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The bees will naturally make whatever size cells they want, and the size might vary slightly in different places within the hive.

You'll be astonished at just how fast they can build comb. Such that you will wonder ... "why the heck did I ever buy or make 'foundation,' anyway?"

Incidentally, if you want to, you can just omit three sides of that frame, maybe run a slight saw-kerf and stick a few popsicle sticks in the kerf to act as guides, and, presto, you now have a horizontal top-bar hive. :) Never tell the people who spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on "fancy woodworked stuff" that you can keep bees ... just as well ... just as successfully ... in a box​ that costs you nearly-nothing.

(My total hive-construction beekeeping expense, for several years now, was: $65.00. I had the wood, leftover from fences and such, and so I bought: water seal, a bag of popsicle sticks, nice metal handles, and a box of wood screws.)
 

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If I start with a 5 frame nuc and empty frames will the bees naturally regress to small cell size? Same question with packages.
Regression of bees is a multi step process at times. For instance, you speak of the two most common ways to get bees into a hive. One method brings frames and bees which already have their own cell size. The second wihch is a package brings only bees. When you hive a NUC and want to regress them to natural cell you have a few options but ALL require you to phase out the older frames as new ones are drawn. Requires a few generations of bees to get them to natural in most cases. With packages it is a little easier as they will naturally draw smaller cell sizes from the get go even if they were on large cell when they were dumped into a package.

The easiest way is to use some foundation that is already SMALL CELL to get them to draw what you want. There are a lot of threads on here about this as well you can check out Micael Bush's website which has tons of info on it too.
 

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Don't be confused, natural cell is not the same as small cell. Some bees might get down to that small, but in general, you will have variation throughout the comb. Foundation is a tool that works great when used properly, foundationless can be frustrating with the wrong bees, great with the right ones. Mann Lake carries small cell wax foundation, it comes in very handy.
 

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This year I bought 4 packages from an advertised small cell bee supplier, and 3 packages from a large commercial operation through our bee club. All of the small cell bees were put in foundationless hives and I measured the following size combs in early July. 2 hives at 5.5mm, 1 hive at 5.2, and 1 that is just a hair under 5.2. Only one of the 3 commercial packages was put in a foundationless hive, it measured out at 5.2. The other two packages were put on previously drawn comb that was at 5.2 and 5.3 from the year before. All measurements were done in the core of the brood nest on three different combs and measured in three directions. From my experience it is a crap shoot at best for naturally drawn comb. Depending on what makes it through the winter will determine what I do to try and regress them further. I am also looking at possibly getting some 4.9 foundation and trying that as well.
 

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Regression in my opinion and I think Michael B would agree, is using small cell foundation to force the bees into small cell which will help them build small cell naturally if that's your thing. Dumping a package or nuc onto foundationless frames is not actually regressing anything.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Regression in my opinion and I think Michael B would agree, is using small cell foundation to force the bees into small cell which will help them build small cell naturally if that's your thing. Dumping a package or nuc onto foundationless frames is not actually regressing anything.
So, if I start a 5 frame nuc in 2 medium 8 frames with the other 11 frames of 4.9 wax foundation and I cycle the nuc frames out to the sides and then out will that regress them? Can I intersperse empty frames between the ones with foundation in the top super and get the same effect?
 

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when are you getting these bees? It's late this year to do much comb drawing. Much like 'natural cell' or 'small cell', narrow frames fits in that category or it works for a few, doesn't work for a lot of other people who try it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'm not getting bees until spring. Just finished my 1st ktbh and picked up lumber today for another + 4 medium 8 frame supers. I'm just doing my homework so I don't make quite as many mistakes as I could have. Been studying this stuff for about 2 months now (was gonna start then :( 1st lesson learned) and it is quite a steep learning curve which, so far, has not leveled off a bit. And I had helped a beek for 2 seasons when I was a kid.
 

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>If I start with a 5 frame nuc and empty frames will the bees naturally regress to small cell size? Same question with packages.

There are a lot of factors involved and they are covered in the above link to my site. One of them is the size of the bees to start with. This can vary depending on the foundation used by the producer. e.g. Pierco deep frames are significantly smaller than a Mann Lake Rite cell and significantly larger than a Mann Lake PF100. Another is that genetically different bees have a different idea of what is the right size. Another factor is the frame spacing. Combs spaced on 1 1/4" centers tend to get drawn smaller than combs spaced on 1 3/8" center which tend to be smaller cells than combs spaced on 1 1/2" centers. I've had package bees put on foundationless comb that drew 4.7mm cells. I've put bees I know were on 5.4mm cells on natural comb and they built 5.1 to 5.2mm cells. So there isn't a set answer to the question, but typically a package allowed to draw their own comb will build something between 5.2mm and 4.7mm in the core of the brood nest. The next turn over of comb is likely to be between 5.1 and 4.6mm. And yes, because the cell size they build is partly determined by their body size and their body size is partly determined by the cell size they will regress some more every turnover of comb you allow them up until they are down to their natural size which would probably be somewhere between 4.6mm and 5.0mm.
 
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