This is a question we here a lot from new beekeepers to experienced beekeepers. Let’s step back for a moment and look at what we as beekeepers desire in having adequate smoke for our bees.
The first “must have” is quality smoke. Quality smoke is defined as “smoke that will not injury the honey bee”. The smoke from the fuel needs to be cool enough that you can puff smoke from the smoker directly on the back of your bare hand. Anything warm or hot will at a minimum burn the wings of the honey bees and/or burn the bees on contact with the smoke.
Here is a quick run down on the pros and cons of each type of smoker fuel.
Cotton (limited husk & seed debris) Buy Here
- Gives cool smoke due to it smolders and never has an open flame.
- Gives good consistent smoke
- Lasts longer then other fuels because it smolders
- Does not have resins which will gum up your smoker lid
- A little difficult to find but stock up on it
Burlap – Buy Here
- Fairly easy to find
- Smolders with very low heat
- Consistent smoke
- Does not gum up your smoker
- Can at times be hard to find
- Easy to find in your back yard
- Smoke is consistent but is a hot smoke
- Pine needles release a hot smoke
- Must have a barrier of new needles between the needles burning and the top of the smoker
- Pine needles contain resins and will gum up your smoker
- Relatively short burn period due to an open flame
Wood Pellets – Buy Here
- Easy to purchase
- Uses very little pellets to keep the smoker going.
- Average burn time of 25 minutes per load.
- The pellets have a fire normally
- Smoke is hot due to the pellets are burning
- The pellets do have a resin that will gum up your smoker
Corrugated Material (Card Board)
- Corrugated material is very easy to find
- Put’s out a lot of smoke
- Cut to use
- Smoke is hot and probably the hottest of fuels
- Some corrugated material has resin and will gum up your smoker top
- Quick burn time
The overall best smoker fuel is cotton, because it offers cool smoke that will not harm the honey bees within your hive colony. The last thing you want to do is have an ember fly out of the smoker and hit your queen. If this happens the queen either dies immediately or will be harmed enough not to lay eggs. Cotton also has a long smoldering burn off, up to three time longer than other fuels. Burlap comes in at a close second. The reason why burlap is not the best overall is that it burns much quicker than cotton.