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Author Topic: Natural Cell/ small cell Size questions.  (Read 6296 times)
Keystonepaul
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« on: December 10, 2008, 10:53:28 AM »

First I've been really amazed as a novice getting into beekeeping how passionate (angry and obnoxious in some cases but we'll stick to passionate) folks are on both sides of the small cell benifit or not arguement.  Folks giving examples, antidotal evidence, siting of studies, etc of benifit or no benifit in terms of mites. 
Questions and thoughts:

1. Could someone one quantatively define small cell and natural cell or at least give accepted sizes for both small cell and natural cell. 

2.  in the studies or data gathering of what exactly natural cell size is are they all done with feral bees or have some been done with artifical size bees either larger or regressed to smaller size by beeks and thier practices. I would think that the size of the bee to start out with would effect the natural comb they make for several generations.  It would also be interesting to see what size cells small cell bees are making generations and splits removed from thier original small cells and conversly larger cell bees are making after several splits all allowed to produce natural comb.  My guess would be that small cell would move up towards natural and large cell would move down in size towards natural? 

3.  I would think the greatest arguement in terms of natural cell (or smaller cells than were currently using regularly) would be that not much in nature is done that isn't purposefull.  If smaller cell -  4.8, 4.7,4.6 (or whatever is considered small cell) etc were of more benifit to the bees they would be producing them regularly. Conversly if larger cell size 5.3, 5.4, etc were benifical they would be producing those size cells in nature.  So if natural cell size is somewhere north or south of 5.0 I would think that is because there is some benifit to that size.  Right?

4. I haven't heard much talk about the relationship between the number of bees that can be produced in large cells, natural cells, and small cells (all being somewhat different amounts) and the mite load of a hive.  Is it possible that the mite load we as beeks want and consider good and acceptable may be less than what is acceptable to the bees.  and the curve between size of bees and mite load (if there is a relationship at all  Wink ) might mean that the naturally accepted mite load does not meet our expectations and were naturally trying to put mite levels at unnaturally low levels.  For instance- bigger bees gather mor pollen and make more honey quicker than a smaller bee ( I think I've gotten that from my reading) but bigger bees also mean less bees.  Smaller bees gather less honey than bigger bees but more bees are available to gather honey. Somewhere in there there is a diminishing return- the size of the bees decreases and the added number of bees doesn't make up the difference. So I would think that cell size has to do with overall number of bees too and maximizing a hives productivity. Of course that little dissertation does not take in disease, mites, etc.  Adding mites in for example could mean or in my mind would mean the the average natural cell size takes into account many of these factors in allowing for a colonly to maximize it's viability (too us meaning maximizing it honey production though I'm not sure maximization of honey production is in a bees best natural interest (ours for sure, thiers not so sure) ) Anyway nature allows for a certain mite load, offsets its by the size of the bees which in turn helps dictate the proper number of bees available to gather nectar and pollen and make honey which in turn is all dicated by the size of the bee and size of the cell to begin with??

4.  When did varroa mites become a problem.  From my reading on the forums it seems like it's in the 20 years or so? Is this right/wrong have they alway been an issue. What has historically affected hives throughout time that's been written and documented about?? 

Thanks for your time , Keystonepaul 
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mudlake
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2008, 05:19:28 PM »

Try search at the top you will get all you want to read. I will take you a while. Or Michael Bush small cell. Lots to read. Have fun Tony
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2008, 07:08:23 PM »

>1. Could someone one quantatively define small cell and natural cell or at least give accepted sizes for both small cell and natural cell.

Small Cell:  4.9mm or smaller comb built from foundation embossed at 4.9mm or smaller.

Natural Cell:  Whatever size bees who have been regressed (had at least one or two turnovers of comb) build.  Typically the CORE of the BROODNEST is in the area of 4.9mm although sometimes as small as 4.4mm and sometimes as large as 5.0mm.  It grows out from there so that the edges and especially the top are noticeably larger.  All of this is, of course, not counting drone cells, which run in the 5.9mm to 7.0mm range.

>2.  in the studies or data gathering of what exactly natural cell size is are they all done with feral bees or have some been done with artifical size bees either larger or regressed to smaller size by beeks and thier practices. I would think that the size of the bee to start out with would effect the natural comb they make for several generations.

Correct.  It does. The first generation (and turnover of comb) runs closer to 5.1mm to 5.2mm at the core of the brood nest.  The next goes down more and the next usually goes a bit more.

> It would also be interesting to see what size cells small cell bees are making generations and splits removed from thier original small cells and conversly larger cell bees are making after several splits all allowed to produce natural comb.  My guess would be that small cell would move up towards natural and large cell would move down in size towards natural?

