Many comb honey producers use smoke sparingly and some forgo it altogether. In Honey in the Comb, Killion notes that “Heavy smoking may cause soot particles to adhere to the surface of freshly capped comb.”
Heavily smoked bees may also rip open capped cells in order to scarf down honey reserves quickly. I’ve seen smoked bees open a half-dozen cells in one square section. That may not seem like a lot, but when you are trying to produce perfect comb, it can be heartbreaking.
In addition, some folks can definitely detect a smoky odor in combs that have been smoked. This varies with individuals, and some are much more sensitive to it than others. Recently a beekeeper told me that his parents’ comb honey always smelled like smoke. Even if you don’t notice it, others may.
So my advice with smoke is simple: if you must use smoke to harvest comb honey, do it with a light touch. Use as little as possible, as infrequently as possible.
In my opinion, products such as Bee Go, Bee-Quick, and BeeDun should be avoided as well. Bee Go is made of butyric anhydride, has a nasty smell, and is both toxic and corrosive. The latter two use herbal extracts and essential oils to repel bees, but because they are oil-based compounds, they can taint the wax combs. Water-based honey will not readily absorb the odor from these products, but beeswax can. Much better to use an escape board and a little patience. Good things are worth the wait.
Agreed on the no-smoke policy, I stopped after my first month of beekeeping, and never looked back. Bad for the bees, and just one more thing to futz with out in the yard.
A note on the escape board: bees will figure out a work-around after a day or so, so don’t leave it on too long. If you do, leave it off for 30 days, and then back on again to “reset” their collective memory (a.k.a. new foragers who have no clue by then).
Interesting bit on the escape board. I’ve never left it on longer than 2 nights and never had a problem. But very good to know.
I lent my escape to a beekeeper who put in on a hive and left it for seven days. The super above was cleared of bees but the escape was returned to me with new comb construction on it.
And he or she didn’t even scrape it for you?
Oh, I didn’t care it wasn’t scraped. Actually, I was happy! I was curious as to how much the bees would burr it up. Plus I have a fascination with new comb. I just love to examine new comb, smell it, touch it… I always feel bad scraping and melting comb because I’m destroying something wondrous.
I use smoke lightly and most often only when I need the bees to move back inside the box after an inspection (when they’re boiling over and standing on the top-edges of the lower box) and in danger of being squished when I put the hive back together.
I never use smoke on harvest day. I pull a frame, thwack it once (hard) onto the edge of the box and the bees fall from the frame back into the hive. Any “cling-ons” are taken care of by a shop vac running backwards to gently blow any remaining bees (if any) from the frames.
I had someone at our local club tell us not to use smoke (ever) because it tainted the wax, but that it was OK to use those nasty smelling products such as Bee Go, Bee-Quick, and BeeDun that they would not seep into the wax. “Yeah right” I thought. Anything that smells that strong (and terrible) must surely seep in at some level I said to myself. I guess I’ll never know for sure since I don’t use them though. 🙂