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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?

    True, the ferals certainly dissappeared when varroa got to my country.

    And in your country, Deknow has found research showing the ferals they checked are escaped swarms from treated hives. He can tell that, by the gut microbes.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

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

    Adam, this question comes up a lot, and I think I can shed some light. For the record, we were doing foundationless before we even heard of small cell, Dee Lusby, Michael Bush, or the organic list.

    Ideally, one would just not use foundation...this I agree with.

    But....

    The problem is, the enlarged cell/bee size persists...in fact, Badeaux used this persistence as evidence of Lamarkian evolution (the classic example is that giraffes have long necks because their ancestors stretched their necks so much...and the stretched neck was inherited by the offspring).

    What we have found when we tried it, is that a regular package of bees (from Rossman in this case), shaken down onto foundationless will make brood cells about 5.1mm. Others have generally had the same experience.

    This is precisely what Marla Spivak told me...she claimed to have done the experement....so I asked her a question,

    Me: "...do you know what happens when _those_ bees (that made the 5.1 foundationless comb) are shaken down to build foundationless comb"?

    Marla: "No"

    Me: "Would you like to know?"

    Marla: "No"

    ...this was the same conversation where she told me point blank that even regressed bees can't draw small cell foundationless comb (unless they are AHB)....I offered to bring her some small cell foundationless comb from our very gentle bees (bee inspector was present to vouch for the fact that our bees did not display any AHB traits)....she declined the offer...and went on the edit the Seeley study, which found that bees can't draw small cell comb, even with foundation. This is "the state of the science" by two of our most well respected researchers...and it is junk.

    So...there are a few issues worth considering:
    1. Once comb is built, until you swap it out (or until the bees chew it out), it remains there. There is some shrinking of cell size due to cocoon buildup...but this is quite a bit different than small cell comb (brood density does not change with cells made smaller in this way). A broodnest does not simply transition into small cell, at least it doesn't very fast.

    2. There are some claims that the bees use the comb they have, at least in part, as a template for their new comb. Big comb in the colony leads to big foundationless comb. I have some ideas on how and why this would be the case, but I won't share them here.

    3. Regardless, it is important to remember that LC bees making foundationless comb make a larger size than SC bees making foundationless comb.

    4. Unless you are very aggressive about rotating out comb, it takes a very long time for the bees to get smaller this way...too long for me in my climate.

    5. The PF frames make the regression process painless for almost anyone that has tried them.

    Michael Bush has had success simply shaking packages onto foundationless as a means to regress them...we have not had the same experience. Perhaps his packages are produced on PF frames? Perhaps there are other factors? I dunno, I can only report on what I've seen.

    We strongly recommend starting the package on PF frames, then, after all the bees have emerged from those frames, start adding foundationless.

    The take home is that "foundationless" is different depending on the size of your bees to start with...and that, at least in our experience, shortcutting past the "regression" process doesn't provide the same results.

    I keep thinking of "free range chickens" that are kept indoors until their habits are established, then a small door to the outside is opened so they can "range free" if they wish...but they don't wish, they are already trained not to go outside, and they don't.

    I do think foundationless is best (and I always have since first trying it), but I think it is a mistake to not take some effort to give the bees a head start on getting smaller....it's cheap to do so (1 box of PF frames/package....could probably get away with 5 frames), and it works.

    If I were starting with regressed bees, I would shake onto foundationless.

    deknow

  11. #11
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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

  12. #12
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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.

  13. #13
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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

  14. #14
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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
    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.
    Adam
    Yes, I can remember the conversation. Just thought maybe you'd measured since.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  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
    Hi Donna,

    No, I'm not so new. 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.
    Adam
    Adam,
    Are you totally "treatment free" ? and do you know others that are in your area?
    Donna

  16. #16
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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 totally "treatment free" ? and do you know others that are in your area?
    Donna
    Well, at the moment, yes. The last time I did anything to 'treat' for mites was last winter. But that really doesn't mean anything yet. I did a lot of splitting this past summer, so most of my colonies now are new or nucs.

    I do not know of anyone in Nova Scotia that is truly "treatment free" that isn't a new beekeeper. It's easy to be treatment free until your bees die, and until spring shows healthy bees - me being treatment free could just mean that I've decided to make the winter harder for my bees. We shall see.

    The cornerstone of what I'm going to try to do is going to rest on nuc management, with the idea being that each colony gives me another chance to survive the winter and have recovery stock. It also means that most of my colonies will be building more worker comb than anything, and most of my colonies will be small. I expect that to help with mite loads. I'm likely going to work toward having about 75% of my colonies being nucs - as honey is not my central interest.

    That said, I know it's a mistake to assume that any of this is easy. Some newer beekeepers choose to a mentor or more experienced beekeeper to follow, others mix and match. You have mentioned Dee quite a few times, so maybe you're going to follow her example and philosophy. Others are all over Don's (Fat Beeman) approach, or Mike Bush's. They're all solid places to start.

    For myself, I just can't get around Mike Palmer. Mike is essentially the "fly in the treatment-free ointment" for me, in that what he says about what he does really rings true for me, and his questions regarding the possibility of being truly treatment free without some kind of management answer to beating mites really 'feels' well-founded to me. And he is a very 'successful' beekeeper to boot.

    On the other hand, the writings of Michael Bush and the ideas he shares also ring quite true to me.

    But one has to try things in order to know what works. So I'm running on a mix of Mike B and Mike P - with a healthy dash of my own ideas. So if something doesn't work, it can always be my fault.

    There just aren't many conclusive answers anywhere...

    Adam

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

    Adam,
    Thanks for sharing, sounds like we are both on the right track. I have followed MB's foundationless methods for 3 years now. I have recently read a lot of Dee's information and will be following her methods along with my own knowledge based on all I have learned over the past 8 years. There are still a few beekeepers up here who are treatment free simply because they don't have mites, this is the first time I have found them in my hives. Joanne M. suggested I use oxalic acid but I decided against it after doing some research. At first I felt guilty because I felt I should try to help the bees, but then would I really be helping long term? I have never used treatments so maybe it is an easier decision not to go there. At this point my bees are bedded down for the winter and I will do as much research and planning as possible over the winter and take it from there. We all have a lot to learn from what the bees are trying to tell us...are we up to the challenge? time will tell. I will be very interested is hearing how your bees do. I wish you and your bees the very best.
    Donna
    46N

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    Certainly using any foundation sets the size and forces the bees somewhat. At least 4.9mm is in the range of what brood comb naturally is, but of course it varies and 4.9mm is not exactly what they would build all the time.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Isn't Small Cell Just as Fraught with Potential Issues as Large Cell?

    It varies with circumstances such as climate, location, health of the hive etc, over here there is no way they would build 4.9 on their own.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  20. #20
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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?

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