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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2012
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    Sacramento, CA, USA
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    Default What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    What is the philosophy behind small cell? As I understood it, the lifecycle is altered (they emerge quicker, or before 'large cell' bees) which interferes with the mites lifecycle which prefers about a 21 day emergence schedule or something like that. I see noticeable differences between my two hives, one is small cell from plastic frames, the other is a mix of foundation and duragilt I believe. (I did not set them up initially). I can't really make any direct comparison at this point as the hives have not been treated the same but just looking at behavior, the small cell has more bees per unit of area which I think makes for a stronger hive in general.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
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    Denver, Colorado
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    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    First of all, full disclosure, there is no scientific study that backs up the idea that small cell works except on Africanized bees. We have discussed it many times and I find the studies fatally flawed, but that is not the majority view.

    Here's my view.

    For a number of reasons, using small cell foundation helps. It is not a cure, it is not a treatment, it does not work by itself, nor does anyone who has been using it successfully for years say so. Dee Lusby pretty much originated the idea back in the days of trachael mites for whom it was originally intended. Varroa came later.

    In my view, it works because mites do better in drone cells, having more space, longer time, and a greater food supply. Small cell likely in my view puts bees toward the bottom of the natural cell size range, further delineating somewhat the phenotypical differences between workers and drones. Therefore, the infestation is pushed more in the direction of the drones, leaving more of the workers unassailed by maladies and diseases carried and caused by the varroa mite. Additionally, the worker emergence time is shorter than that of the drone, limiting the amount of time that a female mite has to reproduce, and smaller workers appear to emerge even earlier than that, further giving the bees the advantage.

    I will repeat that one must not rely only upon small cell as a panacea or a treatment or a cure. It is not. There are many other aspects to a successful treatment-free beekeeping program and has been shown, small cell is not always necessary. The main key is letting lines of bees unable to cope with diseases die out or replace them before they can. The process takes about three years in my experience. Personally, I also have ceased all forms of non-treatment manipulation and specialized equipment as I do not believe they should be necessary for the bees to survive and their continued use only serves to further elongate the process of winnowing the weak. Bees should be reliant upon absolutely nothing to keep them alive in my view. Given any decent box, they should be able to carry on by themselves for a decade or more without dying out.

    Another aspect is having clean comb. This is especially important in the case of antibiotics as the use of antibiotics may be effective in eliminating bacterial infections, but leaves the hive inviting to infection upon the cessation of treatment.

    Ultimately I believe (and the evidence of other successful long term treatment-free beekeepers bolsters my opinion) that the weak bees have to die to get bees that survive on their own. So that means you either need to let your bees die, or buy from someone like me who has already done the work for you. But that work will cost you money. You usually get what you pay for and buying cheap often means you buy twice so take that into account in budgeting.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  3. #3
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    May 2012
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    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    Thanks Sol,

    I just find it curious, because with some things that people believe in they get thrown to the wayside pretty quickly when studies come out 'proving' otherwise but with small cell, people still stand behind it or maybe I'm assuming too much again because people really push foundationless but at the same time assume the bees have regressed to that point of 4.9mm. I just have an interest in doing some breeding just for personal pursuits so I wanted to get an understanding of what specific reasons people view regressing bees to small cell as being so useful and beneficial. I knew it was partly due to brood cycles being shorter, and I also watched this documentary on AHB's last week and they were wondering why AHB genetics seemed to get passed onto the new queens so frequently and they found it was due to queens with AHB genetics emerging 1 day earlier and therefore being able to eliminate the competition before they ever had a chance. Assuming perhaps there's a chance to select for early brood emergence based on that is maybe something to consider to look for.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    46,119

    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    Small cell isn't really about philosophy, it's about results. When I started doing it, after losing all my hives to Varroa several times when not treating and finally to Varroa when treating, only Dee Lusby seemed to think it was possible to keep bees without treating for Varroa. She was doing small cell. It was the only way I managed to keep them alive without treating them.

    As far as why, I only have theories based on observations:
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnaturalcell.htm

    As far as philosophy, if 4.9mm is closer to natural size, then the philosophy would be that natural sized cells would be better than unnaturally sized cells, but that philosophy is better played out with foundationless than with small cell foundation.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Portland, OR, USA
    Posts
    100

    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    As I understand it, the size of the bee is almost solely dictated by the size of the cell it develops in. Since queens are raised in their own, larger cells, a queen from a regressed hive is the same size as that from a large-cell hive. So, a large-cell hive would have the same genetics as a regressed hive.

    I'm not sure bees could be bred to a different baseline size...

    Please, anybody, correct me if I'm wrong.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
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    5,079

    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    True, unless the bees had been selected by the ones able to build smaller cells surviving. It's difficult to tell since even foundationless is not an accurate measurement of baseline.

    What we do know is genetic are traits like the hygienic trait, however, even that specific trait varies among feral populations. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are certain conditions where the hygienic trait is more often expressed, specifically without the presence of chemicals used to treat mites.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Calvert, Md,USA
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    1,701

    Default Re: What is the philosophy behind small cell?

    I'm not sure I agree that the bee size is dictated by cell size. I've had some small queens come out of some big cells. Might not be a good example but it happens. Seems to me if the bee genes warrant small bees, then cell size should not matter. At least for a while. Guess that was proven when 5.4 became the industry standard. The shift from shorter worker pupation time to drones is interesting. This would require the mites to "perceive" this differentiation. I am curious as to how that even happens. What chemistry is going on here? As I understand, mites like/move on 5th instar larvae. If the pupation time is shortened with small or natural cell, where lies the difference as far as the mites are concerned ? If I'm out in left field, please say so
    I think the other thing that enters here is inherent bee genes. Are all bee created/actually equal on a genetic level????? Why do some survive collapse and recovery, and others not? Just tossin it out there

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