Alternative Smokers

Thursday 23 May 2024

Last year Nova Scotia saw the largest recorded wildfires in its history. The wildfires in Halifax Regional Municipality and Shelburne, Yarmouth counties caused devastation to beekeepers either by decimating entire apiaries or by destroying food sources for bees. Last year’s wildfires also raised serious concerns about using smokers during extreme drought. The reality is that with changing weather patterns we are likely to experience severe drought in Atlantic Canada once again, and we need to have options to the traditional smoker. This week’s blog will discuss two different options for beekeepers when drought conditions persist.

Alternative Smokers

On an exceptionally dry and hot day beekeepers must be cautious about using their smoker when working with bees. Last year, drought conditions persisted for weeks, and this raised a new level of concern regarding the safe use of smokers during an extreme drought. Since it is not a safe option to use a smoker during drought conditions, beekeepers found themselves looking for alternative products to calm their bees when working through a hive. ATTTA decided to test a couple of products on the market currently in order to suggest some alternatives to a smoker under drought conditions. Below are some of the initial thoughts on these products but the team would need to try the suggested products many more times, and during varying weather conditions and beekeeping activities, to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of each product to calm bees, prevent stings and allow beekeepers to work through a hive.

Using Apisolis Vaporizer on honey bee colony in April (ATTTA©2024).

One alternative beekeepers have available to them is the Apisolis Vaporizer. This is a flameless electronic vaporizer, which works much like a traditional smoker but produces temperature regulated vapour formulated with essential oils to calm bees. The composition of solution used in the vaporizer is propylene glycol and active ingredients present in essential oils. The use of the product is safe for human health, safe for use on bees and non-hazardous to the environment. The company Apisolis was founded in France by Damien Albrespy. The device is easy to use and is an alternative to calm bees during drought conditions. An advantage of this electronic vaporizer, over a traditional smoker, is that assuming it is fully charged and has been filled with the required Native vapour fluid, the device will not “go out” while beekeeping – unlike the traditional smoker that goes out from time to time. That being said, the battery of the vaporizer does need to be recharged on a regular basis, and, unlike a smoker, if the battery dies in the apiary there is no quick way to restart the vaporizer. Like a smoker, caution must be taken to not over use the vaporizer on the bees. Providing a periodic puff of the vapour should suffice to keep the bees calm. The device is unlikely to be a permanent replacement for the traditional smoker, as its ability to calm and move bees is seemingly not as effective as smoke. So, it is advised to always bring a traditional smoker to each apiary just in case the bees are more defensive than anticipated. During drought conditions, the Apisolis Vaporizer is an option to work bees safely. The device can be purchased from Dancing Bee Equipment for $299.95 plus tax and shipping, along with 50 other global distributers all listed on the Apisolis website (

Apimil® product (2024©ATTTA)

A second option for beekeepers is the product Apimil® ( This is a liquid product that is diluted in water and used as a spray. The composition of the product is mainly compounds extracted from essential oils and saccharides. The product is prepared as a 10% solution and can be sprayed directly on the colony when working through the hives. The product contains a combination of essential oils that work to calm honey bees and is a safe option during drought conditions. Andermatt Canada has also done preliminary research using Apimil® suggesting that the product may be used to significantly improve the success rate of introducing honey bee queens, prevent robbing and improve the success rate of combining colonies. Apimil® does not move bees around as a traditional smoker would, but rather helps mitigate defensive behaviour of bees when working through the hive. Caution must be taken to not over use the product in the colony. Periodically mist the bees with the solution and watch to see if their behaviour changes. The product can be purchased from Andermatt Canada for $30.00/250 mL. Again, the product is unlikely to be a permanent replacement for the traditional smoker, and during each visit to the apiary a traditional smoker should be brought for back up. Additionally, if new to beekeeping, it would be advisable to try a traditional smoker before any of the alternatives.

If ever in need of a quick alternative smoker, a third option is a spray bottle containing 1:1 sugar: water. The solution can be sprayed directly on tops of frames and bees when opening the hive, which should keep them occupied with grooming and feeding. The sugar water solution should be used sparingly while working through the hive, as the intention is not to have bees feeding on sugar water during the summer months when there is a nectar flow on. With all alternative smokers, they may not suffice for aggressive colonies.

If opting to use a traditional smoker during the summer months, use extreme caution. Avoid placing the smoker directly on grass or vegetation, and instead try hooking it onto the side of hives or place it on a fireproof surface. Put green grass into the spout of the smoker to prevent emitting sparks and travel with at least a few liters of water to each bee yard. Finally, make sure the smoker is completely out when finished beekeeping. This can be done by either pouring water into the smoker until it is extinguished or dumping the ashes into a metal container with water. Travel with the smoker and any ashes in a fire proof container.

For any questions or advice on alternative smokers contact the ATTTA team.

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