Try this! You can make aromatic smoke packets out of paper bags, dried herbs, and citrus peels for your bee smoker, either as a sweet smelling addition to your typical fuel source or as a replacement fuel.
Before we get started, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself — this is Sara Everett, guest blogging for Hilary! I have been a beekeeping intern at Girl Next Door Honey for a little over a year, learning a ton from Hilary and her bees. Today I’m picking up pen for the first time to share a beek project I’ve been working on with all of you.
Start the project by asking, “What plant materials are going into my garbage or compost all the time, and what do I have that’s in surplus around my home?” This project is about having fun with the bee smoker, but it’s also about avoiding waste and not needing to buy fuel. I’m an urban gardener, who loves herbs and homegrown cut flowers. So any given week, I have extra herbs or a couple of tired out bouquets sitting around. On top of that, I also have more citrus peels than my compost bin and worm bin can handle. See if you can identify items like these in your own routine to use in this project.
Once you have potential plant materials identified, try to understand their best qualities. For example, is the plant oily or resinous? If so, it’ll probably burn well and may burn longer than other items. Does it have a great herbal scent? It’s fun if it does! Lastly, are the materials special to you in some way, like homegrown cut flowers? Dried flower petals are fairly inconsequential in the bee smoker, but I love the beauty of drying flowers and the idea of wafting flower smoke over the hive. Remember, things don’t always have to be practical!
Here is how I categorize a few of my favorite plants or plant materials:
|Oily or Resinous||Herby & Sweet||Special|
|Cut flowers (in the rose, mint, and sunflower family)
Flowers from pruning/deadheading
Dill flowers and stems
Fennel flowers and stems
*Dry pine needles and eucalyptus leaves are the items Hilary first taught me to use in the smoker. They are natural, free materials we can find almost anywhere in San Diego. They burn for a long time, so it’s the standard fuel for Girl Next Door Honey beekeeping. We’ve also been burning egg cartons with success too.
Rules of Thumb and General Tips for Sourcing Smoker Materials
Look around. What’s abundant in your yard? What’s abundant in your kitchen? Would neighbors let you gather from their yards? Is there something you have been throwing out that you could burn instead? When selecting materials to burn, pick something sweet burning, even if it’s ephemeral, for adding to your smoker. It’s fun! Edible bee plants in the mint family — like mint, sage, basil, lavender, and oregano — are great, and they burn with a flash of sweetness and white smoke. Eucalyptus leaves are highly flammable and have a strong medicinal scent- they are great for getting your smoker lit! Try collecting something oily and hardy. A little bit of citrus peels, rosemary needles, and pine needles go a long way in the smoker. Don’t toss old flower arrangements. Set aside browning roses and anything in the sunflower family (sunflowers, daisies, zinnias, etc.) to dry and put in the smoker. Be careful! Many native and exotic plants produce noxious smoke and can make you feel sick, so know what plants you’re burning. Stick to plants that are commonly eaten, used in skin care, made into homecare products, or distilled into essential oils.
*Gather responsibly, ecologically, and lawfully, if you decide to do some wild harvesting.
- Bundles: I dry herbs like oregano and lavender in bundles, hanging from a hook.
- Stringing: I dry citrus peels by stringing them on hemp twine like beads. I use a large-eye blunt needle for this. It’s kind of a weird thing to have hanging from a hook in the house, but it’s also kind of pretty and super easy to do.
- Trays: I spread finer stuff, like flower petals or basil leaves, on old cookie sheets and leave those in my gas oven to dry over the course of a few days. When doing this, make sure you break apart flowers and cut up any stems, so they dry at about the same rate as the leaves.
Don’t be afraid to just go for it! It’s an experiment every time, not a recipe. I never seem to have the same stuff, or the same amount of stuff, on hand to follow a recipe anyway. To get started, try making small single-ingredient packets to add a punch of aroma to your regular smoker fuel, or big packets with an eclectic mix of oily, herby, and special aromatics to replace your usual fuel source.
Making Packets for the Blends
Save paper bags or packing paper to make origami envelopes. Go with an origami design, so you don’t have to burn glue or tape, and experiment with lots of sizes and designs. There are tons of tutorials on YouTube to help with this. I’ve recently settled on a design on the Paper Kawaii YouTube channel called “Easy Origami Envelope.”
That’s it! Have fun!
Written by Sara Everett
Sara Everett is an urban farmer, front-yard gardener, and plant-lover living in San Diego. She has been a beekeeping intern at Girl Next Door Honey for over a year. You can follow her and check out other projects from the soil and from the hive on her Instagram.