Urban bees vs wood heater smoke

I have a feeling that my bees have absconded. I just noticed there was almost no activity these two days. There was a dead bee in the entrance, and a couple more on the bottom board when I pulled it out. Didn’t have time to open the hive yet.

I’m in the Perth hills near Mundaring, and it has been raining, cold (lows of around 5-7C) and windy at times. Neighbours are burning wood in their heaters like there is no tomorrow. The smell annoys me and I assume it annoys the bees too.

I can’t find much info on how much the smoke from wood burning heaters affect urban bees. Anyone can shed some light on this?

In a way, if the bees are gone is almost a chance to start afresh. I was sold a very aggressive colony by the bee store in Bellvue, and I wanted to change the location anyway, hoping I can place them somewhere a bit more sheltered, and hopefully less smoke from heaters.

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My bees are in some wood heater smoke every day and haven’t gone yet. It can get very pungent too. I suspect the concentrations of smoke in the hive are not high enough to cause a change in behaviour. As a broader question, do we know whether bees react to the particulate concentrations in smoke or the thousands of chemicals in it? Perhaps both…
You might want to check poisoning as a possibility…I guess you would see lots of dead ones then however.

Thanks Dan.

I’ve actually just been to the hive and it is a sunny, mild morning, 10C. There are a few dozen bees going in and out so I guess that is a good sign. However when I had a peep through the side window, and the back opening of the Flow super, there wan’t a single bee in sight.

I still wonder whether daily smoke from wood heaters will eventually pee them off.

You mentioned poisoning. It is something that I’m always on the lookout for. My hive is visible from the street (cul-de-suc).The lady next door loves them as she’s into gardening. The guy opposite is ok too. But I still am cautious about vandalism, I do have a hidden camera on the hive. I do find a lot of dead bees around and I’m not sure whether that is normal or not.

My neighbour and I do not use any chemicals at all but of course bees fly around beyond our properties.

My hives bunkered down with little activity over the last week or so due to the cold (for us), rain and wind. The hive with not quite enough bee numbers forms a cluster in the brood box and I don’t see any bees on the outside Flow frame. Just keep watching and waiting for spring.


My guess is bees have an ability (somehow) to detect the concentrations of the particulates because they seem to instantly react to the smoke when puffed on the top of the frames…they wouldn’t have time to get the chemicals into their bodies…

Take the super off and have a look. That’s the only way you are going to know. When did you last look in the brood box?

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That’s the obvious way to find out of course but was strongly advised not to do it in storms, rains or very windy cold days.

It is the middle of winter here.

Back in topic. Looks like there isn’t much info around urban hives affected by wood burning stones and heaters. Maybe it is not an issue or maybe urban hives are just starting to be more common.

Having said that apart from heater smoke, I also get smoke from people burning their green waste every now and then, and was an issue this week too.

Hi @anon63823775 ,

You may have seen this linked post (above) recently…anyhow worth a look although it may not answer the question. Burn offs are known to be much more putrid as the lower heat of the burn (often caused by greener wood/plant litter etc) causes more chemicals and particulates to be released in the smoke - a less complete combustion. I guess it depends on how close and how stinky, but I still think the sustained concentrations of the smoke (the particulates and the chemicals) would be unlikely to cause the bees to leave the hive. When you look at the air quality on this site (click on Geeveston or Huonville for example) http://epa.tas.gov.au/epa/air/monitoring-air-pollution/real-time-air-quality-data-for-tasmania
you will see the spiking of the readings so although the air is poor at times, and extremely poor at others, the changes in wind and the like (inversion layers) might mean that the bees are not exposed to sustained very high levels.

Its the middle of winter and you said its rainy and cold. I would not expect activity at the entrance under those conditions, they would be clustered to keep warm. That would explain why you did not see them in the observation window too. BUT to find out fore sure open them up in the next warm day.

As for the aggression, wait till there are drones, find the queen and squish her. They will make another queen and you should be good to go. Moving them is not a problem either this time of year. The hives will be light so you could close the entrance and move them a bit, open the hive and let them settle down. Repeat till they are in their new position. Or you could just do it in one move and put a bushy potplant in front of the entrance to get them to reorientate.


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Wood heater smoke would not be dense enough unless you are having reactions yourself to it like watering eyes, a cough and so on. In a forest fire bees will stay inside the hive and gorge on honey, usually the bees will remain with the hive when the fire has passed over but they can also decide to abscond when the heat, smoke and flames have passed.
Try to figure out from what you see as to the cause of the death of the colony, pesticide is often found as the issue or the bees have starved to death, the evidence will be no honey in the hive anywhere…

Didn’t spot that. Sorry
My bees don’t fly in winter either.
Put your ear to the brood box and you’ll hear them hum.

