Converting over to small cell foundation--
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Location
    New Haven, CT
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    423

    Default Converting over to small cell foundation--

    I'm hoping for some explicit guidance on how I might be able to get a few hives converted to small cell foundation.

    I have been happy with my overwinter survival rates since I started using oxalic acid vaporization and northern-adapted queen bees (9 for 9 this past winter in New Haven, CT). My bees are kept in Langstroth 10 frame hives using standard 'wired medium brood' foundation.

    We all know that varroa are a real problem for bees. I have read about small cell foundation as a possible way to make it a bit tougher for varroa, and bought 50 sheets of small cell foundation (also wired medium brood) to try to get some drawn out so that I could establish a few colonies that would then provide me with a basis to test (by mite counts, winter survival, etc.) whether or not it was worth working to converting all of my colonies' deep supers to small cell.

    When the nectar flow started this spring, I put a deep super of the small cell foundation on a hive that had a post-solstice queen from 2014 and had been building up like crazy as a result of some judicious checkerboarding and nutrabee patty supplements.

    They drew it out promptly and filled it with nectar. However, the combs they drew didn't follow the size of the small cell foundation. It was a much more random pattern, and some of the combs looked like they even got some cells that were drone-comb sized. I "know" that if I had given them standard size foundation, I would have had 10 frames of beautiful worker-cell sized comb that I could have used, after extracting, to grow my apiary. I am very reluctant to consider putting the frames that were drawn into a brood chamber, as I think that I'd be tempting the bees to raise a bunch of drones, randomly mixed in with workers, so that I couldn't either cut off the drone brood (a la Lauri) or freeze the drone comb (like the green frames).

    Single frames tucked into brood chambers didn't fare any better as regards pulling out 'small cell' worker-cells. Also wonky.

    Looking in the threads on Beesource doesn't give me a lot of help in figuring out what to do...it seems that 'it takes a while' to convert them over, and I wasn't able to find explicit instructions on what to do to make that transition happen with the least time wasted (and resources wasted).

    I am purchasing some queen bees from a breeder I regard highly that will be arriving in a few weeks' time. I am planning on breaking up my least productive hives to make 5 frame nucs, and am wondering about what I can do to try to make that switch with my remaining thirty-odd frames with small cell foundation. I am planning on feeding these nucs syrup to make them think that they're on a continuous flow, so that they will draw the foundation out. Should I be planning on trying to cycle out the frames that they were initially established with (leaving them with the wonky, partially small cell frames for the queen to lay up), and continue to cycle in new foundation? Will successively installed foundation be more and more likely to be drawn out with uniformly small cell worker bee sized cells? How many cycles might it take for them to be converted over?

    Can anyone tell me whether this plan will be more likely to get me the foundation I want to have--uniform worker-cell frames that were drawn from small cell foundation? I am not sure that this experiment will be a success for me, but if it turns out that I can't get myself established on small-cell foundation, I don't want it to be because of beekeeper error.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond in enough detail to make it simple for me and everyone else to understand.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
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    2,761

    Default Re: Converting over to small cell foundation--

    My bees drew acceptable (?) small cell comb on the 4th round of small cell foundation given to them. 4 colonies did it on the 3rd round, but they were daughters from a Texas queen (think 10% Africanized). I had 20 colonies on small cell for 3 years and their varroa numbers were greater or equal to my colonies on 5.2 Pierco plastic frames. Those that use small cell comb with success always credit the comb, they never give any credit to the bees genetics. By now it should be obvious that I don't believe in the small cell hype. But here is what I would recommend for drawing small cell comb from wax foundation.

    Using the wax foundation you will need to allow the bees to use the comb produced for a cycle or two of brood, even if it is wonky, so that you will have the smaller wax workers to draw the next round of comb. Place 1 frame of foundation in the center of your nucs, and if you find a nuc that draws the foundation accurately use that one to draw comb for others that will not. Once you have 2 or three combs in the middle of each brood chamber, and the queen fills them, you should begin to see mostly small cell comb. I think now everyone recommends the small cell plastic frame/foundations from Mann Lake, the bees are said to do a better job drawing them.

    I would use the poorly drawn combs to make drone comb to trap varroa. Use a capping scratcher to destroy the surface and let the bees redraw it. Usually they make it in mostly drone cells.

    Have fun working the bees on to the small cells, for me it was a learning experience. I would recommend you do it with not over 4 colonies. That is enough for you to be able to compare the results with your other colonies, but if it blows up you will not be out much expense. I still have 2 colonies on small cell, they are no better health wise than any of my other colonies, and they must requeen themselves. When I attempt to requeen with queens I raise from my other stock the queens refuse to lay in the small cells. Usually after 3 to 5 weeks the queen will start to lay, but I can't let colonies go that long with no brood production.
    42 + years - 24 colonies - IPM disciple - Naturally Skeptic

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Olympia, Washington
    Posts
    1,352

    Default Re: Converting over to small cell foundation--

    I think the fact that the wax in your small cell frames is new and clesn, and uncontaminated with pesticide residues has more to do with colony health than small cells.

    I quit using them after svouple years, and my bers did just as well on large cell foundation, completely untreated.

    That was in upstate NY.


    But its fun to experiment for oneself, isn't it?

    Have fun.
    Enjoy your Bees.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Location
    New Haven, CT
    Posts
    423

    Default Re: Converting over to small cell foundation--

    AR Beekeeper: Thank you for sharing your experience. What you describe seems like a very realistic description of what to do and what to expect. If the bees are drawing these deep supers out but not with regular, small-cell hexagonal cells, they will still be useful as honey supers. The foundation can always be replaced with standard deep medium brood wired foundation over this or next winter.

    Beregondo: I haven't been a big user of miticides, and am a beekeeper 'in town' where there is less use of chemicals than in many agricultural settings. I am fortunate in that respect. A bit off topic--has there been research on out-migration of the chemicals that had migrated into the wax (from pollen or nectar or from a high vapor concentration in the hive (when pesticide strips have been placed in)? If those chemicals are more soluble in the wax than in the bees, I can't really figure out how much exposure (from that reverse 'out-migration') will occur for the bees. Are larvae perhaps more susceptible because they don't have a hard cuticle (exoskeleton)? Probably, but I'm hoping someone can provide a link to some quantitative scientific data.

    Thanks again

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
    Posts
    2,761

    Default Re: Converting over to small cell foundation--

    Knisely; There are many studies at the Apidologie website that address chemicals in wax as well as other honey bee issues.
    42 + years - 24 colonies - IPM disciple - Naturally Skeptic

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
    Posts
    53,922

    Default Re: Converting over to small cell foundation--

    If you want to regress quickly the Mann Lake PF100 series is the quickest if you don't mind plastic. The bees will draw it the size it is laid out (4.94mm) and you'll have instant regression. if you don't like plastic, then I would just do foundationless. The bees don't usually like the 4.9mm wax that much and will make some funky looking irregular cells. Sometimes, though, they will draw it fine. Maybe some of that is genetics. Maybe some of the package producers bought the PF100s when they were Mann Lake's cheap frames... or maybe if they were on Pierco (5.2mm) they don't fight the 4.9mm as much. But the simplest and best accepted is just foundationless...

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesfoundationless.htm
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beesnatural...atisregression
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

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