...what bees would do "on their own" is tend to build up large enough to swarm...then swarm. as beekeepers, we redirect this into surplus honey production...by adding boxes, providing empty comb (or frames, or foundation), by splitting hives, etc.
I'm a big fan of natural comb....most of our frames are natural comb, and we started doing this _before_ we had even heard of small cell.
The problem is, that "natural comb" built by bees that are enlarged via large foundation/comb continue to build larger comb, even in a foundationless system.
see Dr. Erikson discussing this in 1989 here:http://beeuntoothers.com/index.php/resources/dr-erickson-sc
A few things to think about the article below:
1. "worker - comb measures very nearly 5 cells to the inch" and "true worker - comb generally contained five cells within the space of an inch" means that the size of worker comb is measured by the author as smaller than 5.08.
2. The last paragraph _seems_ to say that there was a push in 1888 to make the bees larger, that the author didn't think it possible simply by increasing foundation size...unless breeding were also brought into it. That the biggest problem was the propensity of larger bees to make too many drones, and that the use of all worker foundation overcame this hurdle, opening up the possibility to make the bees bigger.
I dictated and typed this right out of the original volume.
The ABC of Bee Culture
A Cyclopaeoia of Every Thing
Pertaining to the Care of the Honey Bee;
Bees, Honey, Hives, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc.,
PAGES GLEANED FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF THOUSANDS OF BEE KEEPERS ALL OVER OUR LAND
And Afterward Verified by Practical Work in Our Own Apiary.
BY A. I. ROOT.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF CELLS IN THE HONEY - COMB
The bees build two distinct, regular sizes - drone and workers cells. The worker - comb measures very nearly 5 cells to the inch, on average. Some specimens average a little larger, and some little smaller; but when the comb is that all irregular, it is quite apt to be a little larger. That's specimens of true worker - comb generally contained five cells within the space of an inch, and therefore this measure has been adopted for the comb foundation. If there are five cells to the inch, a square inch would give, on average, about 25 cells, and 25 on the opposite side would make 50 young bees that would be hatched from every square inch of solid brood. As foundation is so much more regular than natural comb, we get a great many more bees and a given surface of comb, and here, at least, we can fairly claim that we have improved on nature.
The drone - comb measures just about 4 cells to the inch, but to be seen less particular about the size of it then with the worker. They very often seem to make the cells of such size as to best fill out a given space; and we, accordingly, find them of all sizes, from workers size all the way up to considerably larger than 1/4 of an inch in width. Drones are raised in these extra-large cells without trouble, and Honey is also stored in them; but where they are very large the bees are compelled to turn them up, or the honey would flow out. As the honey is kept in place by capillary action, if the cells exceed a certain size, the adhesion of the liquid to the wax walls is insufficient, of itself, to hold the honey in place. Where drones are to be reared in the very large cells, the bees contract the mouth by a thick rim. As an experiment, I had some plates made for producing small sheets of fdn., having only 3 1/2 cells to the inch. The bees worked on a few of these, the same thick rims, but they evidently did not like the idea very well, for they tried to make workers cells of some of it, it proved so much of a complication for their little heads that they finally abandoned the whole piece of comb, apparently in disgust. Bees sometimes rear worker brood in drone comb, where compelled to from want of room, and they always do it in the way I have mentioned, like contracting the mouth of the cells, and leaving the young bees are rather large birth in which to grow and develop. Drones are sometimes reared in workers cells also, but they are so much cramped in growth that they seldom look like a fully developed insect.
Several times it has been suggested that we enlarge the race of honey - bees, by giving them larger cells; and some circumstances seem to indicate that something may be done in this direction, although I have little hope of any permanent enlargement in size, unless we combined with the idea of selecting the largest bees to propagate from, as given a few figures back. By making the cells smaller than ordinarily, we can get small bees with very little trouble; and I have seen a whole nucleus of bees so small is to be really laughable, just because the comb they were hatched from, was set at an angle so that one side was concave and the other convex. The small bees came from the concave side. Their light, active movements, as they sported in front of the hive, made them a pretty and amusing site for those fond of curiosities. Worker bees reared in drone cells are, if I'm correct, sometimes extra-large in size; but as to whether we can make them permanently larger by such a course, I'm inclined to doubt. The difficulty, at present seems to be the tendency to rearing a greater quantity of useless drones. By having the hive furnished entirely with worker comb, we can so nearly prevent the production of drones that is safe enough to call it a complete remedy.
