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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Greensboro, North Carolina
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    2,747

    Default Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    For years I've been using foundationless frames. Mainly due to cost. If I don't have to buy foundation, why would I?

    But I'm attempting to read up on small cell, in an effort to weigh it's worth in the treatment free arena, and I keep reading about natural cell interchangeably with small cell management.

    Can someone explain the difference? I'm aware that natural cell allows bees to build their own cell sizes, based on what they think is best. I'm aware that this can vary in size from 4.9 to 5.4 (or occasionally even higher). But what are the advantages of natural cell size over small cell size? Do they still accomplish the same goal? What are some of the advantages of using natural cell size over small cell?
    Last edited by Specialkayme; 01-21-2012 at 08:59 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
    Posts
    46,213

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    >For years I've been using foundationless frames. Mainly due to cost. If I don't have to buy foundation, why would I?

    Indeed.

    >But I'm attempting to read up on small cell, in an effort to weigh it's worth in the treatment free arena, and I keep reading about natural cell interchangeably with small cell management.

    In the arena of management, I see it as the same thing.

    >Can someone explain the difference? I'm aware that natural cell allows bees to build their own cell sizes, based on what they think is best. I'm aware that this can vary in size from 4.9 to 5.4 (or occasionally even higher).

    I would say it can vary from 4.4mm to 5.1mm.

    >But what are the advantages of natural cell size over small cell size?

    I see 4 advantages. One you already covered. Natural cell is cheaper. Additional advantages:

    2) clean wax
    3) the bees decide the size so you aren't coercing them into anything
    4) the variation in cell size, makes a variation in bee size. I don't know that this serves a purpose, but my instincts say it probably does.

    > Do they still accomplish the same goal?

    They both accomplish the goal of mite control. Using small cell wax foundation from a commercial source doesn't meet the goal of clean wax. Using small cell foundation doesn't give the bees the freedom to make natural sized cells, but instead causes them to build all their cells the same size within the range of natural sized cells.

    The biggest advantage is it eliminates the whole argument of what natural cell size is by letting the bees decide. The only catch is regression...

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnaturalcell.htm
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesfoursimplesteps.htm
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    lee county, fl, usa
    Posts
    859

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    Four Simple Steps--one of my favorite Michael pages.
    Thanks Michael!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
    Posts
    5,999

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    I'm not decided yet on wether small cell controls mites or not.

    However, if you buy into the small cell arguments, according to Dee Lusby, there is a difference between small cell and natural cell. Dee has written that only a cell size of 4.9 or lower in the brood nest will control mites. So if your bees are building natural cell of a bigger size than that, according to Dee, it will not work.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Greensboro, North Carolina
    Posts
    2,747

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    They both accomplish the goal of mite control. Using small cell wax foundation from a commercial source doesn't meet the goal of clean wax. Using small cell foundation doesn't give the bees the freedom to make natural sized cells, but instead causes them to build all their cells the same size within the range of natural sized cells.
    So I have to ask. I went foundationless in 2005. 2006 was the last time I treated for mites. Since going foundationless, I still have mite problems. You could assume (probably accurately) that the reason I had mite problems in the beginning was because the bees havn't fully regressed yet. But I continued to swap combs out since 2005. Would they not have fully regressed over a 6 year period? If I'm still having mite problems on foundationless frames after six years, when would I not have mite problems?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Albuquerque, New Mexico
    Posts
    192

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    People on Beesource say that small cell does not help control varroa and they say there are studies to that effect. However, others suggest that other factors might have an influence. I don't have any bees yet, so all of this is conjecture on my part, but in most organisms, including humans, stress has a major impact on susceptibility to parasites, pathogens, and diseases. So if you have natural small cells with fully regressed bees, you might be reducing stress levels on the bees which could reduce the impact mites have on the hive as a whole. I would suppose that they might be more effective in controlling the mites themselves also. If the studies of the impact of small cells did not control for stress factors somehow, the results could be skewed.

