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Thread: small cell bees

  1. #1

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    I have been told that small cell bees will do best in a top bar hive since they will be better enabled to draw on 4.9 mm comb more quickly. Also I have been told (by a reputable source) that they are more resistant to varroa mites. Any thoughts?

    My hives are built and ready. Does anyone know where I can get small cell bees in the South for Spring?

    Thanks,
    Jay Robinson

  2. #2
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    Hi Jay
    I am not a small cell beekeeper, although I would like to be and have been thinking about whether I want to try to regress my langs using small cell foundation or simply natural cell.

    However I have had a couple years experience with Top Bar Hives.

    I question the premise that small cell bees will do better than other bees in a top bar frame.

    The bees will draw "natural" cell size comb in a top bar hive. Some of that will be small cell, especially in the brood nest.

    It seems to me that if you went to the expense to buy small cell bees you would be better off putting them in a Lang.

    I would think that Top Bar Bees would more readily accept small cell foundation for this reason.

    I wonder if anyone has ever tried to regress a split off a top bar hive to small cell foundation, and if so if it worked any easier?

    It would be very interesting to see what natural cell size that small cell bees build in a top bar hive and compare that to what size cells "non-regressed" bees draw in a top bar.

  3. #3

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    Thanks. I realize now looking back through the back logs of this forum that many people before me have asked similiar questions.

    This website bleow is full of great info!


    Small Cell Beekeeping

    [size="1"][ November 26, 2005, 09:51 AM: Message edited by: Saluda Ranger ][/size]
    Jay Robinson

  4. #4
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    If you can get some small cell bees, do it. If not, then just keep feeding bars into the center of the brood nest until you GET small cell bees. [img]smile.gif[/img]
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  5. #5
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    I have four TBHs. They draw small cells in the broodnest in the spring, larger cells in the summer. The draw huge cells in the storage areas, and sometimes smaller cells in the storage areas. The cells at the tops of the bars are large, then get smaller as the comb progresses, but there are often large cells at the bottom. It seems to me to be a mistake to interfere and try to force or control what they build. I do place empty bars in the brood nest area in the spring, and these get drawn out "small" for the most part, but there is allways lots of variation. When I just look at the bees, there is a lot of variation in bee size as well, but most seem to be small. It seems that as the hive matures more brood gets raised in smaller cells. When I make a split from a TBH they do seem to draw on average, in the brood nest, smaller cells than those that were started from package bees.

  6. #6
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    There is one reason to interfere and that's because you start with artificially large bees.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  7. #7
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    "There is one reason to interfere and that's because you start with artificially large bees."

    Ok, you got me there. What I meant was once the TBH is established and the bees are happily doing their own thing (and maybe the first few combs they built the first year have been rotated out of the brood nest area) then further intervention, other than harvesting [img]smile.gif[/img] and rotating a few fresh bars into the broodnest in the spring seems like work and interference. I have never tried regressing in a Lang' and it does seem like a lot of work. In a TBH or a no foundation Lang' hive it seems like the bees will do what needs to be done.

  8. #8
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    Hi Guys,

    >>"There is one reason to interfere and that's because you start with artificially large bees."

    >Ok, you got me there.

    Maybe not! Just how does one get artificially large bees? It's not enough just to say they are 'artificially' large. A great experiment is to set up both large and small cell sized hives and measure a few thousand bees thoughout the season. It's lots of work but the bee size comparison can be very interesting. You can see what I observed when doing this at:

    http://www.bwrangler.com/bee/ssiz.htm

    If you get the same results I did, you might have to wonder about the concept of 'artificially large' bees.

    And after observing the natural structure and size of bees/comb that's readily apparent in a tbh, why would anyone want to take two steps backward toward the small cell size/regression only concept? It greatly complicates beekeeping and can be very expensive.

    I've taken regressed small cell bees and put them back on clean large cell sized comb. These un-regressed bees had all the same attributes as their small cell only sisters, except for varroa tolerance. Most of the characteristics attributed to small cell bees actually comes from the clean broodnest comb and has nothing to do with cell size. Check out my unregressed bees at:

    http://www.bwrangler.com/bee/sunr.htm

    It's also interesting, to read for yourself, just what were the cell sizes before foundation came on the scene. I've posted a few pages from an earlier edition of the ABC and ZYZ. They detail A.I. Roots experiements with natural comb/cell size when arriving at a foundation size. And they also detail the measurements and enlargement ideas from Europe. Cross reference the 4.83 from Roots measurements into the table at the bottom of the second page. Large cell foundation isn't so 'large ' as one might think. See:

    http://www.bwrangler.com/bee/sair.htm

    It also interesting to note, that in most of the natural comb I've measured, the bees constructed almost, almost exactly the same amount of 5.2mm to 5.4mm comb, as they did 5.2mm and smaller.

    Using small cell foundation,in standard equipment, might be a necessary evil until something better comes along. And I think that 'something' better will be based on what we are doing with our tbhs.

