I kept with the 'Free' theme and started using pine needles. There is a patch of pine in the side woods with years of pine mulch laying on the ground. Any time of year I could get a bucket of needles. The bucket was stored in the garage which kept the needles always dry. The smoke smelled better than the leaves but seemed hotter and was more likely to stain the wooden ware. The needles burned better than the leaves and required less refuelings. But, they also blew more ash, lined the smoker with more resin, & created a little less smoke. Unfortunately, one colony hated the smoke and would become defensive.
Early this year a neighbor got into bees and started using the compressed cotton disks. From what I saw they were difficult to get started and created very little smoke. They rarely stayed lit and required a torch be always handy. I didn't use them myself but did not like the look of them. The smell was rough too.
Then I began to use the wood pellets; the hardwood pellets not the pine ones. At first i used a torch to light them. Now i add a handful of pine needles to the top and light with a single match. Once lit they continuously burn. When i fill the smoker 3/4 of the way up the smoke can last for two or more inspections. A cork stuffed in the top extinguishes the smoke. They make tons of cool smoke that smells like a campfire.
So unless I find something better I sticking with the hardwood pellets.
This smoker has been lit for thirty minutes and not been puffed for fifteen