In this longish video that I recorded over my lunch break at home today, I demonstrate and explain my use of a spray bottle that I use on my bees instead of a smoker. I don’t think a spray bottle is more natural (“natural beekeeping” is an oxymoron in my book), so don’t think I’m living in that fantasy world. I’m not. As I explain in the video, I don’t think a spray bottle is any worse of better than a smoker, but it’s a lot cheaper than a smoker and easier to use in many situations I’ve encountered. When used properly under the right circumstances (it’s not appropriate for all situations), it works well and doesn’t hurt the bees.
A few things I may have overlooked in the video…
Cider vinegar helps prevent the sugar in the water from going mouldy. I could add a dash of vinegar, but there is such a small amount of sugar in the mixture that it rarely turns mouldy on me. And when it does get mouldy, I just dump out the bottle, rise it with regular water, hot water or maybe a bit of vinegar, and then I’m back in business.
I use lemongrass oil in the mixture because it’s calming for me and I like to think for my bees as well. As with anything that gives off a strong scent (such as anise or regular smoke), it can also serve to mask alarm pheromones the bees may have released. It can effectively break the pheromone communication chain where one bee gives off the alarm pheromone, then two more it pick up and pass it on, and so on to the point where it quickly escalates to most of the colony becoming defensive. Not fun. Lemongrass oil, anise extract and smoke — they can all serve that function, to prevent that kind of escalation. So, you know, smoke isn’t always bad.
Someone just yelled at the screen: “That oil will clog the bees’ spiracles and they’ll suffocate!” Yup, you got that right — if I was only spraying oil on the bees. But the tiniest little droplet of lemongrass or some other essential oil is so diluted in the mixture that, other than adding fragrance, the chances of it harming the bees is close to zero. The lemongrass is also optional — and so is the spray bottle. It’s mostly an option for people who can’t afford a smoker. Moving on…
The small amount of sugar in the water mixture doesn’t spoil the honey. Not even close. Whatever sugar might be added to the bees’ guts from misting them with a bit of slightly sweetened water is something like 0.00000001% of what goes into making their honey. It ain’t no thing.
I mention that when it comes to spraying the bees or smoking the bees, in both cases, it’s usually better to go with less than more. However, a spray bottle is more forgiving than a smoker. Too much smoke is really not great for the bees. It can be highly disruptive. With the spray, though, if I go a little overboard, the consequences are minimal. The bees are wet and eventually dry off.
The smoker still has its place in my beekeeping, but not as often as my spray bottle. When I need to do something quick and easy with the bees but I don’t have time to light a smoker, I grab my spray bottle. And like many experienced beekeepers, I often don’t use anything on the bees (though I’d say that takes practice and knowing how the read the bees). The only down side to my spray bottle is that sometimes I forget to refill it and then I’m out of luck.
Postscript: I was asked if the sugar water triggers robbing. Nope. There’s barely any sugar in the mix. It’s not sugar syrup. It’s water with a tiny taste of sweetness in it. An excessive use of an essential oil can drive the bees a bit crazy too (a trick that many bee feed formulas count on), but again, the amount of essential oils in the water mixture is minuscule, and it’s not even necessary. I use plan ole water sometimes and it’s fine. I was also asked if the sugar water makes the bees’ wings sticky so they can’t fly. Yes, it does seem to do that, but again, there is so little sugar in the water that it either dries off on its own without bothering the bees, or it’s easily groom off by other bees. Keep in mind also that the sprayer is set to a fine mist. The bees aren’t getting soaked. They react to getting a fine mist in their face and then back away out of the line of fire, very much like they would with a small hit of smoke.