    For example, if you put non-regressed bees on small cell foundation, you would probably be increasing the stress level, rather than reducing it. If my hypothesis is correct, that would increase the susceptibility of the bees to the mites, and you wouldn't see any mite control benefit. On the other hand, if you had fully regressed bees on natural foundationless comb of whatever size they want to build, in a hive where they are not being stressed by elimination of all drones, elimination of all propolis and all the additional stressors that the bees undergo, perhaps there would be a mite control benefit.

    My guess would be that you need to take a holistic view of the hive to reduce mite problems rather than just stick a different size of foundation in the frames. Any foundation is probably a stressor. This could explain the results from Dee Lusby and all the studies that say small cell foundation doesn't have any effect.
    Last edited by taydeko; 01-22-2012 at 07:58 AM. Reason: adding additional comment

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Greensboro, North Carolina
    Posts
    2,747

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    Quote Originally Posted by taydeko View Post
    Any foundation is probably a stressor.
    I'm not too sure about that . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by taydeko View Post
    My guess would be that you need to take a holistic view of the hive to reduce mite problems rather than just stick a different size of foundation in the frames.
    That's my point though. I've used natural cell frames for years. I haven't treated for years, and I have attempted to incorporate mite resistant stock (MH, VSH, and even some 'survivor' stock, if you think that exists) in an attempt to make my overall gene pool more likely to be able to 'deal' with mites. Of course, you could take the stance that by incorporating VSH and non-VSH genes, I essentially canceled out any VSH genetics, since it's a recessive gene that needs to be present in both parents, but I won't go down that road just yet .

    None of the above have appeared to work, and I have still had heavy losses with mites. Obviously I'm not doing something right.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Auckland,Auckland,New Zealand
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    5,999

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    Don't worry Specialkayme you are not alone. Best I can tell, the majority of people who go treatment free fail. I'm basing that on the number of people who go TF for a few seasons, struggle, continuously have to buy in more bees, then eventually give up. There's a notable absense on Beesource of some of the names I used to see stoutly defending the "hard bond" method. Some gone, and some now saying you really do need to treat.

    What is the difference between them and the ones for whom it seems to work? Nobody knows, not even the successful ones. Hence the difference in opinion between the SC folks, as they've all had different experiences. M Bush says jusy go SC, that's it, and you will have minimal losses. Sol says you will have to have big losses. Dee says cells must be 4.9 or below, M Bush and others say it is not critical. Studies run using scientific method say SC does not even work.

    In my opinion, until the mechanisms of treatment free are more fully understood, you have to go with what works for YOU. If, despite doing everything right, after several years, you feel it's just not working, change.

    Problem I've seen on the site, is many people take a hard and fast position one way or the other. Even though they may have limited experience they are convinced they are correct and even if what they are doing is not working refuse to accept that. You are one of the few who is open minded enough to be able to take an honest look at your results and decide you will change a few things because you want better.

    As to my experience of natural cell vs small cell, the natural cell hive I ran faired no better against varroa than the standard foundation hives, I gave up on the idea. Also, virtually all feral hives in my country dissappeared when varroa arrived. How could this be the case if natural cell would save them? Not saying natural cell doesn't work, as it seems to work for some. But it does not work for all.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Pueblo, Colorado, USA
    Posts
    686

    Default Re: Natural Cell vs. Small Cell

    I'm not sure what or if there's advantages of natural cell over small cell or if it in fact helps with varroa. I just wanted to add that during the summer I removed a piece of comb and did 5 separate measurements across 10 cells and the average of the 5 measurements showed a 4.76 cell size. Even if the measurement was off by .010 it would still be a hair less than 4.8 which is still smaller than the 4.9 small cell foundation. So unless I got the one crazy hive that had some really small cells going to 4.9 would actually be going bigger.

    As a side note, I am going to purchase some drone foundation this year for varroa management.
    Zone 5a @ 4700 ft. High Desert
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