Natural cell varies in size.  It's not at all necessary to force them down. They will move down on their own.  I find the core is typically smaller than 4.9mm which is small cell, so no, I don't think you'll find them moving up per se, but the core and the edges aren't the same size, so that's hard to define.

>3.  I would think the greatest arguement in terms of natural cell (or smaller cells than were currently using regularly) would be that not much in nature is done that isn't purposefull.

Precisely.

> If smaller cell -  4.8, 4.7,4.6 (or whatever is considered small cell) etc were of more benifit to the bees they would be producing them regularly.

Which they do.

> Conversly if larger cell size 5.3, 5.4, etc were benifical they would be producing those size cells in nature.

Which they do not.

> So if natural cell size is somewhere north or south of 5.0 I would think that is because there is some benifit to that size.  Right?

That's my thinking.

>4. I haven't heard much talk about the relationship between the number of bees that can be produced in large cells, natural cells, and small cells (all being somewhat different amounts) and the mite load of a hive.

A frame of small cell brood is more bees than a frame of large cell bees.  And with a two day shorter development period that's a lot more brood to be raised.

> Is it possible that the mite load we as beeks want and consider good and acceptable may be less than what is acceptable to the bees.

Possible.  But on natural cell I can't find any to count in the spring and only a few in the fall, so I'm don't really think so.  I think we have to let the mites get balanced with the bees and let the bees do what they need to to handle it.

> and the curve between size of bees and mite load (if there is a relationship at all  Wink ) might mean that the naturally accepted mite load does not meet our expectations and were naturally trying to put mite levels at unnaturally low levels.

In theory, I would agree.  In practice, that's not what I'm seeing.

> For instance- bigger bees gather mor pollen and make more honey quicker than a smaller bee ( I think I've gotten that from my reading)

Actually I haven't seen any up to date reliable study that would support that.

> but bigger bees also mean less bees.

Yes.

> Smaller bees gather less honey than bigger bees but more bees are available to gather honey.

And according to Brother Adam, and Dee Lusby and a few others, they fly a lot further to gather honey.

>though I'm not sure maximization of honey production is in a bees best natural interest (ours for sure, thiers not so sure) )

But I don't think we are maximizing it by larger cells.  I know of no one who is currently arguing that larger bees are gathering more honey.

>4.  When did varroa mites become a problem.  From my reading on the forums it seems like it's in the 20 years or so? Is this right/wrong have they alway been an issue.

They arrived in the USA in 1987 but it took a bit longer for them to spread throughout the country.  I never had any losses from them until the mid to late 90's.

> What has historically affected hives throughout time that's been written and documented about??

Foulbrood is written about by Aristotle, if I remember right.  Aristotle described it as "rust with a foul odor".

For info on small cell and natural cell:
http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnaturalcell.htm

Info on the same page concerning observed and historically observed capping and post capping times:
http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnaturalcell.htm#preandpostcappingtimes

On that same page historical measurements of natural cell size:
http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnaturalcell.htm#historiccellsize

More historical measurments:
http://www.beesource.com/pov/lusby/celldata.htm
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Keystonepaul
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2008, 10:16:26 AM »

Thanks for the links Mudlake, I will check them out for sure.  Thank you for taking the time Michael.  I'm either thinking of going smaller cell to start or let them build thier own comb from starter strips.  I'm enjoying the learning I'm doing for sure and this and a couple other sites on beekeeping for sure.  I've read several places (even repeatedly and consistently) that small cell is a bit difficult for beginners. I would think that would be because of the need to facillitate regression?  My thoughts are there must be beeks that are selling packages or nucs of small cell bees to begin with. I don't think starting one of those would be any more complicated than starting a bee package/nuc of bigger bees. Bjorn, I do need to find time to call you and talk to you directly to follow up on our emails.   Thanks all, Paul Conway.   
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suprstakr
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2008, 06:13:22 PM »

Difficult NO . I started with natural cell and never looked back m, I produce more wax than honey , but my candles sell as well . Smiley Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2008, 07:02:06 PM »

Mine had no problem at all.  Didn't want to go through the trouble of regression (figured they would be glad just to have a home after traveling up here from CA!)so installed on small cell, then put in wedge top frames w/the bar like a starter strip.  Beautiful natural comb on one hive (blue)..some creative design on some of the other(green).  The Green girls were creative from day 1 tho, even with foundation!  Next year will be all starter as there are already frames drawn from this year to give em a boost. Just figure out what you want & the bees will either go with the flow..or not as they have their own ideas!  I personally want only MY bees wax in my honey, that's just me tho.. rolleyes & I want to make candles too! Good luck! J
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Natalie
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« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2009, 06:52:25 AM »

