Lighting your smoker and keeping it lit is part common sense, part practice and part art. Puff puff
As with starting any fire you need a starter fuel which lights easily and can be deftly thrust down to the bottom of the smoker without it being so volatile it sets fire to your sleeves or spits sparks at your veil.
The most convenient stuff I’ve found for this job is the shredded cardboard Thorne’s use to package your beekeeping supplies. However, do be aware when using cardboard that it contains various chemicals – glues etc that may be detrimental to bee health so it’s not something you should use a great deal of. Just a little bunch of this should be enough to get it going. Puff puff
Never burn plastic. Burning plastic releases Dioxins which are about the most toxic chemicals in the world, not only to humans but almost certainly bees too, so look out for plastic film in amongst cardboard.
Once your starter is well lit and smoking healthily you can start to add in some of your main smoker mixture. Puff puff
Your main smoker mixture should be a mixture of stuff that keeps it going and stuff that damps it down and autumn is the season to be gather it.
If you have too much of the stuff that keeps it going – the smoke will be too hot and it will scorch the wings off the poor bees. It may even turn into a flame thrower. If you have too much of the stuff that damps it down – it will go out. Puff puff
Stuff a handful of your smoker mixture on top of your starter. Include some shredded up rotten wood or beechnut husks to give you some embers in the bottom. Puff puff
Once it’s going well you can pack it down very hard onto your embers and it will smoulder well for a long time. Get into the habit of giving a bit of a puff to keep it going. Puff puff
Covering the top of the pine needles with a wad of dried grass will stop them all from sticking out and getting stuck in the lid. Puff puff
Hessian is a great fuel – it seems to contain the perfect mixture of stuff to keep it going and stuff to keep it cool. Once you have it properly lit, and that can be a bit of a fight at first, it will smoulder away all day. Puff puff
You used to be able to buy bee-tobacco but I haven’t seen it lately. It was very rough tobacco – too rough to consider smoking yourself but good enough for the bees because it was claimed the nicotine would help kill Varroa.
Some Stuff to Stick in your Smoker
- Rotted hessian cut into strips and rolled up into ‘cartridges’. This is a prince among fuels;
- Pine needles – the ultimate smoker fuel;
- Dried grass – too much of this can stifle it but a twisted tuft curled into a cap for the needles is useful – they can be irritatingly difficult to tuck in otherwise;
- Dried leaves or bracken – these can burn too hot;
- Dried moss – great to damp things down a bit;
- Rotten hardwood. A spongy white-rot is lovely but some types of brown-rot produce a fuel that burns too hot in which case – stuff some dried grass or moss on top;
- Dried dung. Species of faeces isn’t important but it must be a herbivore – deer, rabbit or horse;
- Turf mould – little tiny crumbly bits of turf or peat – just a soupçon;
- Old denim – I haven’t tried this but I’m told it’s good. However, we also know that bees react badly to blue dyes;
- Pine cones – one or two of these are great as bottom embers.
You can mix a lot of this up in the wheelbarrow and store in sacks till you need it. Make sure you always have a sackful with you or you may be reduced to rummaging about in the undergrowth for suitable fuel.
Careful with this activity – it can lead you into the wrong species of faeces.
When you have finished
Don’t tip your smoker out willy-nilly unless you are sure you are not going to start a fire. Instead – plug the mouth of the smoker with a tightly twisted tuft of green grass.
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