The Beekeeper Blog

Smoking Bees

By Dewey Caron

Do you smoke the colony entrance before opening a hive and then wait several minutes before starting your colony examination as recommended? Most of us don’t – we smoke then open in next movement.

Do you tend to be a ”nervous” smoker, using ever more smoke as you get deeper into your hive?  Did you happen to notice that it wasn’t working?

Despite smoking, have you ever been stung by a bee that makes a bee-line for your face immediately as you open a colony or reach over the open hive?  What is that all about?

If you answered YES to any of these questions you might want to review your smokin’ behavior.

Smoking a bee entrance before opening a colony is “standard” recommendation and considered good bee stewardship. But is a good idea? When we smoke the entrance, the guards and ventilating bees go inside - only foraging activity continues.  The smoking recommendation includes waiting a minute to several minutes after puffing smoke in the entrance before continuing hive manipulations. Most of us don’t - we smoke then open in next movement.

Unless we step in front of the colony entrance, which is not recommended, we are not likely to get stung by a guard bee. Those bees that come out from the top when covers are removed or from between frames with the top box is exposed or from between the boxes when we seek to remove the top-most boxes to examine lower boxes, are not those same guards – we term them soldier bees. Soldier bees are older workers that respond to the hive invasion. Smoke can be useful on these bees, if we apply it skillfully, smoke drives such bees downward into their hive before we hover over it.

Smoke is useful for moving bees away from the end of the frames we wish to elevate and remove. And bees “looking at you” from between the frames are readily dispersed by smoke. A light targeted-site smoking, rather than clouds of smoke, is usually all that are needed to cause these bees to move elsewhere. Nervous smoking causes more and a longer-lasting colony disruption effect. Bee response to our opening their home, smoking the workers and moving things in, out and about, will persist for several hours, perhaps into the next day.

We can over smoke. When I am in Bolivia, there are many instances when it is clear that smoke is not effective. Africanized soldier bees still pile out and still fly about my veil. After an initial response, the bees seem not to respond to continued use of the smoke.  Smoke never will “subdue” the bees. Like all our tools, we need to learn to use our smoker more effectively.

We all know we can examine a colony without use of a smoker.  We need be careful not to bump or jar the hive, avoid movements over the opened colony and do our manipulations rapidly (without hurrying). This is especially practiced with smaller colonies, such as nucs, and during times of heightened forager activity. We can enter, do our manipulations and exit in less time than it takes to get the smoker lite and properly functioning. 

During the summer, a good substitute for a smoker is a water mister. The mister can be filled with water or light sugar syrup, with or without a scent addition, or with the liquid smoke product available at bee supply companies. Use this substitute as you would the smoker.

During hot weather or in seasons such as this past one when there was high fire danger, the mister means less colony disturbance and more sense.  When opened, boxes can be covered with a moist cloth (or purchase a manipulating cloth), which is especially helpful to the bees during hotter inspection weather. The covering will keep bees inside and calmer, meaning the need for less smoke (or water mist) during the actual inspection and less overall disturbance to the colony.

One word of caution in use of a mister – it may potentially lead to robbing if sugar or scented sugar water is used when few flowering plants are available for bees.

And as for smoking or misting the hive entrance – these bees and this vital active flight/hive ventilation area is not where potential stings will come from, unless you step directly in front of it. Review your smoking’  behavior. Try using smoke in inspection, rather than at the entrance, and see if it helps inspection go faster and results in less disruption to the colony itself.

Apprentice News

Friday in the Apiary: June 17, 2016

Stack 'em up!


Please join us on Friday June 17 at the OSU Apiary from 3-5pm.

We will discuss the nectar flow, robbing, yellow jackets, and how to keep your bees healthy in early summer.

We will split up into groups based on experience level. Are you an OMB participant? Bring your field worksheets and we'll create a group just for OMB to get them checked off.

Journeys: If you would like to lead a group through one of the hives, you can earn service points! Please contact me for details.

This event is weather dependent and space is limited due to parking! Please RSVP to for location, details, and for notification of possible changes.


"Friday in the Apiary" is an opportunity to gather, visit, and learn more about beekeeping at OSU's apiary at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture. Every third Friday of the month, you are invited to come and discuss hive management strategies for the month and get to know other beekeepers. This is a casual, loosely structured event intended to provide a learning experience in a relaxed setting.

Apprentice News

Remembering Ken Anthony

We terribly miss Ken Anthony, OMB mentor from Corvallis. Ken passed away on March 21, 2016. Ken started with the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program as an Apprentice, even though he had been a beekeeper for nearly a decade. Upon applying, he said he wanted to fill the gaps in his knowledge of beekeeping. He was a fine beekeeper; passionate about bees and eager to continue learning about them. Upon certification as an Apprentice, Ken quickly signed up to be a mentor to new Apprentice beekeepers in the program. He was dedicated and a dependable mentor, always available and helpful to new beekeepers. Ken also was involved with the Cascadia Queen Breeders. Here is a photo of Ken with Lynn Royce, also a queen breeder, as they inspected a colony of bees.