Bee Smokers and Fuel Considerations for Bee Farmers

Bee Smokers and Fuel Considerations for Bee Farmers

Table of Contents - Bee Smoker Fuel

Bee smoker fuel gets a great deal of attention from beekeepers, and why wouldn’t it, smoker fuel is a key beekeeping resource, which without, we wouldn’t get anything done. Unsurprisingly, we devote a little too much time and perhaps overly obsess over what is a very simple thing creating confusion for new beekeepers and complications for those looking to grow their businesses.

But this time for bee smoker consideration is a luxury of the hobbyist. For some, managing a handful of hives is a simple matter of scraping up some leaves around the apiary, for others, it’s a matter of selecting combinations of specific fuels, perhaps some carefully selected and specially crafted moose dung following very specific diets. I jest but I’ve read a lot of beekeeper formulas recently and that isn’t far off.

Your company operations need to be a bit more frugal and think more practically and is why I thought touching on it today may prove helpful to someone mulling these things over.


When it comes to specific fuels there’s plenty to choose from which is probably why we beekeepers have so much to talk about. If it smokes when lit then it immediately becomes a potential candidate. Broadly speaking you can categorise them in two ways, Natural and Unnatural. Natural being the free bits you find out and about at the apiary vs anything else that has previously gone through a manufacturing process and sometimes come at a price. Examples are as follows:


  • Grasses

  • Fallen Leaves

  • Twigs/Sticks

  • Bark

  • Fallen wood (unprocessed)

  • Moss

  • Pine Cones

  • Mushrooms (Particular varieties)


  • Wood chip

  • Wood shavings

  • Cotton fabrics

  • Cardboard (Most if not all)

  • Egg Cartons

  • String or Twine

  • General wood (processed)

  • Corks

This is a broad view and not an extensive list and we could arguably discuss each one in detail, subdivide them down and explain all the pros and cons but this won’t be in the least bit helpful to anyone.


Every beginner goes through a process of getting to grips with stainless steel smokers, and perhaps the hardest part of the process is getting enough of a small fire going to create the smoke you need. This usually comes down to selecting and using kindling thus creating your first dilemma. What should I be using for kindling before I add my main fuel?

If you’ve covered “Starting a campfire 101” (check out Mike Pullen at TA Outdoors) then you’ve got the basic understanding of what’s required. You need the smaller (lighter) fuels to get a flame going that will handle something larger.

But it’s actually a little easier than that because we’re not trying to start a fire here, we just need to get enough heat into the fuel that it will start to smoke, the stainless steel contains the smoke and we control airflow through the bellows. So with all this endless talk of kindling, I might argue whether you need to concern yourself with it at all. Most fuels, in most situations, will serve as both kindling and fuel.


Perhaps the bane of any beekeeper is getting an initial flame going and when we’re starting out we tend to default to a match or a lighter. Save yourself all the pain and anguish now and get rid of those and replace them with a portable gas torch. When the weather isn’t perfect you’ll easily find yourself spending excessive time trying to get anything to light without the right tools, a torch is the only way to resolve the problem.

This is an important commercial option, as your company grows and the number of apiaries and hives with it you’ll always be looking for ways to shave off time around basic processes and lighting and maintaining a smoker can be a big part of that. With the right tools and of course the right fuels, we can take a 15-minute job and turn it into less than a minute. Over hives, apiaries, a week, a month, it can equate to considerable amounts of time and frustration saved and bring some calm back to the apiary.


As I eluded to above when discussing torches, the weather can play a considerable part in the entire process, we discussed the wind making lighters and matches obsolete but we need to think about rain, humidity, dry warm spells and not forgetting the extreme heat we endured this summer where we reached high 30’s and 40’s.

Moisture and humidity will impact some types of fuels, anything that gets wet is pretty much an instant right off and humidity can make some fuels harder to start a burn. Some dried materials will vary in density and absorb what’s in the air so the need for sealed storage starts to become an important consideration.

For hot dry spells, we must be cautious. Wildfires in the UK this year were incredibly challenging for emergency services as a result of the dry hot summer we experienced. As beekeepers, we have important responsibilities given that we eagerly light a flame with little concern for such things. This may also be complicated by the types of fuel we use, things such as sawdust can easily be picked up by a gust of wind and anything falling into a dry patch of grass may be all it takes.


Perhaps the biggest advice one can give around fuel selection is consistency, you must choose and use the same thing, period. The problem with having so much variety is that you’re having to learn to handle different ways of burning fuels all the time, paper won’t burn the same as moss, nor moss the same as bark. Sometimes you need more flame, sometimes less, weather and humidity can play a part and some fuels will burn longer than others.  Stick to something you’re comfortable with and you’ll know what to expect every time the smoker makes an appearance. 


When all is said and done it really doesn’t matter your decisions with regards your smoker and your fuel provided it’s non toxic to you and the bees. Beekeepers have a way of anthropomorphising or making discovery’s in a process that holds little to no scientific ground. If you put lavender or other herbs in your smoke it isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference other than making it a little more pleasant for you, it won’t cure chalkbrood or choke out varroa. Some of the conversations I’ve witnessed truly fly in the face of sense and reason so don’t let yourself get side-tracked by any gimmicky suggestions. That said, Lavender in the smoker is genuinely pleasant!


Every beekeeper has their own view of what smoker fuel is best for them and we thought that we’d share our choices and what we like to use in case anyone should find it useful, it comes down to two things. Dried grass/hay and cardboard. Both are plentiful and the combined use of these fuels keeps us going around the apiary with a limited need to refuel frequently.

The cardboard we find ourselves in possession of almost 100% of the time, through the simple act of running a business we have this precious resource arriving daily at the door. Packing tape and contents are removed before we start making our own bee smoker cartridges.

These are sized to approx. two-thirds of the stainless steel bee smoker chamber. The cartridge is lit at the bottom, which is almost instant with the torch and placed in the chamber followed by a few squeezes of the bellows. We top up with the dried grass, compressing as much as we can in with the hive tool. By this time the smoker is doing its thing and producing good clouds. On occasion, the smoker may well be giving out hot smoke, in which case we’ll push some fresh grass in the top to aid in cooling, there is always fresh grass but any green vegetation would suffice.


Beekeeping in the United Kingdom is challenging enough without having to overcomplicate matters and I suppose what I really wanted to get across is that this isn’t complicated, don’t get distracted by the minutia. Keep it simple and I promise you’ll thank me for it.