Beekeeping can be a lucrative and even relaxing endeavor for those who have gotten used to the life of a beekeeper. However, one of the things that even the most experienced beekeepers still fear is the stinging of dozens of angry bees that are just trying to defend their hive. So, while most beekeepers tend to use a smoker to calm the bees down, there are some ways that you can use to calm these insects without the use of smoke. So, how do you calm bees down without using a smoker?
You can calm bees without using smoke by choosing the right time and conditions to open the hives, staying calm near the hives, keeping yourself quiet, behaving around the hives, wearing proper clothing when near the hives, being gentle with the bees, and avoiding sudden and quick movements.
As useful as a smoker may be, it isn’t the most necessary piece of beekeeping equipment when you want to make sure that your bees stay as calm as possible. That said, there are plenty of different ways that you can use to avoid getting stung by your bees while you are tending to them or harvesting their honey. And that is what we are here to discuss.
Why do you need to calm bees down?
One of the many problems that beekeepers often face on a regular basis is the bees themselves. That’s because these bees will sting you when they are in defense mode, such as when they think that you are a threat to their survival. While veteran beekeepers don’t get stung as common as beginners do, it still does happen because there will be times when the beekeeper tends to get a bit careless and the bees become too frightened that they will begin to sting as a way of self-preservation.
In that regard, a bee stinging you is the primary reason why you need to calm your bees down. After all, getting stung by bees will hurt and is not the most ideal experience you can have as a beekeeper. Moreover, when honey bees sting, they will lose their stingers and eventually die because of that. And you don’t want to have your bees dying on you.
While we did talk about how you need to calm bees down because they can get defensive, here are some of the other reasons why they may not stay as calm as you want them to be:
The top reason why bees will sting you is that they do so out of fear of predation. This is probably the reason why bees have stingers in the first place, as they need to have the means to protect themselves from predators who not only want to eat them but also eat their honey.
So, in that regard, bees are naturally wired to try to stay alert if they sense that there are predators lurking near the hive. This can take the form of a huge bear that loves to eat the honey of bees or a small mammal that tends to attack at night whenever the bees are not active.
In relation to that, bees won’t stay calm whenever they feel like you are a predator trying to eat them or steal their honey or whenever you are around, but they also sense the presence of a different predator. This is where your knowledge of how to calm bees comes in so that you can try to keep them calm as much as possible to avoid getting stung whenever they get jumpy as they sense a nearby predator.
Bees can get cranky whenever you try to inspect their hives for possible health risks or if you simply want to check up on the queen. Of course, any animal or even any person can get angry when you try to invade their homes out of nowhere. As such, your bees might try to stay sharp or even grumpy whenever you are inspecting their hive as they want to make sure that you are not there to harm them or their queen.
In that regard, hive inspection is something that you should master so that you can avoid getting stung by angry and jumpy bees. This is something that we will discuss in greater detail later on as we get to the point of knowing how to calm your bees down.
Anyone or any animal that is hungry will always be in a bad mood, and this includes your bees. So, if it has been a while since your bees have eaten properly or if the availability of nearby plants that have plenty of nectar or pollen is scarce, there is a chance that they might go hungry.
So, when bees are hungry, the likelihood of them feeling grumpy and jumpy will increase tenfold. That’s why it is essential that you provide your bees with enough food and water nearby if you don’t want them to develop an angry and destructive habit. Adding a nearby flower bed can be a good way of doing so.
Naturally angry queen
The queen is the center of an entire bee colony. In fact, her influence on the colony extends as far as the entire colony following her overall temperament. So, if you have a queen bee that is naturally angry and grumpy for one reason or another such as because it has experienced getting invaded by predators in the past, there is a chance that the entire colony will be just as grumpy. In this case, re-queening the colony might be the best option if you want a hive that is more likely to stay calm.
There will be instances where the queen will end up disappearing due to certain circumstances such as death. In that case, a hive with a missing queen will try to search for it or will try to find a new queen to take her case. While they are doing so, you can be sure that the entire colony won’t be in the best mood until balanced has been restored in the hive.
Poor weather conditions
Bees are also slaves to weather conditions in the sense that the weather can affect the way they feel, just like how cloudy days and sunny days have certain effects on certain people. And most beekeepers will tell you that bees hate it when the weather is cloudy, gloomy, and cold because these are conditions that are not suitable for their survival.
As such, it is preferable that you, as a beekeeper, should know what the ideal weather conditions are for a bee. If you were to try to tend to them or harvest their honey during poor weather conditions, expect the bees to be grumpy, cranky, and jumpy.
The bees are Africanized
You have probably heard of the term “killer bee”. The truth is that killer bees are actually Africanized honey bees that are more likely to be aggressive compared to their non-Africanized counterparts. It is needless to say that they have earned the title of “killer” because they will actually try to sting you to death.