    Regards
    Dennis

    [SIZE=1][ November 29, 2005, 11:46 AM: Message edited by: B Wrangler ][/SIZE]
    Last edited by D. Murrell; 11-07-2007 at 07:58 PM.

  9. #9
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    Thanks Dennis, you rock! This is exactly what I was wondering...

  10. #10
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    http://www.bee-l.com/biobeefiles/pav/scstudy.htm
    New Zeland: "Smaller honeybee cells neither reduce the reproductive success or the amount
    of cells infested by the Varroa destructor mite, according to a New Zealand
    study."

  11. #11
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    Thanks for the post Finman. The shocking conclusion:

    However,
    even if the results from the foundation size had been more reliable, these
    results suggest cells smaller than 5.4mm may actually increase infestation.

    They did not use regressed bees. They admitted that the small cell foundation was drawn out unevenly. Yet they measured actual cell size and found no difference. ANd they found more mites in the small cell foundation.

    It would be interesting to see them do the same experiment with regressed bees.

    Not sure what to make of it...

  12. #12
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    Just throwing some small cell comb helter-skelter into a bee hive for one month is not going to provide the results that small cell colonies produce. If you read how the small cell Beeks do the whole thing and then re-read the article, you would know it is nowhere close to what actually happens.

    [size="1"][ December 04, 2005, 09:48 PM: Message edited by: B Wrangler ][/size]
    I know more about nothing than you will ever know about anything.

  13. #13
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    Hi Guys,

    The NZ study isn't a bad test to study the effect small cell size has on the mite behavior. But it's been my experience that cell size has more to do with bee behavior. And it's how cell size affects the bees behavior that allows for mite tolerance.

    My bees, when on small cell sized comb, can effectively detect and remove mite infected pupa. They also learn to destroy the mites themselves with well over 90% of all the natural mite fall showing bee damaged mites. And the damage is so severe and obvious that a magnify lens isn't need to observe it. They kill them!

    I've counted a bazillion mites, on mite trays, since 1996. The normal natural mite fall trend, on large cell was something like this. Early spring 0 to 3 mites/day. Early summer 3 to 10 mites/day. Mid summer 10 to 50 mites/day. Late summer 15 to 100 mites/day. Late fall 30 to 100s of mites/day.

    After the first season on small cell, mite fall stabilized at 1 to 4 mites/week without any seasonal increase. Yes WEEK!

    And that's inspite of the fact that my few hives of bees are surrounding by about 5000 migratory hives. All of these hives are situated on less than 10000 acreas of alfalfa. And 500 of them are within 2 miles of my test apiary. These commercial hives have collapsed twice from varroa pressure, in spite of being treated. And they are on the verge of another collapse this year. My small cell and natural cell tbhs just keep on trucking with no need of any mite treatment since 1999.

    When I've placed some of the bees from my small cell hives onto larger comb, these bees needed mite treatment, by the end of the first season, to survive. Hence the oxalic evaporator and powdered sugar seen on my website, to treat my large cell experimental hives.

    From a natural comb perspective, an observation that more varroa could be found in the small cell comb at certain times of the year, would actually assure their destruction at a time when the rest of the broodnest is backfilled with honey and broodnest cleasning begins in the small cell sized broodnest core.

    Here's how my beekeeping has changed. Before small cell and then natural cell/tbhing which makes it much easier, I had a desk drawer full of mite research. I had a cabinet full of mite chemicals. I always had a pile of empty bee equipment. I order packages every spring to make up for winter losses. I reared queens for myself and others every year. And my honey production was slightly better than average for my area.

    After small cell/natural cell. The mite research papers are gone and I don't waste my time reading any new mite research. That makes most bee magazines pretty thin in content. :&gtNo cabinet of chemicals. No empty bee equipment. No more queen rearing or ordering packages. And my honey production is more than twice what it was before. So, I've given two thirds of my hives away and all of my large cell stuff away!

    Regards
    Dennis

    [size="1"][ December 04, 2005, 10:02 PM: Message edited by: B Wrangler ][/size]

  14. #14
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    Hi Dennis,

    I've read your website end to end and followed many of your posts here
    I've learned a lot and appreciate the effort you've put into sharing your knowledge
    As a rookie (first year, just one hive) I'm trying to implement the principles you and other advocates of small/natural cell size beekeeping suggest
    Next year I plan to expand to 8-10 hives and I'm trying to figure out how to proceed
    As a rookie, the natural size cell seems a no brainer, it doesn't cost me anything (I save money on foundation), but I wonder about bee stock.
    You have to admit, it appears like the small/natural cell advocates seem to have solved a terrible problem with an awfully simple solution, I'm curious if genetics plays some part in the solution
    What kind of bee's are you running?
    I don't recall you talking about any big selective breeding process like the Lusby's went thru
    I believe your website does mention trying different types of bee's and getting similar results
    What are you thoughts on the relationship between different strains of bee's and cell size??

    Thought?
    Ideas?
    Cunning insights?

    Dave

  15. #15
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    Hi Dave,

    >the natural size cell seems a no brainer, it doesn't cost me anything....

