Thursday, November 3, 2016

New Favorite Smoker Fuel

This year, I used the smoker quite a lot since 1) Hippolyte was pretty mean until she'd been requeened a few times and 2) the general lack of nectar made all the bees crabby during the summer & fall.

For a couple years, I had stopped using the smoker because it always burned my eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Plus, it left me smelling like a forest fire. However, a spray bottle of scented water wasn't cutting it this year, so back to the smoker.

Forest pony poo is supposed to make a nice fuel, but being fresh out of forest ponies, I've had to make do with what was at hand. Pine needles, wood shavings, straw, cotton quilt batting, natural fiber twine -- these are some of the things I've tried burning -- all with the same stinky, stinging result.

A couple months ago, I tried dried lawn clippings, which was actually a pretty decent fuel. It burned easily, made a nice cool smoke, and lasted about as long as pine needles if well-packed. Plus, the smell was tolerable. The downside was that it took a lot of dried grass to really pack the smoker properly, and if there was any moist grass in the mix, it didn't work very well. But it wasn't bad, so I continued to use grass for a while until I found something nicer -- dried sage. 

While meandering through the local hippie market, I found some bundles of tightly rolled safe for burning. Lightbulb! My sage plant got an immediate heavy pruning, and the clippings were hung up in the basement to dry.

Gru is great

Sage burns much better than grass, makes a copious amount of cool smoke, and smells good (for smoke). While I still try to stay upwind of the smoke, I've found that it isn't nearly as acrid as other fuels I've tried. Another benefit is that the bees seem pretty relaxed with the sage. Some fuels cause the bees to start fanning a lot. Others seem to make them agitated and runny. Persephone, my most defensive hive, is unusually chill when I use sage.

My last bundle of dried sage this year. :-(

I currently have only one plant, which isn't anywhere near enough for my smoking needs, but the bees love sage flowers, too, so that's an added bonus. Next year, I envision planting a whole hedge of it somewhere.

What's your favorite smoker fuel?


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for that post! I have a lot of sage, but never thought of using it as smoker fuel. I too have tried a number of fuels. I'll definitely give this a try!



    1. Cool, let me know how it turns out next year. Meanwhile, how are your bees? Hope they come through winter well.

  2. I generally use pine needles as starter fuel and then add dried sumac seed pods (not the poisonous variety though!). Sumac makes a nice cool smoke and the bees seem to be calm with it. The sumac also smolders nicely for a long time. Plus I have a neighbor who collects them for me in large bags!

    I'll have to try sage next year, since I have a bunch. Always willing to try something new! Maybe throw in some parsley, rosemary and thyme for a Scarborough Fair! ;-)

    1. Good to know about the sumac. Every year, I keep hoping the sumac tree in my yard will make flowers/seeds, but it never does. :-(

      The bees will likely love Scarborough Fair. They work so hard that they probably need a day off every now and then. Besides, who doesn't love a good fair? ;-)

    2. Don, one of the beekeepers that was teaching at Growing Gardens (up near you, I think) told me that she uses sumac bobs to knock down varroa. I've not had the chance to try it but am collecting bobs anyway.

      Julie, I think there is an article somewhere where Tom Theobold (another CO beekeeper up by Don) tried sage bundles to knock down varroa. I don't recall ever seeing anything definitive on efficacy. I'm sure if it worked, we'd all know about it, right? At the very least, it's good to read your experience with it. I never used a smoker with just one hive, only when I was working both my hives. It's really stinky storing a smoker with half-burnt fuel in it.

    3. I haven't noticed whether that helps with varroa or not. But, this year I had a lot of mite problems and ran out of sumac bobs early in the season and used pine needles instead. So maybe there is something to it! I'll have to ask Tom about the sage bundles next time I talk to him.

    4. HB & Don, that's a really interesting observation about the sumac bobs. Will have to find a good source & try them out.

      I tried doing a quick search for sage smoke and varroa, and I found some interesting articles. This one mentions creosote and grapefruit peels as the most effective fuels for driving off varroa (out of 40 different tested fuels):

      We don't have creosote here, but maybe it's time to start eating more grapefruit.

    5. I'm pretty sure that Les Crowder talks about creosote being good for varroa control, but then again he's got plenty where he lives! Thanks for the article! I can't eat grapefruit anymore, so I guess I'll stick with the sumac. And another thing is the bees seem calmer with the sumac.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!