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  1. #1
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    Question Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I have read a lot about people using small cell and the struggles to 'regress' and the difficulties around keeping them building small cells, etc etc etc.

    But it occurs to me that forcing the bees to build consistently small cells is likely to have just as many potential problems as people claim there is with forcing them to make larger cells.

    A fair number of the small cell proponents will make reference to the fact that bees naturally make smaller cells. And while this is true, it is also true that bees naturally make a wide range of cell sizes. So isn't the consistency, or uniformity also necessarily suspect if we are to question foundation's effect on bee health?

    I can see how people might like foundation for keeping comb straight.

    I can see how people might like the ease of one-piece plastic, and the ability to scrape off old comb, or to better see larvae and eggs against a black plastic cell bottom.

    But if you're going to talk about small cells in relation to bee health, based on the idea that it's more 'natural' - then I don't get it.

    And if you're using small cell foundation, while at the same time claiming that going treatment free is going to allow the bee to 'naturally' gain resistance to pests - while you're restricting their combs - essentially the body of the superorganism - to an artificially imposed, and unnaturally regular structure...

    ...then I don't get that either.

    Large cell or Small cell. Either way, you're pushing the bees to do something that's not within their nature by creating a consistent cell size.

    Thoughts?

    Adam

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I think small cell has some merit but I have a feeling it doesn't quite work the way people think it does.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    The way I think it works, is that it usually creates honeycomb with smaller cells. Those smaller cells sometimes are used to grow smaller honey bees. It has merit for me because I simply like the appearance of large portions of comb composed of small cells - it looks amazing.

    For me the issues with small cell are the same as for large cell -- the bees use them for their business.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I think that some think that anything "unnatural" is inherently bad, period, and that all things natural are inherently good.

    For me the goal is not to be all natural in my bee keeping practices, but to use every natural advantage I can.
    I see no natural advantage in harvesting honey, bees or pollen from bee trees, so I use boxes.
    I see no natural advantages in using fixed, natural comb. Aside from being illegal, it is wasteful and inherently unprofitable.
    I see great advantage in straight, even comb.
    Using foundation to achieve that is a business decision. It just isn't profitable to roll queens.
    I see great advantage in not having comb blow out in an extractor. Using foundation gives me peace of mind on that count.

    I use small cell foundation to guide foundationless comb in the brood nest.
    I also use it to get a higher proportion of small bees.
    I like having more, smaller bees for a number of reasons, some having to do with spreading risk.
    More bees mean any single bee mortality is a smaller proportion of the whole. More bees also mean more foragers are available, and can more efficiently forage a variety of plants.

    I don't have any varroa or disease problems in my hives, and haven't used chemical pest treatments.
    I don't know that small cell contributes to that or not, but it ain't broke, so I ain't fixing it.

    While my apiary and potential losses are small, I'll probably continue to use the "Bond" approach to treatment.
    When it is large enough that I might lose a great deal more I might treat them if I have an epidemic in a yard.
    I'd have to decide if the economic impact of losing my "treatment free" niche exceeds the cost of what I perceive the potential loss to be if I continue not to treat.

    I've done no work to regress bees, and had no hassles with "crazy comb" in foundationless frames.
    I don't have a disproportionate number of drones, except in drone colonies where I want a lot of them.

    2013 will be my third year doing this, and hope to see bees that continue to thrive without treatments.
    I think it is good business not to have to spend money on treatments or labor to apply them.
    I understand that many treatment free hives that crash, do so in there third year

    I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
    Last edited by Beregondo; 12-19-2012 at 12:10 AM. Reason: typo

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    If I'm reading things right, there's a movement away from small cell combs, to natural combs. That's the trend I've been picking up for the last little while. Probably the people who are already set up with small cell are keeping their small cell combs, but most people starting up who don't want to go large cell, are going natural comb.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Adam,
    Are you new to the forum?
    Donna
    CB, Nova Scotia

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Adam your top bars are a few years old now the bees must surely have settled on their natural size of cell by now, what is it?
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Adam, I sum up most of your points in this. You cannot keep something naturally in an artificial environment. Others can change the cell size in their foundation and call it natural if they want.

    One of the first thing I see as far as "Natural" Beekeeping. People will say, "Left to themselves, bees will find better places to build colonies". Says who? What makes anyone think that feral bees do a better job of taking care of themselves than we do? Push an animal beyond what it was ever intended to do and then step back and say. okay now I will just be hands off and you all can carry this extra burden. If you think that additional size etc. is a good thing. You don't know much about nature.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Quote Originally Posted by d.frizzell View Post
    Adam,
    Are you new to the forum?
    Donna
    CB, Nova Scotia
    Hi Donna,

    No, I'm not so new. I have been here several times a day since 2009. Good to see you here. There are probably 4 or 5 people here from NS, but none of them are as yackative here as I am.

    Oldtimer,

    The last natural comb I measured from the tbh's was from 2010, and in it's smallest cells (in the comb center) they were about 5.1, as is often predicted. I have been steadily introducing empty bars over time, but have not remeasured. The Lang hives I started this year were started on 5.1mm foundation, and later added new frames with 5.1 starter strips and then natural comb. I have not measured any of that either.

    Dean, I appreciate the detailed reply. If SC is just used as a transitional tool to get to natural cell, then I get that, and have read quite a bit about that. It's the consistent use of any foundation that I question. If no one's doing that with small cell, then there's no basis for my question. But I imagine there are. I think many people have a hard time with the irregularity of natural comb, and the effort it can sometimes take to keep it straight - just hop on over the the tbh forums to find plenty of stress over the cross-combing issues.

