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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
i've been practicing my smoker skills waiting for my bees to arrive. purchased cotton smoker fuel worked well (consistent cool smoke) but smelled awful. today i tried pine needles that i gathered at my in-laws because they smelled better. but i had trouble keeping it consistent or cool. first batch just caught fire so much that i had trouble getting the lid closed over it. after shoving some more needles in there and closing the lid i got huge amounts of thick yellow smoke without working the bellows. i was worried that the neighbors would call the fire department. when that calmed down i worked the bellows a bit and would get thin blue smoke that would sometimes shoot blowtorch flames out the nozzle.

if i had some green grass i would have tried shoving that in. maybe mixing the cotton fuel and pine needles? if i wet the pine needles would i get a more consistent "simmer" of smoke? aside from nailing the fuel i have a feeling my bellows skills will improve with time. and it was kindof fun ...said the pyro. but i really had very little control of my smoke.
 

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When you set up your smoker there are a couple things to remember. Get a strong fire to begin with in the bottom, then pack it full of whatever fuel you choose to use. Personally, I use paper to start the fire with, wadd it up tight and light it, toss it in the bottom and get it to burning good, then i pack sawdust into the smoker and pack down as i work the bellows, then in order to keep the sawdust from spewing out onto the bees i pack grass or straw in the top as a filter media. Works for me every time. Cool white smoke. The color of smoke isn't as important as it is to be thick and keep the fire to a min. When you smoke your bees do so from a distance. You want to puff the smoke across them with the wind if there is any breeze at all. If not just make sure you do it from a short distance so you don't BBQ your girls.
 

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I add a cluster of sumac to my smoker it has a good smell. Once it starts it stay lit. Now is the time to collecting it from the tops of the sumac trees before they bud and drop all the seeds.

It's also a tree that the bee works in the summer when not much else is in bloom, I scatter some of the seeds I collect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumac
 

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Pine needles have to be packed real good to smolder. Too lose and they burn up as you've discovered. I still use some, but made the switch to old denim and sawdust because of the tar from the pine coating the smoker.
 

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I use a combination of red cedar pet litter and alligator juniper or creosote bush leaves/bark - and start with a blowtorch.

Pine needles make a lot of smoke, but I found they filled the smoker full of waste. Regular old grass will work in a pinch too. Just grab handfuls and pack it in.
 

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The pine does smell much better. Maybe if I had a lot of it easily available I'd use it more, but I use burlap. Burlap smolders nicely and will last a long time. You can add the green grass to the pine needles to cool it down. Just pack a bunch on top of some well lit pine needles...
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
flower, what part of the sumac are you gathering? the leaves? i think we have some down the road but i've never seen berries on it.
 

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Staghorn sumac has flowers (which make nice nectar) which turn into a clump of berries (red and sort of triangular in shape) which dries out in the fall. In the spring it's still on the tree and nicely dried. You put it in the smoker whole. Break it up only as much as you need to, to light it.
 

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I want to second the suggestion made by FlowerPlanter. I see you live in NY City, and you may well be able to find sumac growing as a 'trash' tree in urban areas (by the side of highway onramps, along cyclone fences, etc.). Last year's fruit (bright to dusky red berries at the ends of branches) are still 'out there', and could be harvested with a hand-held pruner. I personally go out in the early fall and harvest them then. They're resinous, and have a lot of surface area that facilitates their catching afire and smoldering slowly while you work your hive. The smell isn't rank. In addition, the berries of sumac are edible. They're used to make 'pink lemonade', and it is used as a spice/condiment in Middle Eastern cooking, so you're not using something that's horrible for the bees (any more than any other source of smoke).

I tried to attach a picture of a naked winter-time sumac branch that I copied from the flowerhillfarm blog. You can Google for additional images of what sumac looks like. sumac.jpg
 

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Your smoker is so hot because you lit it from the top. Whatever kind of fuel you use empty the smoker and get the fire started from the bottom, then stuff it with fuel above the fire, and the smoke will not be so hot.
 
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