    I'm going to assume you are expanding using top bar hives. I used small cell foundation in my Lang hives. And I don't have any experience with a natural broodnest structure in a Lang hive. I had actually planned to give this a test back in 1999. But built a tbh instead, which diverted me from that track :&gt

    >I don't recall you talking about any big selective breeding process like the Lusby's went thru...

    I haven't written much about it, but I did regress my bees and over 75% of them died by the end of that first season. The remaining 'survivors' were very weak. The largest colony consisted of four frames of bees and a queen! The rest were closer to two frames of bees in size.

    I expanded using these bees. But most these bees proved to be very susceptible to para foulbrood. And I would have lost all my bees, small cell comb, etc. if I hadn't treated them with tetra and requeened with other stock. That's when I bought a few queens from just about every commercial queen producer including Strachan New World Carniolans, Glenn Russians and Carniolans and SMart, USDA Russian, Weaver Harbo, All American, Buckfast and Russian, Miska Italian and Carniolan, Bolling Caucasians, Minnesota Hygienic Italians and some Lusbee nucs.

    They all tolerated mites when on small cell comb. But not all of them had the other qualitites I desire in my bees.

    >What kind of bee's are you running...

    New World Carniolan, Weaver Harbo, Buckfast and All American bees have formed the basis for my mutts. I simply select my best couple of hives and extensively split them into small nucs, allowing them to make and mate their own queens.

    >What are your thoughts on the relationship between different strains of bee's and cell size...

    Comb drawing behavior is genetically determined. The USDA has inbreed bees that can't drawn any comb at all. But when I've dissected broodnests from historically larger bees(New World Carniolans) and smaller bees(Lusbees and Russians), they have all constructed broodnests with the same kind of cell size distribution.

    So, the relationship between bee strain and cell size is a non-issue for me. All of my bee selections are done on characteristics other than mite tolerance and cell size.

    But since comb drawing/broodnest structure is genetically determined, improvements for specific conditions could be selected for. Maybe a bee could be found that tapers cell size faster than the average bee which would result in more small cell sized comb in a shorter vertical space. Such a bee could be better for beekeepers using a shallower tbh or for natural comb beekeepers in Lang hives if frames prove to be an impediment in the broodnest structure. Etc.

    >Thought...

    A beekeeper with a dozen hives will get to know each one. So try a few different kinds of bees. And after a season, you will intuitively know colony is the best hive for you. Then work with that one.

    As a former small time queen rearer and large scale commercial beekeeper, I'll share a seldom mentioned fact about US bee races: there's almost as much variation within a selection as there is between selections.

    I've personally found that once I get a bee that suits my needs and attempt to get a better bee by incorporating another selection into the process, I always reget it. For every additional good trait incorporated, there will be a negative one which will take years to work out of an operation.

    Regards
    Dennis

  16. #16
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    Dennis

    >>I'm going to assume you are expanding using top bar hives.

    I've built a couple of topbar hives using ideas borrowed from you and others

    http://www.drobbins.net/bee's/lh/lh.html

    I hope to build 2 more by spring
    I'm also gonna start a couple of langstroth hives, something like 4 of each
    I'm just a hobbiest so it will be interesting to compare

    I'm gonna purchase 3-4 packages of italians in the spring since they're locally available and then try to make a couple of splits which I'll start with some kind of "fancier" genetics (the elusive "super bee's") [img]smile.gif[/img]
    That ought to get me going with a nice mix of "toy's" to play with

    Thanks for all the advice
    Dave

  17. #17
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    Neat hives, Dave. Thanks for the photos. Bee sure to let us know how they work for you.

    I think the ultimate bee hive is a long hive like yours that can be worked vertically.

    Best Regards
    Dennis

  18. #18
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    drobbins . . .

    Looks like your a "good" beekeeper AND an "excellent" WOODWORKER.

  19. #19

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    Has anyone ever bought a nuc and transferred it into a TBH? I am sure you would have to build your TBh with specific dimensions to accomodate the nuc frames. Anyone have any comments or plans for such a thing? I am finding small cell packages for spring difficult to acquire at best. I amy be able to find a nuc however.

    Thanks to Drobbins for the great photos. Your boxes are certainly beautiful. Good luck and thanks to all for the great conversation.
    Jay Robinson

  20. #20
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    >Has anyone ever bought a nuc and transferred it into a TBH? I am sure you would have to build your TBh with specific dimensions to accomodate the nuc frames.

    Or build "swarm catching" frames to fit the top bar hive and cut the brood comb out of the nuc and put them in the frames.

    http://www.beesource.com/plans/swarmframe.htm

    >Anyone have any comments or plans for such a thing?

    Most of my TBH are a long medium depth Langstroth hive and I can put medium frames in it. I would have to use medium swarm catching frames if I got a deep nuc, or find a way to just cut the bottom off of the frames.

    > I am finding small cell packages for spring difficult to acquire at best.

    I'm sure. The only two moderately commercial sized opereations were so overwelmed last year (and hit by bad weather) that many people were left dissapointed. You might talke to Fatbeeman from this site.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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