Michael or anyone else that has done this.
How long does it take for bees to regress by installing just on foundationless frames compared to doing the small cell foundation first and then moving on to foundationless?
I ask this because I went to a bee keepers meeting last week and they had a speaker who said that it would take many many years for them to regress naturally and then most colonies don't live that long to complete the process.
I have mulling this over in my head since then, any thoughts?
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Robo
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« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2009, 07:21:45 AM »

It takes at least two comb cycles.  Time wise depends on how good a year it is weather wise and how diligently you rotate out comb.   I think 2 years is a safe timeframe.  Or you can just use HSC and regress instantly.  That is what I ended up doing after getting tired of dealing with loosing hives halfway thru or misdrawn comb.  My season for comb drawing is much shorter than folks down south,  so that also played a part in my decision to use HSC.

Many folks have had success just by continually rotating out 1/3 of the combs every year.  this way your combs are never more than 3 years old.   
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2009, 10:27:37 AM »

>How long does it take for bees to regress by installing just on foundationless frames compared to doing the small cell foundation first and then moving on to foundationless?

I've had packages that built small combs right out of the package.  I've had them that didn't.  As Robo says usually it takes two turnovers of comb.

>I ask this because I went to a bee keepers meeting last week and they had a speaker who said that it would take many many years for them to regress naturally and then most colonies don't live that long to complete the process.
I have mulling this over in my head since then, any thoughts?

The answer is, "It depends".  But in my experience it usually takes between no and two turnovers of comb.  That's probably a year or two if you're not pushing it too hard, and I wouldn't.  Pushing too hard on swapping out all that comb is a lot of stress on the bees.  Sometimes they go quite quickly.  Sometimes they don't.  If you are worried about it and want to insure quick (instant) regression, use Honey Super Cell and you'll have them on the first go round.  It's fully drawn 4.9mm comb.
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Michael Bush
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Natalie
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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2009, 05:55:58 PM »

I had looked at the honey super cell, he also recommended it. Do you keep them on it or do you rotate it out after they first two cycles? I have heard of people doing it both ways.
If you were to rotate it out, would start putting foundationless frames in between the drawn out super cell comb and go from there?
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2009, 06:01:52 PM »

>I had looked at the honey super cell, he also recommended it. Do you keep them on it or do you rotate it out after they first two cycles?

It's your choice.  Once they are using it it's accepted as normal comb.  I have nothing against it but some don't like plastic.  I have an assortment of things in my hives, which works after acceptance.

>If you were to rotate it out, would start putting foundationless frames in between the drawn out super cell comb and go from there?

Would I?  Yes.  But you have many options from foundationless to small cell wax, to all fully drawn small cell plastic comb (HSC) or even small cell plastic foundation (Mann Lake PF100s and PF120s).  Pick what fits your philosophy.

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Michael Bush
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« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2009, 11:10:16 PM »

Michael,

I've been advised against attempting to go the small/natural cell route as a beginner but as someone who has actually taken this route I'd appreciate your advice and have lots of questions.

I'm starting with nucs of old world Carnolian bees raised on Duragilt foundation (91/4 inch frames) and intend to install them in both 8 and 10 frame equipment. Are these a suitable starting point for attempting the natural cell strategy?

What is the best way of encouraging the bees to draw out the empty frames?  Would a 1 inch starter strip of wax help or would this be counter productive? 

To minimize stress on the bees how should the empty frames be distributed in the first hive body with the frames from the nuc?

You seem to recommend the use of narrower frames (1 1/4 inches) with narrower gaps between the top bars.  Some of the stats on your website suggest the narrower frames may encourage the bees to make smaller cells.  Is this an accurate interpretation or am I reaching here?  Would you recommend using such frames with bees raised on the wider frames? 

If I go the 1 1/4 frame width route should all the frames in the hive body be 1 1/4 inch wide or do some need to be 1 3/8?

My apologies for the interrogation, this whole approach holds a great deal of appeal for me and I'd like to attempt it this spring if it isn't a crazy undertaking for a beginner.

Thank you for your help,

Slaphead.
NE Seattle, WA
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2009, 02:12:21 PM »

>I've been advised against attempting to go the small/natural cell route as a beginner but as someone who has actually taken this route I'd appreciate your advice and have lots of questions.

It's much easier to start off that way than to convert later.  If you intend to use no chemicals, it's how I'd start.

