Honey Bee Biology


  Honey Bee Biology  - September 2014

Bee Larvae: Busier than You Think

by Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum


In the history of apiculture, beekeepers sometimes had more time than cash. Consequently, they made their own beehives, provided they had woodworking skills. Other beekeepers with clever metal-working skills made bee smokers. Possibly a beekeeper could get a tinsmith to fabricate a bee smoker in exchange for goods or services, getting a bee smoker on the barter system, still sans the cash.

Old homemade bee smokers are by nature unique, each like a snowflake, different. They are nowhere near the identical mass-produced smokers so necessary to today’s apiculture. Homemade bee smokers tell subtle things about their makers even after all the years gone by. What they knew, perhaps understood, and the occasional telling mistakes. Since collecting bee smokers from the 1970’s, I have acquired several homemade versions. Below are a few of them.

The first smoker shown in Figure 1 is a style dating into the mid-1870’s just past the time when Moses Quinby invented the bee smoker in 1873. He attached a fire pot and funnel to a bellows, and created a practical smoker, a huge innovation for the times. The fire pot, which resembles a tube in this smoker, was stuffed with smoldering cloths, either by removing the funnel or the bottom cap. The bellows, huge compared to the fire pot (tube), would definitely fire up the smoldering fabrics to a more stable flame. However, the connection between the fire pot tube and the bellows is a solid connection. On this smoker a metal pipe from the fire fit tightly inside a carved wooden pipe on the bellows board, a considerable construction effort to keep an airtight connection (see Figure 2). Even Moses Quinby used a solid pipe connection between the fire pot and the bellows on his original smoker design. That solid connection created a problem. When the smoker was put down as the beekeeper handled the bees, the fire died, leaving the beekeeper helpless. Some bee strains in Quinby‘s time were prone to sting, so a smoker failure was a particularly debilitating problem. Quinby probably would have corrected the flaw, but he died suddenly, soon after his bee smoker appeared.

In 1878, T. F. Bingham patented what he called a “direct draft” smoker where he left an air gap between the fire pot and bellows. That allowed a small airflow to continue through the smoker, keeping the coals alive, for their next use. Now modern smokers, worldwide, still have that gap, although through apicultural history the solid pipe connection reappears, apparently since this mistake in a homemade smoker seems so seductive and necessary.

Consider a homemade smoker with a fire pot made from a “Top Cigarette Tobacco” can (see Figure 3). Apparently, the can held tobacco and papers for rolling cigarettes purchased in one tight-closing can. As a smoker, it was reloaded by opening the can, prying up the lid, as in its former tobacco-can life. The smoker’s short funnel was formed from the tin of another Top Tobacco can as indicated from part of the advertising letters curling over the funnel. Rolling a funnel and obtaining a reasonable size to match the size of the fire pot and bellows was not an easy task. The funnel appears a bit small, but the soldering bead connecting it to the can looks like an expert job. The brackets connecting the fire pot to the bellows were also made from a Top Tobacco can, soldered to the metal fire pot and nailed to the wooden board of the bellows.

Two things are telling to me about the air connection between the fire pot and the bellows. First, the height of the connection is not low, like on a modern smoker forcing the air through the fire (see Figure 4). The design, where the air surge from the bellows goes through the fire, then out as smoke is called a hot-blast smoker. When the air surge gets directed around the fire and draws out the smoke more passively, that design is called a cold blast smoker. The cold blast bee smoker design, once popular in the late 1800’s, was dying out by the middle 1920’s. (By then, it was getting difficult to buy a Clark cold-blast smoker offered in the bee supply catalogs.) This homemade smoker probably dates sometime later, the 1930’s, perhaps later, missing the cold blast era. The high placement of the connection could be due to the lack of space at the bottom, given the lower bracket as a possible obstruction. Nonetheless, the smoker would function more as a cold blast than a hot blast.

The air connection being a solid connection is the second ...

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