How to Avoid Bee Stings – Part Two

by Julie Tennis on November 16, 2011

This week I’m posting a short series about how to avoid being stung by bees. There are three main lines of defense against bee stings when you’re a beekeeper: your suit, your smoker, and bee sense.  This is day two – The Smoker:

The Smoker

The smoker is a small canister that you fill with some sort of material that will smoulder.  I use pine needles.  (You want to use something organic.  Don’t use anything with chemicals, like plastic or other trash, because the chemicals in the smoke can injure you and your bees.)  Attached to the canister is a small bellows that blows into the base of the canister.  At the top of the canister is a hole where the smoke exits.

To use a smoker, fill the canister with your tinder and light it.  Once the tinder has a good flame, close the top.  This will put out the fire and the tinder will continue to exude smoke.  Use the bellows to blow puffs of smoke out the top of the smoker, aiming the smoke around the bees that you will be working with.

The smoke helps to calm the bees by inhibiting their ability to communicate with each other.  One of the methods bees use to communicate is with pheromones (by smell).  The smoke disrupts or masks the “attack” signal, leaving the bees relatively docile.

I suggest always using a smoker whenever you open one of your hives.  On a warm sunny day during my first year as a beekeeper, I decided I didn’t need the smoker because I was just going to take a “quick look” inside.  Fortunately I was wearing my bee suit because the agitated bees poured out of the hive to attack me.  I didn’t retreat at first because I didn’t notice how upset the hive had become.

By the time I realized what was happening, bees were already crawling under my gloves and into the sleeves of my suit.  I was stung multiple times on my forearms.  The worst part was that there was no escape.  The bees were on my suit so I couldn’t just rip it off to escape them.  Running into the house was out of the question as well, I’d just end up with hundreds of angry bees inside with me.  I ended up just crushing all the bees that were inside my gloves and sleeves so they’d stop advancing and stinging.  Then I rubbed against shrubbery in my yard to help disperse the bees that were on the rest of my body and hood.  Finally, I walked around to the other side of my house to get as far from the hive as possible.  After about 1/2-hour I was clean of bees and able to go into the house without an angry entourage.  I learned my lesson – always use a smoker!

If you would like to learn more about bees and beekeeping, join my mailing list by filling in the form on the right side of the page.  Subscribers will receive my regular newsletter and be alerted when classes are available.  I will be teaching live workshops this January and February.

{ 2 comments }

pollinators.info November 18, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Great sound in this video too! I’m wondering- can I stuff the canister really full of needles? How do I know when I’ve got too much in there?

Anonymous November 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I usually fill the canister about 3/4-full. When I over-pack the canister it doesn’t smoke long.

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