So, if you have bees that are actually Africanized or have genetics that comes from killer bees, expect your bees to be more likely to be jumpy and aggressive compared to other honey bees. This is where it becomes more difficult for you to try to calm them, as these bees are naturally just aggressive even if they have no reasons to be aggressive.
Poor behavior on your part
Nobody likes it whenever someone is misbehaving around their home or in their home. This is something that is also true for bees as they also hate it whenever you are not behaving properly around their hives. They will get jumpy and cranky if you misbehave quite close to their homes similar to how you probably would get jumpy when someone is doing the same right outside your house.
While genetics do play a role in the way bees act around people, especially when it comes to their defensive side, you should also know that the way you behave is just as important. You don’t want to end up startling the bees or triggering their angry side by making sudden movements or loud noises near their hives. Otherwise, expect the bees to try to drive you away in the best way they can—by stinging you.
So, with that said, keeping bees calm is essential if you want to make sure that you and your bees are safe. This is supposed to be a win-win situation for both parties involved because you get to reap the benefits of being a beekeeper while your bees won’t feel threatened as a result of you checking up on them from time to time and harvesting their honey.
How do beekeepers usually calm a bee down?
Now that you know why bees can get jumpy and why you need to help calm them down, you should now know how you can actually calm them down. While wearing a beekeeper suit should always be at the top of the list in terms of keeping yourself protected from bee stings, it is just as important for you to know how to keep them calm whenever the bees start showing signs of aggression.
That said, the most popular way that beekeepers usually use to calm the bees down is by making use of a smoker. You have probably seen this whenever you watch videos about beekeeping, as beekeepers usually have a metal contraption by their side to blow smoke at the bees whenever they need to do so.
In that regard, a bee smoker works by blowing smoke to the bees. But you don’t have to worry because the smoke is not hot enough to harm bees but is just at the right temperature to work well enough to calm the bees down or, at the very least, to keep them away from the beekeeper whenever they are showing their aggressive side.
How and why does smoking calm a bee?
As you already know, a smoker is one of the most effective tools that beekeepers use to keep bees calm or to, at the very least, make sure that the bees stay away from them so as to prevent them from getting too aggressive towards the beekeeper. However, you might be wondering how and why a smoker is actually great at calming bees down.
Most people tend to believe that smokers make the bees feel sleepy. However, that is not the case because the smoke has an entirely different effect on the bees. Whenever you are blowing smoke to the bees, you are actually masking their alarm pheromones. On top of that, smoke also has a very unique effect on how bees act.
Due to how bees are genetically wired for self-preservation, they recognize smoke as one of the signs that something is wrong with their hive. When they do detect smoke, they will begin to think that their hive is on fire and will immediately eat plenty of honey. The basic reason why they do so is that they have to use the honey for energy in case they need to leave their “burning” hive to find a new home.
So, because the bees are so full after eating plenty of honey, it will be much more difficult for them to actually try to sting you. This, in effect, creates a calming effect that “calms” the bees down but is actually just making them so full that they can’t even sting you even if they wanted to. In short, smoke doesn’t actually calm the bees down or make them feel sleepy, but it is actually just making it physically difficult for them to sting you.
Also, the smoke can be quite thick to the point that it makes it more difficult for bees to communicate with one another as they tend to make use of signals of communication to talk to one another. But doing so is close to impossible when smoke gets in the way, and this makes it difficult for the bees to try to launch a coordinated assault. Just imagine trying to listen to your friends talking while loud music is playing in the background. Smoke has the same effect on bees.
You also don’t have to worry about the smoke because bee smokers are designed such that they are capable of creating smoke that isn’t too hot or isn’t hazardous to the health of the bees. The smoke is only thick enough to the point that it triggers the bees’ alarm and their natural self-preservation behavior.
Is a bee smoker necessary?
Now that you know how a smoker works and how it is effective at keeping bees at bay so that they won’t be able to sting you, you might be wondering whether or not bee smokers are actually necessary to the list of the equipment that a beekeeper needs.
In that regard, the smoker actually is regarded as one of the necessities a beekeeper needs if he wants to keep himself as safe as possible from the bees. Some expert beekeepers may rank it just below your bee suit in terms of the most important pieces of equipment you need if you want to keep yourself from getting stung as much as possible.
However, there are still some cases where certain beekeepers end up making mistakes that can cause harm to the bees whenever they are using their smokers. Here are some of the more common mishaps that tend to happen:
- Dispersing smoke that is too hot
Modern smokers are actually making use of natural materials that produce the smoke. These materials include wood chips and pine cones. And while such materials tend to produce smoke that isn’t too hot to harm the bees, there are some cases where some beekeepers don’t know how to control the temperature of the smoke their smokers produce. When that happens, the hot smoke can end up melting the bees’ wings, which is a situation you don’t ever want to happen.
