icon of list

Beekeeping Topics

Comb Honey Corner –November 2017

- November 1, 2017 - Ray Nabors - (excerpt)

Bee Smoker

It seems that whenever a group of beekeepers gather, there is talk about smoker fuel. The novice beekeepers often generate that portion of the conversation. Most experienced beekeepers have some source of smoker fuel they use regularly. Pine needles are always a favorite. Dry leaves from deciduous trees are less favored, they smolder too quickly requiring constant replenishment. Cotton of any kind makes good smoker fuel. That may be worn out blue jeans, old T shirts, cotton linters from the gin and any other source. Corn cobs dowsed with kerosene works quite well as smoker fuel. News print from the paper works but has the same problem as dry deciduous leaves, it burns quickly. Wood pellets make good fuel but there is a cost associated. Free smoker fuel is always preferred.

The source of smoker fuel that I am about to relate is not one of my discovery or invention. The first beekeeper that was observed using this source was Marvin Parker. Most of you will have never heard of him so a background informational is in order. Marvin Parker graduated from the University of Missouri as an Agriculture Educator. He grew up on a small farm near Parma, Missouri. He was a highly intelligent individual and very innovative. Marvin was the first person that I have seen with a swivel hoist on the back of his truck for lifting beehives into the bed. After he graduated from the university, he did an exemplary job as a vocational agriculture teacher, so much so that after a few years he went to work for USAID. He went all over the world teaching small farm families innovative ways to make things from local materials. to increase their farm income.

Marvin Parker kept bees while in the Philippines, where he worked for many years. He also kept bees in Turkey, another place where he worked many years. He talked about the favored honey in Turkey from honeydew that aphids made feeding on conifer trees in the hill country. He also went to Egypt and worked for many years. It was my privilege to teach beekeeping in Egypt during the summer of 1996 with the VOCA program. The people of central Egypt asked “Do you know Parker?” It was a joy for all of us to remember his work there. He was greatly respected by the small farm community and beekeepers in Egypt. Sadly Marvin is no longer with us.

Marvin had numerous solutions to a variety of beekeeping issues and smoker fuel was no exception. We reside on a farm. Online shopping has changed our lives. It is about the same cost if we order something and have it shipped as if we travel the distance to a store and buy it there. Most of the items we purchase are delivered in cardboard boxes. It was my friend Marvin Parker that showed me how to make those boxes into smoker fuel.

I have 10” smokers. If we could get 12” ones, it would be better to purchase those. I cut strips of cardboard 5” wide across the corrugated cardboard. The spaces in the cardboard must be vertical in the smoker for it to work as smoker fuel. The most readily available starter is a sheet of news print. The cardboard strips are rolled up as tight as one can roll cardboard. Once the 5” roll is wide enough to span the opening in the top of the smoker (4”or less), use a strip of masking tape to hold it.

It is best to keep an extra roll of cardboard smoker fuel in your tool box for the apiary. That one roll of cardboard can be enough to work 15 – 20 hives but a spare, when needed, will help even when the apiary requires extended attention. The best way to save these cardboard rolls is to make a batch of them and store them in a plastic bag or container that will stay dry. Cardboard kept dry will last a long time and always smolders at a good rate in the smoker. The only downside is the organic glue makes carbon deposits inside the smoker. The best solution is to scrape the inside lid of the smoker out after each season. Pine needles do the same thing.

I keep a smaller half size newspaper like the local bargain news in my bag of cardboard smoker fuel cylinders. One half sheet of news print is put in the smoker first and lit as it goes in. Pump the smoker to increase the heat from flaming news print, then push the cardboard cylinder down on top of it and pump the smoker until a small flame comes out around the side of the cardboard cylinder. It should be smokin’; and stay lit.

The other situation in the Nabor’s apiary was severe colony loss this past season. So far, the losses seem less this season. Many producers of queens and packages do not use Hygienic bees. I have quit buying …