Bees and smoke

Not much excitement in the backyard apiary this week.  I continue to feed the bees to help them recover from their swarming, and bee populations in both hives seem to be increasing.  Pollen continues to be brought into the hives by the bees.  Beehives are supposed to benefit from the variety of flowering plants and irrigation found more frequently in suburbia than in the forest, and one can confirm this from the varying colors of pollen brought back by foragers.

I was reading in a beekeeping book the other day about what kind of clothing to wear to avoid getting stung by bees.  The author strongly recommended against wearing gloves, saying bare hands allow better control when manipulating the hive frames, bees seldom sting the hands, and bee stings on the hand don’t hurt very much anyway.  But take a look at the empty feeder jar below – I just can’t bring myself to remove this without gloves.

Empty feeder jar – any volunteers for barehanded removal?

Since a bee dies after stinging, it would be nice to minimize how many bees sting during hive manipulations, even if protective clothing is adequate. Now, smoke has long been used to calm bees, but I have overheard local beekeepers remark that they rarely use bee smokers.  Smoke is thought to mask the alarm pheromones that arouse bees; also, bees exposed to smoke begin to ingest honey (perhaps as preparation for leaving a burning hive), and honey-filled bees are less aggressive. With all the bees flying around during a hive manipulation, it’s hard to tell if the smoke is having any effect, so I decided to perform a simple experiment: remove the empty feeder jar with or without smoking the top of the hive first.

Line drawing of a painting in the tomb of Rekhmire, Thebes, showing beekeeping activities. On the right of the drawing, horizontal clay hives are shown being worked with a smoker.

My home-made smoker.

The jars were removed on different days with comparable weather conditions (bees are said to be more irritable when skies are cloudy).  Here are the results:

Removal of feeder jar without using the smoker. Each white dot is a stinger (there were 12 in all).

No stings when the top of the hive was smoked before removal.

Conclusion: bee smoker good.

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