To smoke or not to smoke !

I opened up my hive for just the second time this morning.

I had my first swam – a cast – around 6 weeks ago. All looked fine through the windows – lots of comb being built & no slowdown so I’d left them well alone. Today I wanted to try and have a look without a smoker – which on reflection wasn’t a good idea – they were super agitated when I lifted out one of the bars (it’s a Warré hive). All seems fine – brood cells etc – so I think I have a functioning colony.

But I have 2 questions:
– will the colony get used to being inspected without a smoker ? (Does the smoker do any harm ?)
– there were around 12 dead bees on the floor of the hive – is this normal & do the bees clean up their dead ?

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5 Responses to To smoke or not to smoke !

  1. Lynne says:

    Hi Jonny

    My advice would be not to inspect at all unless you have a specific urgent need to do so, to answer a question that cannot be assessed in any other way (such as, has the queen failed?). It is naturally very tempting with your first colony to inspect – but resist! If your colony seems to be thriving, leave well alone – inspection does not help the bees, it simply satisfies human curiosity. A lot can be gathered about how the colony is doing from careful observation at the hive entrance and through windows. I can recommend this book which you may find very useful in learning about your colony without opening the hive up – At the Hive Entrance by H. Storch – it is available from various places online.

    Turning to your questions:
    – smokers do not do harm particularly but they do cause concern to the bees. The smoke triggers the bees to think there is a forest fire potentially coming their way; this stimulates them to descend into the hive and to suck up honey in preparation to abandon the nest if needed; and a full abdomen makes the bees physically less able to sting. Using a smoker causes the bees to move away from the smoke and can sometimes be useful when, say, putting back the box section on a hive to ensure no bees get trapped, However, it is not always needed and this can vary from colony to colony – but here you removed a part of the brood nest and so it is understandable that the bees became agitated. Had you made an inspection without lifting out a bar, by rotating the box through 90 degrees and looking at the combs in situ, then it is more likely that the bees would have remained calm – although as stated colonies do vary in their defensive behaviour.When you need to carry out an inspection again, I would suggest that you have a smoker to hand to assist, say, in closing, but do not use it as a matter of routine, only as needed.
    – a few dead bees is normal and they should be cleared away by the bees themselves.Bees only live for ~6-8 weeks at this time of year.

    Good luck -enjoy your bees!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lindylou says:

    Excellent answer and advice Lynne. In the book The Dark European Honey Bee it is written that dark native bees often open capped honey cells to eat it up when confronted with smoke and do not feed from the open honey cells, so it is in that way detrimental to their work already completed and now undone. The AMM bee is thus exceedingly averse to smoking. I use water with lavender oil dispersed through it in a plant spray this has a calming effect.


  3. deweysanchez says:

    Smoke and essential oils both have the effect of interferring with the alarm pheromone produced by the bees. So if they are aggitated they don’t agitate the whole colony. I don’t think either “harms” the bees (provided the smoke isn’t too hot) but putting strong smells into the nest of an animal that communicates predominantly using smell is unlikely to help. Each colony has different needs sometimes it will be better for the colony to smoke them or use an essential oil spray others are fine without. I alwayd light my smoker now as when things go bad it is good to have. I will smoke my hands and bee suit before I start and they seem to take less notice of me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jonnywoods says:

    Thanks for all the help on my smoker question.

    Now – another one !

    I have 2 supers. The top one is now full. The bees have not yet started making comb on the lower super.

    – Will they naturally “move downstairs” ?
    – when should I add a 3rd super at the bottom ? (it’s a Warre hive)

    Cheers. J


    • Lynne says:

      I think from your wording that you have two Warré boxes – not ‘supers’ as such, i.e. you only have two boxes forming the hive, one acting as a brood box and one below, not some ‘supers’ over an original hive/brood section. My answer assumes this anyway:

      – yes, the bees will move down into the lower box naturally themselves, but only when they need more space. Think of it like this, when they first arrive in the hive they need to build comb for the queen to lay, and to store pollen and nectar/honey. However, there are only so many of them at this stage and so they do not build more comb than they can readily use or protect – so after an initial surge of comb building they will pause. The comb they have built is being used to raise a load more workers, and they will take ~21 days from laying to hatch. This provides a whole new workforce, who will be able to take over looking after the brood comb, and later add to foraging. Of course the original foragers will start to die off around then, and so the queen continues to lay to keep the workforce going, and expand it – assuming the colony is thriving and depending on the time of year and nectar flow – it is only at this point that the bees will consider creating more comb to expand the nest further.

      -they do not need the third box yet as they are not using the second box, yet. Normally beeks nadir when there is comb being built in the bottom box. If you gave them a third box now in anticipation I don’t think it would cause harm – although even the most careful intervention in the hive can be somewhat disruptive by disturbing the ambient atmosphere which is full of pheromones for queen ‘rightness’, etc.- but I suspect that they may not use it this year anyway as they should typically have reached peak population around now, but as they are building up from scratch and it is good weather, they may continue to build a while longer – colonies do vary, a lot!

      P.S. Just to note on how the blog works: here you have asked a question by commenting on your original post – people who follow the blog only get notified of new ‘posts’, not new ‘comments’ (only the original poster gets notified when a comment is made on their own post, usually) – and so not many people are likely to see your question when it is in a follow-up comment, unless like me they like to poke around old posts. So, in general, got a new question? make a new post.

      Liked by 1 person

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