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Thread: Smoke vs Water (or other alternatives)

  1. #1
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    Default Smoke vs Water (or other alternatives)

    No idea where to put this one, but as it often crops up in the "Natural" beekeeper's armoury I thought here might not be a bad place.

    I've read a lot of the arguments about smoke being "bad" to use on bees and while some of the reasons are propagated by beekeepers themselves I wonder just how much research if any has been done on just what and how smoke affects bees.

    For example, it's often claimed that smoke puts bees into a state where they prepare to abandon the hive on the basis that a fire's coming. How much truth actually is there to this claim?

    The other, perhaps more clear cut claim is that the scent of the smoke masks the pheromones and therefore makes it harder for the bees to communicate, especially alarm and attack pheromones.

    Water spray, with or without sugar, has been fairly frequently pushed as a much less stressful/harmful alternative to smoke, but what little I have seen of it in use, it seems pretty drastic to me and seems to be effective by simply drenching bees to the point they can't fly.

    Both methods seem to be reasonably effective at dispersing bees, I can't say I particularly like standing in smoke or rain, so I don't really blame them.

    How much do we actually know about how smoke affects bees and is spraying them with water really any better, or less stressful, for them?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Jon's Avatar
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    A couple of puffs of smoke on removal of the crown board, left to drift over the top bars, is generally all I use.
    Some people put smoke in the entrance but I don't think that is a good idea as it drives the bees up instead of down and half the cluster will be adhering to the underside of the crown board on removal.
    Equally bad advice, imho, is pumping the hive full of smoke and waiting 5 minutes before opening it.
    I used to do all this stuff as I was advised to but I find it is not necessary.
    It's better to take a gentle approach and work with the bees rather than trying to drive them into submission with a heavy duty smoker and a pair of heavy gloves.
    Too much smoke is a bad thing and will definitely agitate bees rather than calming them. It also makes the queen hide somewhere.
    Water helps to keep bees on the frames rather than in the air but I don't see how it is less stressful than smoke.
    It's another of those things that have got incorporated into 'natural' beekeeping without any supporting evidence. Bees do not actually like getting wet.
    Some colonies can be opened without smoke or water but it's good to have the smoker lit and ready as any colony can have an off day.
    I find that some colonies react well to smoke and others do not much like it.
    Some very aggressive colonies are calmed by smoke and others go buck mad when smoked.
    If you open at the right time of day when a lot of bees are out foraging and the colony vibe is good you should be able to get by with very little smoke or water.
    Last edited by Jon; 04-04-2012 at 09:49 AM.

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    Does anyone not start out billowing great big clouds of smoke everywhere?

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    I was advised not to use sugar in a water spray as the bees licking it off could pull the hairs out leaving bald bees as in CBPV .. not sure if the advice was saying you cannot tell then if you have the virus or whether the holes left behind could give an access point for the virus to get in and a hold

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    Senior Member chris's Avatar
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    If it's natural beekeeping, then I'd have thought the water would contain a variety of natural oils.The first time I heard of this method was when it was advocated by a certain James Fischer who claimed to know almost everything. He certainly had an extensive scientific knowledge, but didn't quote any paper to back up his choice of water spraying. I've never tried it as I don't like the idea of adding moisture to the inside of the hive.I'm sure though that it must be useful outside the hive in temporarily keeping a swarm from flying off.

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    I've heard of spraying a swarm to keep them from flying off but can usually get to the swarm box faster than a water spray!

    I personally wouldn't be keen on spraying water from a container that had been kicking around in my bee kit for perhaps a week (or even for an hour in the heat of a car) onto the tops of honey supers which might contain open cells. Who knows what bacteria one might be introducing?

    We give one gentle puff of smoke at the entrance to let the bees know we're there, wait a wee while, then take of the roof and crown board gently. Further puff across frames if they seem to need it but usually the smoker goes out through lack of use! Seems to work with our bees. Sometimes we have to smoke them down off the frame tops when putting qx back on to avoid squashing/rolling bees if there's a lot of traffic on a sunny day but still don't use a lot of smoke.

    Of course, some beekeepers believe you shouldn't use smoke or take the cover off a hive at all so as not to disrupt the colony pheremones and they are entitled to their opinions, especially if it means more swarms available for those looking for them!
    Last edited by Trog; 04-04-2012 at 10:35 AM. Reason: typo

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    I use smoke on TBHs for colonies that are agitated/easily annoyed. But for colonies in a good mood/warm days or when feeding I use a water spray.

    Water only. I tried sugar but water is more effective: if you spray sugar solution the bees want to stop to collect it: if you spray water, the bees run away. Ideal when closing bars on a TBH where the risk is of crushing bees.

    A spray is more convenient as well (although I light smokers using a two flame mini blowlamp which takes 30secs with dead wood.)

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    I listened to a (dire) reading of Langsroth on the Hive of the Honey Bee last year, and he advocated spraying the bees with sugar solution, apparently it made the bees keen to see him and very gentle but maybe he did nt see CBPV.....

  9. #9
    Cherie84
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    I agree with madasafish, smoke's being hyped these days a lot, but in fact using it for colonies is not the best idea. I prefer to use water, too. Just my two cents though...
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    Last edited by Neils; 06-04-2012 at 12:00 PM.

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    Senior Member Jon's Avatar
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    Based on observation rather than 'natural' beekeeping dogma, both smoke and water can be effective and sometimes neither is needed.
    I cannot see on what basis water is more natural than smoke.
    If you consider a natural situation, it never rains inside a hollow tree but it is quite possible that smoke could drift into the nest during a forest fire.
    Reacting quickly to the presence of smoke is likely to be an evolutionary strategy to enable a colony to tank up and abscond when their nest is under threat from fire.
    Using smoke is taking advantage of a behaviour which has evolved in the honeybee over millions of years.
    Last edited by Jon; 06-04-2012 at 01:29 PM.

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