Since not all of us have the money to buy the expensive foundation and the skills to junp into small cell size breeding, I was wondering how many years of natural cocooning by bees on brood comb would result in the 4.9 small cell size, and smaller bees as a result. And when you read the 4.9 size, you can then replace it with small cell comb as te combs get worn out. I say this assuming the bees don't die out, of course.
Instead of letting the cells shrink over many years through cacoon cycling, you might want to try cutting out some old foundation of a frame, leaving only the wax on the edges, and letting them draw their own comb, if you check regularly you can minimize cross comb and do any necessary timming to keep it straight.
Alternatively you can build a top bar hive out of your scrape materials and let the bees build ALL of their own comb, its not the fastest way to retrogress the size of the bees, but its MUCH faster than letting the bees get smaller over a period of MANY years.
Read the thread about Top Bar Hives in the Equipment forum, it has a lot of info not only about top bar hives but also of Retrogressing without using foundation and such.
I think the simplest thing to do if you don't want to regress, is just keep using 4.9mm foundation when you need foundation. When you cull combs or add frames. It will speed things along.
I don't know how long it would take by just cocoons. My guess is quite a few years.
It's a half of a millimeter that it needs to regress (0.5mm) and a cocoon is very thin. I don't know how thin, but a good guess would be 0.01mm. If that is anywhere close to right it would take 50 generations of bees to fill it out by 0.5mm. If you get 25 weeks of brood rearing (probably a high estimate here in the north) and a worker takes about three weeks to emerge then it would take you about six years to regress to 4.9mm.
I believe that it would take more that a lifetime if it ever would happen. The problem is that the bees only allow so much cocoon then they chew it down. At Dave Cushmans site there is much info on cocoons and cell walls I don't have time to find the specific info at the moment. With 5.4mm cells and large however the bees don't chew the cocoons down in an attempt to reduce the cell size but they only do this up to a point.
As Micheal says I would recommend using the 4.9mm regardless of skill and not worry for now at the sizing the bees draw it and over time and culling you will naturally reduce the cell size.
I was just wondering about this because I hear how people have found neglected hives that have been on their own for years and gone feral. I know that the comb wouldn't be straight and pretty inside. I didn't know the thickness of what each cocoon would be. Well, you answered my question.
I am basing some of my "ifs" (of which there were several) on what I've seen of feral hives and abandoned hives and how they are smaller. I'm guessing that my six year estimate is pretty close.
Clayton is saying that there is a limit to how much they will allow it to regress before they chew out the cocoons. I only know that the ones that have been abandoned for quite a few years are noticably smaller bees.
Of course if you are depending on small cell to control your mites, your bees will probably not live long enough to regress enough to make a difference.