To use or not to use small cell foundation?
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  1. #1
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    Jun 2015
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    Hulbert, Oklahoma, USA
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    Default To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Will using small cell foundation help in distracting mites? What are the up's and down's to changing from regular cell size to small cell? ( excluding the obvious, extra money and time) And do you use it in only the brood boxes? Thanks & Happy New Year !!!

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    Aberdeen, Idaho
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I have used it for 8 seasons, and I have treated every hive every year.

  4. #3
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    Jun 2015
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    Hulbert, Oklahoma, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Aha! So why do you use it Dave ?

  5. #4
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    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I still have a few colonies on small cell and they are as infested with varroa as the colonies on standard cell Pierco foundation. You will gain nothing but the experience.
    42 + years - 24 colonies - IPM disciple - Naturally Skeptic

  6. #5
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    Jul 2008
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    Aberdeen, Idaho
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    It would cost too much to change it out. My new frames this year are not small cell. When I got started I fell for the treatment free small cell theory.

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
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    Sandy, OR
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    A VERY hotly debated issue round these parts pardner (in my classic Sam Elliot drawl). I've just come to the conclusion that it will work only as well as you let it/want it/and your locale allows. I'd love it if some of the foundation manufacturers entertained the market with some options and would appreciate some serious global scientific research done. Cant help to think that allowing the bees to grow as close to or appropriate to their natural habitat/environment would be beneficial.
    But then again...who am I to really say anything...just my observations.
    Zone 8a - Elev.~ 1,100 ft. Sandy, OR.
    Apiculture: A culmination of animal husbandry and alchemy.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Huntersville, NC
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    138

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I use no foundation at all. I let the bees draw the sizes of cells that the chose. Mostly they draw small cells but also drone cells, which I am happy to leave alone. I do wire the frames with fishing line which is not necessary but it does provide me protection from the comb breaking off if I get sloppy and tilt it too far when I am inspecting the frame.

    I do use some drone comb in the spring and early summer to trap varroa. I then freeze it before the drones emerge. My varroa issues are negligible. I don't understand why people want to spend money on small or regular sized foundation, or why they would want to take the time to install it, but there are a lot of ways to keep bees. Find what works for you and stay with it, as long as it is actually working.
    Thanks,
    Will

  9. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Washington County, Maine
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    3,796

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Let me guess - small cell is something you read about on the Internet... I think DirtyLittleSecret has it about right. Scientific Studies lasting one season have concluded that there is no benefit. I am not aware of studies lasting more than one season. It is at this point very fringe.

    I started to transition - I have some wax I forget what it is but one step down from what has become traditional. The bees drew it out ok and I've continued to use the frames they drew. I gave up on the experiment many years ago - the thought of right sizing 25 colonies was more than I could stomach. And the little amount of research that there was didn't encourage further efforts on my part.

    I think Dee's (claimed) success is due to a combination of her bees and her location. I've got a few foundationless frames going (a la Will above) and figure the bees will draw worker or drone size cells in the brood chamber depending on what they think they need population wise. I don't think the bees are intending for anything to happen with Varroa when they make worker sized cells. (And yes I understand that drones with their longer development time yield more Varroa.)

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Hamilton, Alabama
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    2,998

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I use small cell mostly because I got started using it in 2005 and I found a few advantages from using it. I was under the impression at that time that small cell would be one more trick that could help with controlling varroa. Since then, I have found that my bees are just as happy on 5.3mm large cell and that the small cell does not seem to matter with regards to controlling mites. I found one very important reason to continue using small cell in spring management of my colonies. It is a small effect that bees on small cell build up faster in early spring. I use 1.25 inch wide frames with 11 frames in the broodnest. With this size frame, it is crucial that combs hang straight and true. When I started using the 1.25 frames in 1977, I found a small but significant effect that they speed up spring buildup. Adding the effect of small cell foundation to the effect of narrow gauge frames gives me up to 2 weeks faster spring buildup. Since changing over to both small cell and narrow frames, I regularly find my bees at swarming strength by the 25th of March where in the past the earliest swarm I ever saw was on the 5th of April. I am therefore able to split my bees around the 25th of March and still have them pull through to make a crop of honey from the main flow that starts about the 20th of April.

