founding beekeeper, Bryce Hooten, has always treated his bees with respect and has always appreciated the balance of nature. He is still the inspiration for how we operate. Being blind, Bryce had to do things differently, taking absolute care at every stage of the beekeeping process.

Bees are what give us the amazing product that is mānuka honey, so treating the bees with care ensures strong and healthy hives as well as potent and pure mānuka honey. 

The relationship between a beekeeper and his or her bee colony is a mutually beneficial one where honey is exchanged for a nice place to stay and someone to keep them out of harm's way. 

But to keep their bees healthy, beekeepers still need to inspect inside their hives and they also need to get in to collect their share of the honey. This is when some bees can mistake the beekeeper for a threat and things can turn nasty pretty quick. Even though the suit will protect a beekeeper, they don’t want to cause them any unnecessary stress.

Enter the bee smoker.

It’s commonly known that smoke calms the bees so that they’re less likely to sting. It was believed that this was because the smoke mimicked a bush fire and the bees rushed in to gorge on their honey, then were too full of honey to bend around to sting.

While they do start filling up on honey when smoke is present, we have now learned that a far more likely explanation for their calmer demeanour is that it blocks their pheromone communication. 

One of the ways that bees communicate is through pheromones. When a bee senses a threat to the colony it can release alarm pheromones to warn the rest of the colony of a possible threat. Smoke seems to block this message from getting through to the others, so the alarm is never raised.

Bees also release these alarm pheromones with their venom when they sting. Bryce says that he can smell it when they sting. The pheromones tell the other bees “This is the threat, come sting this thing!”. What we’re just learning is that the smoke appears to reduce the release of both bee venom and alarm pheromone during the sting. So if you use smoke it reduces the venom in the sting making your sting less painful and you’re not as likely to get more stings from other bees.

 

We’re not blowing (any old) smoke.

Beekeepers use lots of different fuels in their smokers, usually chosen for their efficiency (so they last longer), low smoke temp, effectiveness in calming the bees and their scent.

By far the most popular fuels are Hessian and pine needles. Bryce’s favourite is pine needles because the smoke has a beautiful scent to it.

Newer on the scene are marijuana and hop flowers. These are becoming popular because of their effectiveness in calming the bees, but also recently it has been discovered that hop oils deter or kill varroa mites! That’s right, the same hops used in beer might be the best weapon in the fight against one of the biggest threats to bee colonies. Beer saving bees? We’ll look into that in another blog, stay tuned.

There's No Smoke Without Fire.

Or so we thought. 

Bryce says that there is a clear danger with bee smokers: the risk of fire, especially causing forest fires making them illegal to use in areas with fire restrictions. Bryce has himself had a couple of close calls and knows a fellow beekeeper whose car went up in flames. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find a beekeeper that doesn’t have a tale or two about a smoker catching something on fire. So some smart beekeepers have thought up a new type of smoker - the fireless bee smoke. It’s basically a vape but for bees. They can’t catch anything on fire, making them far safer and better for the planet.

 

We're on a mission to create a healthier world through innovative health products using the power of Mānuka. From nature, and for nature.

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