    Adam

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beregondo View Post
    I use small cell foundation to guide foundationless comb in the brood nest.
    I also use it to get a higher proportion of small bees.
    Quote Originally Posted by Beregondo View Post
    I like having more, smaller bees for a number of reasons, some having to do with spreading risk.
    More bees mean any single bee mortality is a smaller proportion of the whole. More bees also mean more foragers are available, and can more efficiently forage a variety of plants.
    Although these two quotes run directly on from each other in Beregondo's post, I've separated them here to point out an apparent leap of.... well, I'm not sure of what.

    In the first quote, no problem - small cell foundation should give you a higher proportion of smaller bees.

    In the second, there's a leap from having more small bees as a proportion of the hive population, to just having more bees altogether.

    I often see this correlation drawn - that there are believed to be more individual bees in a small cell hive than a larger cell hive - as if the mass of the bees is some sort of constant to be divided by the size of the bees to get the population.

    Small cell comb certainly means more cells on the face of a comb.. but where does it the assumption come from that this means more bees in the hive? Surely that's ruled by the queen's laying capacity and the hive population dynamics, neither of which, as far as I can see, are ruled by the size of the cells?

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I've been trying to answer that Dee by seeing what happens with my own bees. But I've been messing with the sc bee so much it's not possible to say for sure, what would happen if they were run normally. What it looks like so far though, is the sc bees have a similar biomass in the hive through winter, ie, more bees. This is the first summer I've had full sc hives, so far, a slightly lower bee biomass, but I'm pretty sure, more bees. I'm running 2 x FD super brood nests, and the queen pretty much lays them up, she must lay more eggs than a LC queen has to.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Quote Originally Posted by deejaycee View Post

    In the second, there's a leap from having more small bees as a proportion of the hive population, to just having more bees altogether.

    I often see this correlation drawn - that there are believed to be more individual bees in a small cell hive than a larger cell hive - as if the mass of the bees is some sort of constant to be divided by the size of the bees to get the population.

    Small cell comb certainly means more cells on the face of a comb.. but where does it the assumption come from that this means more bees in the hive? Surely that's ruled by the queen's laying capacity and the hive population dynamics, neither of which, as far as I can see, are ruled by the size of the cells?
    I understand that most have more space fo their queen to lay in than she uses.
    My Russell Sunkist queens actually do run out of room sometimes.
    At those times, more cell-dense comb certainly makes a difference.

    I'd also note that with 10% less distance btw cells, travel time btw each egg laid might reasonably be assumed to be reduced 10%, with a corresponding increase in population.

    Whether another person thinks those differences might might matter or not, I wasn't commenting on another person's preferences.
    The sentence began,

    "I like having more, smaller bees.."

    You are not qualified to assess whether what I observe unless you are present observing it as well, are you?

    While I am basing my comment on observation, someone else's comment is based on the assumption that queen lay rate is the only variable in effect.

    Unfortunately, the commentor is ignorant of the history of the colonies in question.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I am not one of those zealots who think small cell is the answer ot all problems.

    Nor am I one of the zealots who think large cell comb is the One True Way and all other views must be discredited.

    I'm not an expert on much, but I am an expert on my experiences.
    And an argument based on assumption seldom makes a more compelling point than experience does.

    Do what you like in your own yard.
    But please don't present expense and tradition as a "safer" way when others are actually being successful with alternatives.

    I believe that last sentence, in fact is the point of this thread, is it not?

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    I'm thinking that to get the most benefit from small cell or even natural cell in regards to varroa, shouldn't one also get their brood combs spaced more tightly, as I understand in nature bees have closer to 1 1/8" centers as opposed to 1 3/8" in the standard Lang hive. This tighter comb structure surely has many benefits to the bees, and quite possibly would have a negative effect on mites. I know they have done studies on small cell impact on varroa, which didn't turn out to be that effective, but might there be a better result if it had been done with brood combs on 1 1/8" centers. John

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    A fair number of the small cell proponents will make reference to the fact that bees naturally make smaller cells. And while this is true, it is also true that bees naturally make a wide range of cell sizes. So isn't the consistency, or uniformity also necessarily suspect if we are to question foundation's effect on bee health?
    I know Dee has always stressed to weed out comb that isn't 4.9. I gave up on that long ago. You're right, bees do naturally build a wide range of cell sizes and restricting them to only one size (as well as drone comb) is, well, unnatural. I probably have 20 percent SC in my hives. The rest is a mix of sizes.
    Regards, Barry

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Deknow,

    Do you think frame sizes have any affect on cell size as well? I tend to agree with Beregondo's observations and thoughts on the subject as well. I think small cell changes the hive dynamics more than people think. The thing with bees is hives are so variable it's very difficult to make comparisons.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Quote Originally Posted by JRG13 View Post
    Deknow,

    Do you think frame sizes have any affect on cell size as well? I tend to agree with Beregondo's observations and thoughts on the subject as well. I think small cell changes the hive dynamics more than people think. The thing with bees is hives are so variable it's very difficult to make comparisons.

    I agree with you about frame size, and I find I get far less messed up combs with SC bees with 1 1/4" frames in the brood nest.

    Like Dean and Micheal suggest I use mostly foundationless but I do start a lot of new feral swarms on PF120's in order to have nice straight combs to later pyramid up between foundationless frames. Next year I will be shaving them down to 1 1/4" frame width to match my foundationless frames. I also plan to try some 1 1/8" inch frames.

    Don Semple
    Overland Park, KS

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