    To me, small cell is not a mite decision, it is a spring management decision.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
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    Sacramento, CA, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    My hives have the small natural cells where the
    bees are very tiny. The mites still growing every year.
    Lauri use large cells with a way to control the mites too.
    Did not work in my location I guess.
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  12. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
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    Red Bud, IL, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I try to accomplish more by doing less. I'm foundationless and try to cycle old comb out every three years or what's convenient for me; the bees build what they want, if I don't like what they've built it gets cycled out. Foundation/large cell/small cell are things I don't have to worry about or buy; leaves more time to think and deal with the present varroa and shb levels (and whatever else decides to crop up).

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
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    Jefferson Co, TX
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Ladybug - I think one benefit in my medium only operation allows more brood per frame with small frame.
    Started 9/13, building slowly, not trying the no treatment anymore

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
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    Salisbury, NH
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    508

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Burrup View Post
    When I got started I fell for the treatment free small cell theory.
    Yep. Me too.

  15. #14
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    Jun 2013
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    Rensselaer County, NY, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    I started with all-plastic Pierco frames (which have a slightly smaller cell size than some brands of sheet plastic foundation, but they are not "small cell".) I didn't know from nothin' and just bought what seemed easiest at the time my bees were hived. My bees are apparently realists and they set about drawing out the Piercos in a workmanlike fashion.

    About six months later I came upon the small-cell concept and I was stricken with the thought that I had inadvertently set my beloved bees up for failure and varroa devastation out of my ignorance.

    Then I remembered that I had a couple of hundred pounds of intact capped honey comb and great slabs of brood combs left from the cut-out where my bees came from stored in my freezer. (All of my bees were swarms to my barn walls.) This was the accumulated work product of twenty years of feral bees living in the walls of my barns with not one lick of well-meaning beekeeping attention the whole time.

    I retrieved the stored comb and set about measuring it with a micrometer. To my surprise, none of it was "small cell", it was a mix of cell sizes with the average worker cells (judging from the large continuous expanses of cells in brood comb as opposed to the larger, and usually more peripheral drones areas) being larger than my Pierco plastic frames.

    This taught me a very valuable lesson about the highly-touted beekeeping theories that abound on the internet. Some people swear by small-cell, and it may be useful but it also seems highly unlikely to me that it results in lower varroa predation.

    I have experimented with foundationless since then, and my bees (it's the same bees as I've never lost a colony) will cheerfully go along with that, too. The combs that they draw are works of art, and I think every beekeeper should get some of them drawn, if only for the aesthetic pleasure of looking at them. But they have their drawbacks, as well: including a very high percentage of drone cells which leads to higher rates of varroa reproduction in my area. And the combs are inherently more fragile.

    I try just about everything I read about, out of curiosity.

    But for my money, (and with my bees, in my area) hand-applied extra wax on plain Jane Piercos produces a sturdy, uniform, fully drawn comb.

    Frees my brain up to worry about something else. YMMV.

    Enj.

  16. #15
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    Mtn. View, Arkansas, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Sunday Farmer; I too wear a lollypop stuck on my forehead so that everyone that sees me coming will know I am a sucker!

    What is frustrating is knowing that when we tell a new beekeeper that their bees will do as well or better if they are on standard size cells in the broodnest, we won't be believed. I personally don't care how a person keeps their bees, the bees are their property not mine. I do hate the thought that a person will be put to an unnecessary expense, or will lose their colonies because they follow advice, even if it is sincerely given, that is incorrect.

