You should smell my car. Well, first you should know that I drive a 12-year old Nissan Pathfinder (it has over 160K miles on it, but I’m not giving it up…I figure I can get 250K miles out of it. I don’t quit on things).
My car smells like smoke and beeswax, and it’s a joy to sit in when I’ve been visiting beeyards. Why? Because the smoker’s still smoldering in the car, and I often have some freshly used frames of beeswax in there with me.
So, let’s talk about the smoker—which is the single most important tool when it comes to keeping bees. Even those beekeepers who don’t routinely wear veils use smoke. I’ve never met a beekeeper who doesn’t have a smoker lit and ready to use when visiting the bees, and I probably wouldn’t work with one who didn’t.
And wouldn’t you know it? The single most important beekeeping tool is also one of the most pleasant and sensory to use…but it’s also (initially) a pain in the neck. It takes some time and some attention (and some experience) to get a smoker properly puffing away…and I admit, it’s tough to carve out the necessary time and attention when you’re in a rush to open a hive. Frankly, I’ve come to think of lighting the smoker and nurturing the smoke from it as a sensory way to transition from the rush rush rush of daily life to the calmer behaviors appreciated by the bees.
You want to know why beekeepers use smokers, don’t you, Reader? Well, the short of it is this: Beekeepers announce their arrival at the hive by puffing a bit of smoke into the hive entrance and under the lid. This announcement leads the bees to think there may be fire in the area, so they begin the process of engorging with honey in the event they must leave to find a new place to live. And when bees eat honey, they become calm. A bee filled with honey does not want to sting. However, in the event a bee didn’t get the message and does sting, the smoke serves to mask the alarm pheromone (emitted at the time of the sting) that signals other bees of danger; so, it reduces the chances of more stings.
We keep the smoker lit and puffing away in the event the bees become agitated. A little cloud of cool smoke settles everyone down…including the beekeeper who, when she operates those billows, feels as if she may have some sort of control over the world. Which she does not have at all. But it smells nice and looks cool.
All of this to say that I’m now using a new smoker—a Rauchboy. From Germany. It looks awesome and smolders like crazy. It’s a little more expensive than the run-of-the-mill smokers, but I want mine to stand out in a crowd. I’ve kept it lit in the backyard just for the heck of it…just so it can hurry up and get its patina on.