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Hello fellow hillbilly. Depending on what’s being burnt, I don’t worry too much about the smoke, our bees cop it from our wood fire and they’re fine. But I have seen people burning treated wood off cuts in a pinch so…
These cold, wet, windy days and nights would be tough on a small colony with a large area to keep warm. My stronger colonys are still out and about when the wind abates however not so much action from the weaker ones. Still some action though. The weaker ones are incidentally in the shade.
How strong was you colony? Did you get a harvest last summer? If yours is a weaker colony it may be wise to remove the super (next Sunday looks to be the best day for it) to reduce their area until the days warm up… :wink: If it’s a strong colony I’d expect to see duties being performed during the day.
It’s shaping up for a good productive Spring this year, I’ll be splitting with some swarm prevention when spring kicks in and don’t need any more colonys so if your colony has up and gone… :roll_eyes:

Thank you all for your excellent advice people. This is my first winter and still in the learning curve.

Dan: that forum thread is useful, cheers.

Rmcpb: Once I build more confidence I was thinking about replacing the queen. I didn’t know you can just squish her and hope for a better queen. Can’t be much worse for aggression I think. Sometimes they follow me all the way to the house 50m away and sting me or my daughter. Pretty sure they sold me a feral colony, not a queen bred for it’s gentle quality. I have to admit it puts me off inspecting the hive more often.

Peter: It is difficult to determine what is killing the bees. I don’t find hundreds of dead bees but I do notice a dead bee here and there, and not other insects, which is odd. I also find live bees that look lost, in odd places.

Dee: I actually tried to listen to the hum too, but it was quiet, that’s why I got worried.

Skeggley: My hive was neither weak, not particularly strong. It took a very long time to start to fill the flow frames, but when they did I was surprised that they filled it in a matter of days! Maybe 10-12 days? I did harvest two frames end of summer, and left the rest for them. It looks like they didn’t consume much of what I left, and had time to re-fill the ones I harvested.

I believe this to be probably due to cold, showery and/or blustery weather - I see it here. They don’t quite make it back to the hive and land where they can. Mortality can be much higher in these sort of conditions from what I understand.

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It is normal to find the odd dead bee near the hive and close to the entrance, Dead bees from inside the hive just get dumped outside, no dignified funeral service. Remember too that the lifespan for a bee is 60 to 90 days, look at the figures, a hive of say 80,000 bees to an average colony and living for 60 days there will be 1,333 bees die every day, so don’t be shocked to find some dead bees. Sort of blows you mind a bit but that is nature at work.
You have more bees in your yard than other insects so I would not expect anything other than what you say about not finding other dead insects.
I am thinking you are a new bee keeper so relax, have a beer, take a Viagra, bugger, I meant a Valium, check the hive by doing a physical inspection on a fine day with little wind and over 22c and I suspect you will find the hive active and healthy.
Cheers (hick!! :face_with_raised_eyebrow:)

What you say makes a lot of sense Peter. I can’t wait to open it up again once I get decent weather.

Dan: I see you are in Tassie and guess you have much fiercer winters than here in Perth. My fear was initially mostly the heat in summer when it gets 39 - 40C, and if I placed it in the sun it might stress them.

However my property is a rocky slope, next to a national park and was not easy to find a flat spot shaded in the afternoon without being run over by kangaroos, and sheltered from the very strong easterly summer winds. So the hive is relatively close to the road, semi shade, but cops a fair bit of cold westerly winter winds. And smoke from wood heaters.

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For next year invest in a polycarbonate crown board. I have them on all my hives. You can lift the roof off and have a look at the bees without disturbing them. Some folk yakker on about condensation. If you put a 50mm layer of foil faced house insulation on top they will stay cosy and dry.


I use a Warre quilt on all my hives with a reflective galvanised roof to handle the hot sun. It also handles any winter condensation.



Hi Dee, I noticed some discussion of this recently on a UK bee site under the topic, “plastic sheet as crown board”. Someone mentioned that there may be food grade (BPA free) polycarbonate available in sheets for the top of a hive (I can’t access site now - anyhow I don’t think there was a conclusion reached), but can you source such food grade polycarbonate there? Anyone know of any in Aus?

I suppose if you’re worried about the polycarbonate not being safe you’d better remove the Flow viewing windows…

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