HIVE AND HONEY-BEE
L. L. LANGSTROTH;
The size of the cells in which workers are reared never varies; the saying may substantially be said of the drone - cells, which are much larger; those in which honey is stored very greatly in-depth, while in diameter they are of all sizes, from that of worker to that of drone cells. As 5 worker, or 4 drone cells, will measure about one linear inch, a square inch of comb will contain on each side, 25 worker, were 16 drone cells.
"The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Beekeeping"
Edited by Roger A. Morse, and Ted Hooper
(this particular text appears to be written by the editors)
"BEESWAX is used to build hexagonal cells with three faced bases. Normal honeycomb is of two sizes: worker comb has cells 1/5 inch (5mm) in diameter, and drone comb has cells 1/4 inch (6mm) across"
"First Lessons IN BEEKEEPING"
By C. P. Dadant
Revised and rewritten by
M. G. Dadant AND J. C. Dadant
Revised and Reprinted 1946
"The cells in which the worker bees are reared measure about five to the inch or a trifle over twenty-seven to the square inch. The cells in which drones are reared measure four to the inch."
Baudoux was an experienced beekeeper who made extensive measurements to back up his theories, but he had his detractors as well as his supporters. He was accused of adhering to the Lamarckian theory of evolution which claimed that characters acquired in one lifetime could be inherited by subsequent generations: a theory which was eventually discredited in favour of the Darwin/Mendel one. Even if the accusation is true it need not invalidate the theory that large cells produce large bees in a given generation. Also a peculiarity of the way bees produce comb may give a pseudo-Lamarckian effect, as I shall suggest below.
The controversy was followed up by researchers in many countries, most of whom concluded that the size of cells does indeed affect the size of the bees reared in them, though not necessarily to the degree that Baudoux had claimed. Much of the research was reviewed by Roy A. Grout who also made extensive measurements for his M.Sc. Thesis. He concluded in 1931 (among other things) that:
"1. The size of the worker bee as represented by the size of the various parts is significantly increased through the use of brood combs containing enlarged cells.
2. The average percent of increase of the linear measurements of the worker bee is directly proportional to the percent of increase of the diameter of the brood cell.
3. The number of bees used in a sample in this experiment is not large enough to give wholly consistent results, but these results are in general significant and indicative."
On the question of whether, other things being equal, big bees are better than small ones, authorities continued to be divided, as indeed they still are. Some of the opinions on both sides were backed up by extensive experiments. Already before 1910 a Frenchman called Pincot reported independently of Baudoux that over two years, 30 colonies with large cells gathered 30% more honey than others. In 1965 C. Antonescu in Romania concluded after over 20 years of tests that:
"Experiments with a large cell honey-comb in the conditions of the Socialist Republic of Romania (5.65 mm [about 720 per dm2. Ed.]) show that a large scale introduction of such honey-combs represents an important reserve for the increase of the bee-hive's productivity in all sectors. [Average yield increase 11.1-16.9%] To this aim it is necessary that the honey-comb should be build [sic] up first - during intense harvesting - in other colonies or in the respective colonies for honey-storage, and only afterwards it should be used for brood breeding."
On the other hand Marcel Arnst, a later compatriot of Baudoux, wrote in 1996:
"I, myself, together with other beekeepers, often compared colonies on 750 cell foundation at a comb distance of 37 mm with colonies on natural built comb at a distance of 34 mm. The 'natural' colonies were always stronger, developed faster and had less winter loss. As a result, they gave more honey (an average of 20% in my apiary of 30 beehives). The bees were also healthier: This past year there was an outbreak of chalkbrood, only the 'natural colonies' had no trace. If foundation with the natural number of cells (±850) was available, I would fit all my hives with it."