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How To Calm Bees Before Inspecting The Hive

Beekeeping can be a stressful job, and if you do not have the right equipment, it is extremely dangerous. This is why beekeepers use specific methods to help them calm their beehives to make it safer for them to be worked on. Let’s look at how to calm bees before hive inspection?

Beekeepers have two main methods to help them calm their bees. They use smoke from a bee smoker, or they will use a sugar water spray. Both of these methods work well and are safe for the bees. Beekeepers mainly use the sugar water spray for new beehives and the smoke for old ones.

smoking bee hive

What fuel is used to create the smoke for the bee smoker? How does the smoke calm the bees for the beekeepers? How does the sugar water spray method work? Let us find out!

Lean more about beekeeping here.

How To Calm Bees When You Need To Open The Hive

What do beekeepers spray to calm bees?

Have you ever seen a beekeeper wave a metal container that was billowing smoke over their beehive and wondered what was going on, or seen them spraying something from a plastic bottle onto their beehive?

What is that stuff that they are using to help keep bees calm and make it safer for them to work on their hives? Well, there are two methods that beekeepers use to help calm their bees. Both of them work well and do not harm the bees when done correctly.

Let us go over what these beekeepers are using and how they are using these calming methods to help them keep their hives healthy.

Sugar water spray

Bee smokers are a great invention that now helps many beekeepers calm their bees when working on their hives, but bee smokers have not always been around. There was a time when bee smokers did not exist, but beekeepers did. So, what did these beekeepers use to calm their bees before the smoker was invented?

Before the smoker was invented in the late 1800s, beekeepers only used a sugar water spray to help calm their bees and allow them to work on their hives.

Several modern-day experienced beekeepers still opt for this sugar water spray over the bee smoker to calm their bees, and there are some beekeepers that use both methods.

Most beekeepers will use the sugar water spray method if they are working with a new hive as it will help encourage the bees to stay in their new home rather than leave the hive.

To make sugar water spray, use a ratio of 1:1.

Smoke via a bee smoker

VIVO Stainless Steel Bee Hive Smoker with Heat Shield, Beekeeping Equipment BEE-V001

Most beekeepers will use a bee smoker to blow smoke over their bees to keep them calm while doing what they need to in the hive. The smoke that the beekeepers use does not harm the bees in any way.

So, how do these bee smokers work?

The bee smoker has three main parts:

  • the nozzle
  • the bellow
  • the fire chamber

The fire chamber is attached to the bellow, which helps the beekeeper restrict the oxygen flow to the fire chamber. This then allows the beekeeper to keep the fire going in the fire chamber and control the amount of smoke that comes from the nozzle.

The beekeeper will just squeeze the bellow to get the smoke out, and smoke will puff out of the nozzle. This will ensure that the smoke is not too hot to not harm the bees.

But they also use specific fuel for their smokers to not poison their bees. The fuel they use is:

  • burlap
  • wood pellets
  • pine needles
  • cardboard
  • or twigs

These fuel materials burn slowly but light quickly and produce good, clean smoke. You should never use any synthetic material in the bee smoker.

How does the smoke calm bees?

Most people believe that the smoke from the bee smokers makes the bees sleepy which is why they are calm enough for the beekeepers to do their jobs. But this is not the case. The smoke from the bee smoker works by masking the bee’s alarm pheromones.

So, what the smoke does is cause the bees to get ready to leave the hive as they believe there is a fire close by. In their preparations, the bees will begin to eat the honey in the hive as they think they need the energy to help them find a new home.

This makes the bees engorged with honey, and with their abdomens so full of honey, they have trouble moving fast enough to sting the beekeepers.

So, firstly the bees are too preoccupied with trying to eat honey that they will ignore the beekeeper. Then they are too full to care about what the beekeeper is doing as they cannot act fast enough to do anything anyway.

How does the sugar water calm bees?

Using a sugar water spray to calm bees is very different from using a bee smoker for the job. Using a sugar water spray is seen by many beekeepers as a safer way to calm bees, especially new bees that may choose to leave the hive altogether if you use a bee smoker.

So, how does sugar water help calm bees down? Well, bees like sugar, they love anything sweet, so when you spray them with a sweet sugar water spray, and they find themselves covered in a light coating of sugar, they would rather spend their energy cleaning this sugar off of their bodies.

This will distract the bees from what the beekeepers are doing in their hive as they are enjoying the sweet treat that was sprayed all over them.

Using sugar spray on new hives may also encourage the bees to stay, as that feels like a good food source.

Other methods of calming bees

While the above 2 are the most commonly used methods to calm bees when you need to open the hive, there are a few other methods to calm bees and protect yourself from bee stings.

  • choose the right time and weather conditions to work on the hive: the middle of the day when most bees are out foraging, and  a warm, sunny day work best
  • be calm yourself: as strange as that may sound, many bees can sense your mood and act accordingly
  • wear protective gear: while this may not calm the bees, it will keep you safe from their stings
  • use an essential oil mixture on your skin and clothing to keep bees away: bees don’t like lavender and citrus oils, so use them as a defense

Considerations before you choose what to use

You need to consider some things before deciding which method is the best one to use. These include: how new is the hive that is being worked on, is the hive healthy, and what you believe about each method.

As mentioned earlier, if you have a new hive you are working on, then the sugar water spray may be the best method as the smoke may cause the hive to leave as it fears the danger of a fire.

Is the hive being worked on a happy and healthy hive with a good number of bees? If you are working with a small hive that looks a little scraggly, you should use the sugar water spay method as they may feel threatened by the smoke more because they are a small hive.

Lastly, some beekeepers feel the smoke method is a bit too harsh for the bees as it makes them panic slightly, so they would instead use the sugar water spray.

FAQs about calming bees

When is the best time of the day to open the hive without a smoker?

It’s best to check on your hives in the middle of a sunny day, from 10 AM till about 3 PM, while the worker bees are out looking for food.

How to calm bees without smoke?

Some beekeepers think smoke might harm the bees. If you’d rather not smoke your hives, you can use a sugar and water spray (looks above for the mixing ratio).

What makes bees angry and aggressive?

Perceiving danger is one of the most common reasons bees become aggressive. But there are other reasons, such as bad weather, dark colors, lack of food, the mood of the queen bee, and handling the hive too often.

In conclusion

So, there are two things that beekeepers spray onto their hives to help calm the bees down enough for them to work on the hives safely. The bee smoker has been around for centuries and is still a trusted tool among most beekeeping communities. Still, the sugar water spray has been around even longer, and some people find this method more acceptable. But this will all depend on what you believe.

How to calm bees
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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

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Thursday 10th of November 2022

[…] bee smoker is a vital piece of beekeeping equipment that helps calm the bees before you inspect the hive. The three main parts are the bellow, fire chamber, and nozzle. This device is basically a can with […]