- Using too much smoke
Inexperienced beekeepers may end up making too much smoke out of panic whenever they notice that some of the bees are becoming quite aggressive. When that happens, bees will end up panicking as well and may actually try to leave the hive even if it isn’t even on fire. As such, the goal here is to make sure that you are only puffing a bit of smoke once in a while instead of actually filling the entire area with smoke.
- Opening the hive immediately after smoking
Another mistake that can end up harming the bees is opening the hive immediately after smoking. This is a rookie mistake that inexperienced and impatient beginners tend to make. As such, it is best to wait and observe first after smoking the bees because you want to see how the bees react to the smoke before you open the hive. Opening the hive too soon may startle the bees or make them behave unusually.
So, as you can see, certain mistakes when using the smoker can be quite common among beekeepers. While the smoker is indeed regarded by most experts as a necessity, there are some beekeepers that prefer to do without it because it may end up becoming hazardous to the bees and to the environment.
How to calm bees without smoke?
If you are one of those who would like to proceed with beekeeping without the use of a smoker for various reasons such as budget constraints, health hazards, or environmental impact, you are in luck because there are still some ways that you can use to calm bees without the use of a smoker. And that is what we are here to discuss right now.
Choosing the right time and conditions to open the hives
As we have already mentioned, bees have preferred times and conditions when it comes to the weather and temperature. Bees hate it when you open their hives at night when the conditions are not right for them. They also hate it whenever it’s cloudy and cold.
That is why, to make sure that your bees are as calm as possible, it is best to open the hives in the middle of the morning when the foragers have already left at first light. Also, make sure that the weather conditions are just right such as when the day is bright, sunny, and warm. Do not try to open the hives when the day is gloomy and a bit too cold for the bees because they get cranky when you do so.
Stay as calm as possible
Veteran beekeepers will always tell you that it is more important for you to stay calm than to actually calm the bees. Your bees will only be as calm as you are, and that is your secret weapon when it comes to tending to your bees. Even if you are wearing the best protective gear, you are still going to end up getting stung one way or another when your bees become a bit aggressive just because you didn’t stay calm.
So, what we are trying to say here, in case it wasn’t already clear, is that you need to stay calm whenever you are tending to your bees. Do not try to panic or to show fear whenever you are around them or whenever some bees fly close to you. Just think of such bees as curious insects. And know for a fact that bees will only sting as a last resort because doing so will kill them.
Just as you hate it when someone or something is making a ton of noise near your home, bees also get alarmed when you are not quiet around them. You hardly ever see beekeepers that talk too much whenever they are near their hives because doing so will alarm the bees. As such, it is best to keep yourself quiet whenever you are around your bees so that the bees will stay as calm as you want them to be. Any loud noises will only startle them and make them grumpy and jumpy.
On top of how your bees hate it whenever you are making loud noises, they also don’t like it when you are misbehaving near their hive. Misbehavior can be construed in a lot of different ways such as playing around, doing crazy stuff, or anything similar to those. But the point here is that you should always make sure that you are behaving well enough when you are close to the hives, because misbehaving will only startle the bees or make them think that you are a threat to their existence and survival.
Wear proper clothing
Wearing the proper clothing is essential whenever you are tending to your bees or harvesting honey. By now, you probably already know the importance of wearing a bee suit. However, if you do not intend on using a bee suit or if you are planning on making your own beekeeping suit, it is important that you know the importance of using white or anything close to white or dull yellow in color.
The reason why white is so important when it comes to beekeeping can be connected to how bees are naturally wired. In the wild, bees are prone to predation from different predators such as bears. The common denominator when it comes to these predators is that they come in dark colors.
On top of that, avoid wearing bright colors as well because bees are naturally wired to go near anything that is bright in color because that is usually the appearance of most flowers. Because your goal here is to keep the bees as calm as possible and to minimize the chances of them coming near, you avoid wearing bright colors as well.
So, if you were to wear white, this is a color that doesn’t remind bees of anything threatening or interesting. In that sense, bees won’t see you as a threat or even something that can make them curious as long as you are wearing a white bee suit.
Be gentle with the bees
Of course, when you are handling the bees, such as when you are inspecting them or when you are checking up on the queen, it is essential that you are as gentle as possible with them. Do not handle them with heavy hands that may actually end up crushing them because, if you accidentally kill a bee, the entire colony will most likely see you as a threat and will try to defend themselves by fending you off with their stingers.
Avoid making sudden movements
Bees are quite alert when it comes to sudden movements because predators love to make sudden movements whenever they are lurking around to try to eat the bees or steal their honey. That’s why you have to make sure that you are not making sudden movements that can easily startle the bees. Just act as normal and as calm as possible whenever you are around the hive so that your bees won’t see you as a threat.