Let me regale you with the simple pleasures of smoking a pipe. There is nothing finer, nor classier then the simple device of a pipe; its swirls of briarwood burls, slandering out to a thin black curved stem. The gentle room note of vanilla caused by burning a fine Virginia Cavendish. The simple contemplative pleasure it fills your soul, and lungs with.
I would urge almost anyone to take up such a pursuit. But how you might ask does this at all relate to the practice of beekeeping? Quite simply this, when a pipe is packed improperly it can: go out if unintentionally if packed too loosely; It can burn far too hot, scolding the mouth and creating unpleasant flavours if packed too tight or not maintained; and it can do both if packed unevenly.
Noting that here is a practical lesson on packing a pipe that will stay lit for an hour even if you put it down, will burn cool, and stay pleasant. I cannot remember where I heard this adage “pack the first pinch like a child, the second like a woman, and the third like a man”. What this means is that at first pack the bottom loosely, and gradually pack it harder (three pinches should do it). Then there is what is known as the false light. Light the tobacco gently waving the flames over the time whilst drawing in, and then let it all but die. The heat causes the tobacco to spring back up. Now gently tamp the tobacco back down, relight and enjoy.
Is this starting to sound relatable? Lighting a smoker if done in a similar fashion will yield the same result – a plethora of thick, dark smoke. I like to start with bits of old cardboard: it’s easy to light, easily found, and more importantly creates a base layer of airspace. You just need a strip rolled up, lit and stuffed in the bottom. Then the pine needles, these really work great, and where the analogy comes into play; stuff in a good paws worth, then another slightly tighter whilst puffing the smoker to keep it lit. When it’s full close it up, a few more good hauls of smoke and open it up. What you might notice is that the “spring” up actually creates a great deal more room for another handful of needles, so pack it in there good!
Starting out and watching the very experienced beekeepers that never bothered to wear protection I noticed one thing. They all smoked well working their bees! Was this a coincidence? Not quite. A cigarette will keep them out of your face. Next I thought, well if I don’t smoke cigarettes what about a pipe? I had been an avid smoker of pipe tobacco for years. A pipe will put out a great deal more smoke then a flimsy chemical laced cancer stick. So I gave it a try, and it worked. For simple inspections simply smoking a pipe could calm the bees, and gently blowing on the top bars could weasel them down into the brood nest.
Now if you are a non-smoker, and most people are nowadays you are missing an obsessive unconscious habit that smokers do –they ALWAYS have a lighter on them. There is a great chance that if you smoke, it will be a rare day you find yourself in the apiary scavenging around looking for a way to light your smoker. Macguyver method of beekeeping.
I am not a horrible messy person by character, it just happens by circumstance. Life gets in the way when you travel to work every day, come home, sleep, repeat ad infinum. My truck more often then not, when I am busy is messy. Very messy. There are coffee cups, wrappers, mail, magazines, trailer hitches, random detritus, cds, gifts that never made it home, tools –it’s a damn disaster.
We could all be pessimistic and cringe at such a lowly lifestyle, but in the time of need this is a beekeeping survival strategy.
It was the end of spring, and time to super. I had foundationless crazy comb to correct, supers to put on, and absolutely zero time. I had tapped out the bank account on new boxes, frames, and with no account for my personal addictions: coffee, tobacco, beer. Needless to say, I was not a happy person that day. So drive down the bumpy dirt road to the bee yard and go to start my smoker. Fuck, no lighter, it rained yesterday so all the pine needles were wet, I was dead in the water and had to rush to work within the hour.
Hopeless you would think? Not if are the lucky owner of a 2005 filthy Chevy Silverado! Finding fuel was the easy part, there were cardboard, wrappers, plenty to start a fire with. An arsonist’s playground if you will. Getting the fire started was another matter. Yeah I have a bug out bag, fire starter, matches, and the whole nine yards –at home. Ive done plenty of bushwhacking, but there was no time for bow drills and the like. What I did have time for was MacGuyver. Well not really that bad. In between one of those odd inaccessible places in the seat rails (you know the ones that are impossible to clean?). I found a lighter. Now I couldn’t actually get that lighter out for unnamed engineering flaws, and American motor company brain farts. What I could do is get little metal bit off the end of the lighter and salvage the flint. I tested the lighter, it was dead anyway.
Behind another seat I found a blow torch (no not the automatic start kind,) from some plumbing repair seasons ago. Now… taking a tiny little piece of flint and creating a spark off of it is no easy feat. First you need carbon steel. Being a cook on his way to work, I had my knife roll on hand. This knife roll contained carbon steel knives. After much trial and error with a running blow torch I finally got the damn thing lit. It is also worth noting that I carry that blow torch as a part of my kit now, no more flimsy lighter flames going out!
Impressed with my ingenuity, I felt compelled to make a forum post about my “accomplishment”. Shortly after one of the treatment gurus, revealed an interesting fact. I could have just arced the battery cable from the truck. Duh, I fix vintage Volkswagens as a hobby, and done that by accident hundreds of times.
Morale of the story, smoking isn’t always bad for you, and a clean truck is a wasteland of opportunity for a desperate new beekeeper.