>I'm starting with nucs of old world Carnolian bees raised on Duragilt foundation (91/4 inch frames) and intend to install them in both 8 and 10 frame equipment. Are these a suitable starting point for attempting the natural cell strategy?

You start with what you have an go from there.

>What is the best way of encouraging the bees to draw out the empty frames?  Would a 1 inch starter strip of wax help or would this be counter productive?

You need a comb guide of some kind.  I don't think the was works any better or worse from the point of view of them drawing it, but a wooden strip glued or nailed in or a bevel, never falls out from the heat etc.  But I've done all of them with good effect.  Even a drawn brood comb on each side of the empty works fine with no starter strip.  If you have old frames, just leave the top row of cells (or a row all the way around) and cut out the comb in the center of that.  Then you have a comb guide.

>To minimize stress on the bees how should the empty frames be distributed in the first hive body with the frames from the nuc?

I try never to put an empty frame in the brood nest unless the bees can fill that gap in a minute or two with festooning bees.  Otherwise I'd put it on the outside edge of the brood nest.

>You seem to recommend the use of narrower frames (1 1/4 inches) with narrower gaps between the top bars.  Some of the stats on your website suggest the narrower frames may encourage the bees to make smaller cells. 

I find that to be true.

>Is this an accurate interpretation or am I reaching here?

You are correct.

> Would you recommend using such frames with bees raised on the wider frames?

The narrower frames are interchangable with the wider frames.  It's just more natural spacing for more natural cell size, but it's not necessary.  The bees will do ok either way, but will go smaller faster with the narrower spacing.

>If I go the 1 1/4 frame width route should all the frames in the hive body be 1 1/4 inch wide or do some need to be 1 3/8?

It really doesn't matter.  Mix them anyway you like.  But if you get all 1 1/4" then you can fit an extra frame in.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2009, 08:43:00 PM »

I was advised against it too and i'm glad i ignored that advise. Im very happy with the bee's that i used small cell on and how much comb they produced !

I do have a question about a post that i have never seen before, why do you rotate comb out and never have comb older than 3 years. I have never seen anything about that !
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2009, 08:56:54 PM »

I was advised against it too and i'm glad i ignored that advise. Im very happy with the bee's that i used small cell on and how much comb they produced !

It makes you rethink things a bit don't it.  Until you try SC or Foundationless you never realized just how much comb bees can really make or how fast.  Foundation slows them down.

Quote
I do have a question about a post that i have never seen before, why do you rotate comb out and never have comb older than 3 years. I have never seen anything about that !

In this day & age chemical usage is so wide spread that the combs can become quite contaminated over a few years even for beekeepers who are "all natural" in their approach just from foraging bees.  Even the experts are starting to recommend comb rotation every 5 years.  But if a beekeeper is using chemicals (Apistan, Mite-away, Terrimycin, etc) in their hives the toxicity levels are high at the end of 5 years.  3 years seems to be a happy medium where the combs are replace before they become saturated.
Removing toxic combs is reducing the tipping point that triggers hive diseases that can wipe out the hive, ie CCD.  Implementing a program of comb replacement helps keep your bees healthier and better able to fight off the diseases and pests they are going to encounter anyway.
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« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2009, 08:59:23 PM »

Yes it is amazing at how much they make, it make goods sense to me so am going to keep with it !
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« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2009, 01:29:36 AM »

This seems like a win-win scenario and not too complex to institute. 

I'm sure there will be more questions but for now you have provided enough reassurance and insight to convince me I should give the natural cell approach a go and save some cash on foundation  Smiley

A great thread, thank you.

SH
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« Reply #17 on: January 26, 2009, 12:36:04 PM »

I am a hobbyist with twenty hives and have kept bees for twenty years.  I am very interested in small cell and with mixed success I have nine hives regressing as of two years ago.  I believe I would have had a better on average all around experience if I had started with 5.2 cell foundation first with 11/4 frames.  I think the 11/4 frames are a must, can they be obtained commercially? I have experimented with top bar hives and found them to overwinter better but that is not based on scientific data.  My goal is to raise bees and comb honey with out chemicals on clean forage. I am convinced that the major underlying cause of bee losses recently is mainly a result of toxic chemical build up in brood chamber wax.
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« Reply #18 on: January 26, 2009, 08:56:48 PM »

I bought a bunch of 1 1/4" foundationless frames from Dave W. on Beesource.  I've been trying to talk others into making them but without any luck.  No one seems to think it's important enough.

http://www.bushfarms.com/beesframewidth.htm
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« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2009, 12:28:04 AM »

Dadant frames cut down just fine on a table saw.

Have to watch your fingers though  grin

SH
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