How to Light a Smoker & Put it Out Safely
The smoker is a handy tool for the beekeeper to have. You might not find it necessary to use it every time you open your beehive, but there are times when you'll find that your bees are a little upset, like during a low nectar season or when you have the hive open for an extended period of time. During these times, adding a little smoke to the hive can prevent the guard bees from getting the rest of the bees in the hive alarmed.
How to Light a Smoker
The first thing you'll need is kindling for your smoker. Usually you want a material that burns quickly to get the flame going and then add something a little more substantial to keep the fire lit for an extended period of time. I like to use paper egg cartons to get my smoker started, but a ball of newspaper or dryer lint works well too.
Once you have a little flame in your smoker, then you can add something heavier. Here in Hawaii, we use the bark from the Ohia tree. It smells nice, there's a lot of them near our beehives and the tree naturally sheds its bark so we're not harming the tree. Other options for kindling are pine needles, hay, tree bark and grass clippings.
Burlap is another common item used in a smoker. If you use burlap, you don't need to start the fire with paper. Cut the burlap into strips and keep adding as needed. I've used burlap in the past and am not a fan of using it because I have found that the flame is a little too hot for my liking. However some beekeepers love using it, so if you have some laying around, maybe give it a try!
Whatever you use, make sure it's not toxic to burn. For example, the Brazilian Pepper tree grows near us and that tree is toxic to burn.
How much kindling you put into your smoker depends on how long you need it to stay lit. If you'll be with the bees for awhile, say over a hour, fill the smoker completely.
Once your kindling is lit, billow the smoker until the larger kindling is burning and stays lit. Continue to check on your smoker every 10 minutes and billow it so that the fire doesn't go out. If you notice the amount of smoke coming out has decreased, check to see if you need to add more kindling. It's a lot easier to add more kindling than to start the smoker all over again.
For more detailed instructions on how to light your smoker, see the video below.
How to Safely Put Out a Smoker
Option 1 - Empty the contents of your smoker in a safe spot where nothing can catch on fire (such as a fire pit) and douse it with a lot of water.
Option 2 - Plug up your smoker to prevent oxygen from getting inside. You can use a wine cork, a handful of wet green grass or a stick (though the stick has to be just the right size). Simply put it in the smoker's spout to prevent smoke from getting out and oxygen from getting in. Lay the smoker on its side on a non flammable, flat spot like as a large area of gravel or cement.
Do not leave a lit smoker on your beehive or anywhere it could fall over.
Do not leave a smoker in an enclosed space such as your garage, shed, barn, house or inside your car.
Do not put a lit smoker in the bed of your truck.
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