Getting your smoker going marks the threshold between your non-bee activity and beginning to work your bees. You could just shove some fuel in, jump start a fire, give it a few puffs, and crack open the first box just minutes after you’ve arrived. Occasionally there are urgent situations which require this haste.
But most of the time when you go out to work bees it is more of a planned event.
Before you dive in, investing a few minutes to light the smoker properly will pay dividends during the entire work period. Going methodically through each step in the smoker-lighting process takes a bit of extra time, but it is time you can simultaneously use to make your bee work more thoughtful and skilled. After you’ve learned the lighting sequence so you can do it without thought, your mind is free to focus on something else.
While getting the smoker lit, think about your goals for the day. If you’re planning an inspection, think about why you’re inspecting and what you hope to see. This will help you be alert to anything unexpected. If you’re planning to split, or harvest honey, think about the steps you’ll take and what equipment you’ll need. Do you have a work-around for anything missing?
With your goals clarified and your gear lined up, shift your attention to the hives and watch the bees coming and going while you keep topping up the smoker. Check out the hives and the areas in front. Are there live or dead bees on the ground? Any scratches or damages to the entrance area? Are the bees calm and moving steadily in and out? Any extra buzziness or activity among the bees? Is there a larger than normal number of bees on the outside surface of the hive? Are they pinging off your veil, or just ignoring you? Are they bringing in pollen? All these are hints about what you may find inside.
By the time you’ve finished looking over the hives, your smoker is probably ready to go. And so are you. Focusing on the bees allows you to transition from the pace of your everyday life. This is the best starting point for a successful day of bee work. And the bonus is that with your smoker correctly fueled and burning steadily, it will stay that way for a long time without much further attention.
Even if you think this is complete foolishness, try it a few times and see if it makes a difference for you.
With bees, there are often surprises when working with them, sometimes requiring an on-the-fly change of plan. When you bump into one of these situations, take a few moments to think through how to handle it. Train yourself to immediately reach for your smoker and puff it while you’re thinking. And check to see if it needs a bit more fuel. That way, once you’ve worked out what to do, your smoker will be ready to help you get it done.
This is somewhat personal. I have noticed that sometimes at the end of long day of bee work, as I trudge back from the bee yard, that I have acquired a certain invisibility. (I know, you’re thinking, exactly what kind of fuel was burning in that smoker?) I don’t mean real invisibility: what I mean is that the animals I encounter on the way (birds, squirrels, rabbits) seem far less reactive to me than usual. Instead of bounding away, they often stay still and watch me pass. It’s probably due, at least partly, to the fact that my human scent is somewhat disguised by exposure to the smoke. But it’s also partly due to what psychologists call being in a state of flow, which is a fancy term for completely losing yourself in a project. You are fully engaged, but at the same time so relaxed that your brain wave pattern is temporarily altered. Whether or not these changes are perceptible to animals, you will benefit from being in this flow, even for short periods. In colloquial terms, it completely cleans the cobwebs out of your brain, at least for a while. In our intense and pressured world, that is a priceless side effect of working bees.