    Small cell has nothing to do with bees developing tolerance to the viruses varroa carry, and it has nothing to do with the the mite populations, or the ability to survive with limited or no treatments.
    42 + years - 24 colonies - IPM disciple - Naturally Skeptic

  17. #16
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Huntersville, NC
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    138

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    If someone thinks that small cell or natural cell alone is the answer to preventing varroa infestations they are probably wrong. I think that the root question is: Do you plan to use chemicals or not? If you will be using chemicals then I doubt that cell size matters. If you will not be using chemicals then cell size is one of many things that together can be used to prevent varoa infestations. For my beeyard it is about keeping the bees' hives as strong as possible all year round while not using chemicals. Cell size is just one factor, along with swarm control, queen banking, hive count, honey stores going into winter, small hive beetle control, racoon control, keeping local bees (particularly since I am now way the hell up north), my own education and experience and many other things. To me there is an advantage in keeping bees as naturally as possible even though keeping bees is inherently unnatural. The skill knowledge and approach of the bee keeper is probably the most important factor for success. Since a beehive is such a complex system, making such strong declarative statements about one factor like cell size without considering the many other factors is probably misleading.
    Thanks,
    Will

  18. #17

    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Quote Originally Posted by marshmasterpat View Post
    I think one benefit in my medium only operation allows more brood per frame with small frame.
    Heck....if someone made some 2.5mm cell sized foundation....think of how many more brood cells per frame you'd have then!
    Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. - Emerson

  19. #18
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
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    Crown Point, NY, USA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    If someone thinks that small cell or natural cell alone is the answer to preventing varroa infestations they are probably wrong.
    I couldn't agree more. Most, not all, advocates of small /natural cell beekeeping use the theory of 1/3 genetics, 1/3 natural feed, 1/3 small cell core broodnest. If you think run of the mill commercial package bees tossed on small cell will prove anything I can save you time they will likely be dead before you ever get them regressed to small cell. VSH trait was expressed across more than half my hives on the first year I pulled treatments. Even still with the expression of the trait 75% or more hives will likely die. So for new beekeepers starting out TF or even small cell TF the quality of stock does make a difference. Real honey and Real pollen will allow bees to handle viruses and sickness better and keep there immune system up.

    Some things I have observed over my years of TF are bees that are more aggressive do better. They seem to exhibit a stronger will to survive. Not saying to keep dangerous bees around. On a scale of 1 to 5. The 2 and 3's seem best.

    Propolis - hives that have a slightly higher amount of propolis seem to do better.

    This leaves me with questions I have been asking myself over the last few years. Has breeding for stock that are excessively gentle robbed us of allogrooming traits in todays commercially available stocks? Has breeding for stocks with low propolis robbed the bees of a natural way to help with viruses and disease?

    Small cell has nothing to do with bees developing tolerance to the viruses varroa carry, and it has nothing to do with the the mite populations, or the ability to survive with limited or no treatments.
    Small cell doesn't help viruses. Proper diet/ propolis usage/ and genetics.

    To me, small cell is not a mite decision, it is a spring management decision.
    I agree. Also It encompasses wintering too. It makes for a more compact winter cluster and better thermoregulation also.

  20. #19
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    May 2008
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    Concord, CA
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    All our brood frames are small cell or natural cell. There is no downside to it.
    We started with it about 10 years ago, & have no intention of changing.
    Dan

  21. #20
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
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    Jefferson Co, TX
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    Default Re: To use or not to use small cell foundation?

    Quote Originally Posted by beemandan View Post
    Heck....if someone made some 2.5mm cell sized foundation....think of how many more brood cells per frame you'd have then!
    LOL well now, 2.5mm cells would make bees so small that they would wear themselves out hauling pollen grains to big for them to carry if we raised them in Texas. Why they would be so small they would go straight through the mesh on the veils. The whole bee keeping world would turn upside down. It would be worst that the darn mites. So don't start new wild ideas that could make a new craze. Or we will blame this one on you.

    Then when (and not if, it would be when) they cross with those Hybrid African monsters, why they would make Texas mosquitos with those mini briggs&strattons as backpacks seem like love bugs. Those Minnesota black flys, they would be a joy after the appearance of these bees. Please don't start bee keepers thinking these ideas, someone will try it.
    Started 9/13, building slowly, not trying the no treatment anymore

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