We all know that a smoker is one of our most essential tools whenever we visit our prized hives, but is it always necessary? This new practice has been adapted as part of the natural bee keepers movement and I must say this is one topic to debate about! Smoking the hive makes the bees calm, allowing you to examine your hives. It’s almost like playing a mind game with the bees by drawing attention away from you to a bigger threat; Fire. Bee Keepers who are part of the natural bee movement are against smoking, claiming that it will affect the extent to which their honey will be certified as organic. This is due to the possible contaminants that could be absorbed by the honey from the smoke. too much smoking also ends up agitating the bees instead of calming them. It also makes the queen hide which could increase chances of crushing her; Very bad for your colony.
There is another way though that we can do this without the need of a smoker. this is spraying them with water or a sugar-water solution. The disadvantage of this is is that it’s possible to drench the bees to the extent to which they cannot fly. Also spraying with water makes the bees sit on the frames rather than in the air like with a smoker. However we have to have a lit smoker with us just incase the bees aren’t having a very good day and might react crankier than usual when you disturb them.
Steps to harvest without a smoker.
a. light your smoker
b. Get a spray bottle and fill it with water. At times you can fill it with a water sugar solution. We do this to distract the bees into cleaning themselves instead of protecting the honey.
c. Have an empty nuc box on standby. Nucs boxes, are small honey bee colonies created from larger colonies. The term refers both to the smaller size box and the colony of honeybees within it.
d. Wear a pair of rubber gloves. The pair should be easy to work with to allow you handle your hives with the utmost skill.
e. Hum a little, this isn’t a national singing contest so just a hum will do. 🙂
f. Remove the roof and gently set it beside you.
g. Next, insert the hive tool under the crown board,place your other hand above and prise it free all the way round as gently and as quietly as possible. Twist it a bit if needed but don’t take it all the way off.
h. Once it’s free, give the exercise a short break until the buzzing from the bees becomes a little quieter. We wouldn’t want them to start a war no would we?
i. Now you slowly remove the crown board and place it bee side down on the upturned roof. as long as you didnt smoke the hive, the queen should be on the crown board.
j. Look into the hive and note down where the center of the cluster is then locate the frame which look like it might come off freely without a fight with the bees. It should preferably be as far away from the brood chamber as possible.
k. If the bees are coming towards spray them gently with the water spray.
l. Start to free the frame with as little noise and vibrations as possible. Gently lift the frame. Do not shake!
m. Continue to remove frame by frame until you get to the first frame and then start to look for the queen. always check the dark side of the frame first as the queen will always move away from the light.
n. When you have established the presence of the queen and are satisfied with your examination, you can start to put the hive back together.
o. Here you will need a smoker. Spray the top bar and not the inside of the hive. This is to drive the bees down the hive so you can carefully scrape the top bars without killing bees.
Spraying with a sugar solution makes the bees eager to see you as well stop to collect it. However if you spray water, the bees run away. There we have it a step by process, easy as the ABC’s. Though water sounds like a probable solution, if you consider the natural state of bee hives; smoke might drift into their hives in a bushfire, but water never enters a hollow tree when it rains. Therefore reacting quickly to the presence of smoke is likely to be an evolutionary strategy that enabled colonies to tank up and abscond when their nest is was threatened by a forest fire. I believe that using smoke is taking advantage of a behaviour which has evolved in the honeybee over millions of years. A few cautionary words though; Keep your movements slow and avoid crushing the bees. which could release the attack pheromones signalling an invasion in the air and trust me, it will not be love.
Adapted from Beespoke Info.