Can what you put in a smoker affect how cranky the bees are?

Hello, fairly new to bee keeping here ( just did my first harvest and it was glorious). But I have a question about smokers or more specifically the material you put in them.

My dad and I were doing a brood box inspection the other day. The day was a little bit grey but not raining and was warm. We had the smoker going with our usual Paperbark and the bees were fine as we lifted off the super. However the smoker wasn’t staying lit for some reason. So we then added some dried pea plant (organic, no sprays) and from that point they seemed to get really agitated especially when we puffed the smoker. We ended up abandoning the brood inspection as we didn’t want to disturb them too much, we did get to sight some fresh larvae though so we know they have a queen.

I am aware that it could be any number of things making them agitated but they seemed to really dislike the smoke in particular (we tried not to oversmoke them). I was just wondering if anyone had any experience with bees not liking certain types of smoker material?

Thanks, any beekeeper wisdom is much appreciated. :blush:

I have never noticed the bees getting cranky with different smoke material. If a colony is cranky, don’t be frightened to use more smoke.

Be aware that removing a honey super, then a QE can be disruptive to a colony, they will get more defensive as you proceed, especially when you start disturbing the brood. The brood being the sole purpose of their existence. They will give their life to protect it.


Thanks for the info!

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Apart from the different scents from smoke from different sources an important factor seems to be the temperature of the smoke which can vary depending on the substrate.
If you use the same substrate consistently you will instinctively feel how much smoke is good. But switching substrates might mean that you over or underdose the impact of the smoke. In my view its best to use the minimum amount of smoke that achieves your objective.


Paperbark is currently my favorite fuel for my smoker- one of the big advantages is it’s a pleasant smoke for the beekeeper and for the bees. I have found the paper bark trees with really thick bark burns better than the varieties with more thin strips of bark. It has to be very dry for it to burn well- but when it is dry like that it burns slowly and well.

A well packed smoker can burn for an hour or more. One thing that definitely does aggravate the bees is a hot smoker: it’s very important to have the fire burning near the bottom of the smoker with a lot of material on top so it doesn’t’ burn too hot. If the smoke coming out of the smoker tip is hot the bees will be aggravated and buzz to let you know… a well lit smoker shouldn’t be putting out plumes of thick smoke when it isn’t being pumped. This is a common error beginner beekeepers make.

best practice is to pack smoker one third full- light and pump vigorously to get a good fire/ember started- then pack the top two thirds well with material and pump again gently. A well lit smoker will only require the occasional pump to keep it going. You don’t want a smoker billowing smoke- or a smoker that goes out mid inspection.


I use Messmate bark (Eucalyptus obliqua) as it’s everywhere here. I notice on the odd occasion the bees get very cranky and the smoke can be asphyxiating. After much pondering, I think it’s the odd bit of resin in the bark. I now check over the bark before stuffing it in the smoker.

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Bees get cranky on stringy bark nectar. Messmate is a stringy bark. Wonder whether the bark smoke sets them off too?? :thinking:


Thanks for the info.

Yep we tested the smoker for heat on our hand so shouldn’t have been too hot but it’s a good reminder, thanks.

Oh that’s interesting, good to know, thanks.

Weather can play a factor. My bees get VERY grumpy if I go in when it’s overcast.

I start with pine shavings sold as small animal bedding. Lights easy, cheap, and burns hot enough to add sticks in. My trick for a good smoke is live green plants. Sticks & shavings get it hot enough to burn the greens but due to the water content, they don’t get used up too easily as long as you give it a good handful of pumps every so often. Jason Chrisman on youtube has a good video on how to keep cool smoke coming out of a smoker for an hour or more

I decided to try other options around the farm rather than messmate bark for the smoker (bracken, leaves (non-messmate), stubble and straw). It’s made a huge difference to the bee crankiness so I’m going to run with that and won’t use it again.