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Last year, influenced by Michael Bush's book, I went foundationless in one of my hives. In that hive (new package) I shaved down the frames to achieve 1-1/4 spacing. I had a few "regular" frames with drawn empty comb and one with some nectar and pollen from the previous year that I had stored in the freezer. I was VERY PLEASED with the results. The drawn frames were beautiful, some used for stores, and some became brood frames. This was a booming hive by the end of the summer, one which I split with good success (new purchased queen). I certainly plan to continue to transition all hives to foundationless.

There are two things I am very curious about, and would like someone to do a controlled study on:
1. Does the resulting cell size reduction suppress varroa culture in the hive? There was a study conducted (perhaps flawed) that came up with results that contest that claim.
2. Does the smaller cell size reduce the gestation period of workers to 20 days?

Are there any studies in progress or have there been recent studies not yet widely published?

Phil
 

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There are 4 or 5 studies out there, maybe more. Brood pupation time is not reduced and neither is mite fecundity with small cell. See the work by Seeley & Griffin, Berry, and Ellis. There is a small study in this months Bee Culture showing no reduction in pupation time by Ross Conrad.
 

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I would question whether the science is comparing apples with apples. When the early researchers like Huber recorded gestation they got a shorter time. Since the studies cited by Master Jacobs were definitely on the short side, possibly the studies did not get an accurate sample of bees properly regressed to a more natural size of cell.

I am not a scientist and I cannot say that my own relatively short experience with small cell has ended my need to treat. It is still very much an open question. But, I have not seen any Deformed wings. I have lost a few that had high numbers of mites. I have lost some that didn't.

Even if SC is no silver bullet: I like the way my little bees build up and winter. Mann Lake makes a 4.9 plastic frame cheaper than I can put together wood and foundation. And I want to see if it does work. The process needs a reasonable amount of time to be judged not the part of a season in some cases given by researchers for evaluation. When I decide it is not of any use, I can just start plugging in 5.4mm standard frames and it just won't matter. BTW there is no intrinsic evil in a plastic beehive component. Too much shamanism on that point.
 

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Just my opinion which isn't based on actual experience with small cell, but I'm not convinced that small cell (4.9 or smaller) is better than just natural cell. Forcing the bees onto small cell isn't completely natural either. But doesn't it seem logical that natural cell should be better for the bees than forcing them to draw any one particular foundation size? After all, they have survived millions of years doing what they want without human interference, until recently of course.

I had experience with natural cell years ago when I didn't have as many hives, I got away from it when I started building up my hive numbers. As for me, being TF, I can surely say that my bees were able to deal with varroa much better and wintered much better on natural comb. I'm talking about package bees installed on foundationless frames in Langs or in top bar hives. I used to see survival in excess of 2 years up to 4 years with natural cell, now I have a very hard time getting 8 months on 5.4 foundation.
 

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>1. Does the resulting cell size reduction suppress varroa culture in the hive? There was a study conducted (perhaps flawed) that came up with results that contest that claim.

There have been many short term and generally flawed studies that have come to different conclusions. Some early studies showed less Varroa counts on small cell. Some showed less mating success and less male Varroa survivorship on small cell. Some showed no difference in counts. Several failed entirely to get the small cell comb drawn and still drew their own conclusions. None are long term. None are looking at the big picture. Some of them remove all the drone comb (I have about 25% drone comb and I think it contributes to succes as there is more preference for drone in small cell in my view and less interest in workers). None take drifting into account. The experiment is simple. Set up two yards (or more) with 20 or so hives in them with half the yards on large cell and half on small cell (or natural comb if you like), manage both the same, don't treat either one and see how many are alive in three years. Skip the mind numbing mite counting. There are many of us who have not treated in more than a decade on small cell and are having no Varroa issues. Take that however you like, but when I first heard of small cell, everyone else was in agreement that was impossible.

>2. Does the smaller cell size reduce the gestation period of workers to 20 days?

Setup an observation hive in your living room and measure it. I had no expectations of that, but I saw 19 days. It got capped a day sooner and emerged a day sooner. All you need to do is mark the glass over the cells when the queen lays (numbers or letters) and keep notes on the date and time. Check every morning and night and update when they get capped and when they emerge.

>I'm not convinced that small cell (4.9 or smaller) is better than just natural cell.

Half my frames are foundationless. Since a lot of my natural comb is 4.6mm at the core of the brood nest, neither an I. But then, isn't that small cell? I don't care if the supers have some 5.2mm in them.
 

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It seems to me that the cell size debate is very simple to end. We all quit using foundation and in a few years we can see what the bees think.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Phillip Denwood on Dave Cushman's site:
http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/denwood.html

A group of Brazilian researchers (De Jong et al.) found that:

"When a piece of European bee comb is implanted within an Africanised bee comb, the larger diameter cells of the European comb attract more mites, even though the larvae in the two cell types come from the same queen"

http://www.funpecrp.com.br/gmr/year2003/vol1-2/gmr0057_full_text.htm

Another group of Brazilians concluded (Apidologie 26 (1995), p.381-386) that with both Africanised and Italian bees, infestation was greater in large cells, but that this was not the main reason for the apparently greater resistance in the Africanised bees.

Eric Erickson and others state that
... "reduced cell diameter may have a limited impact on varroa ... and population dynamics, and on colony performance."

http://www.beesource.com/point-of-vi...ona-beekeeper/

Here is Eric Osterlund's article from his own web site:
http://www.elgon.se/pdf-filer/Small_...designs13c.pdf

References to quite a few both pro and con studies here:
http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeeke...ith_varroa.pdf

But what convinced me to try it was Dee and Ed Lusby were the only people I knew of who even purported it was possible to keep bees after the arrival of Varroa with no treatments. I was still a skeptic. I tried both natural cell (to see what they would really make) and small cell. Both worked. What convinced me it worked

Male survivorship study:
http://www.edpsciences.org/articles/apido/pdf/2002/01/Martin.pdf

Here is a discussion of some of the studies:

http://www.beesource.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-261724.html?

Another discussion on not treating and small cell:

http://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...y-I-don-t-consider-using-treatments&p=1051247
 

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It seems to me that the cell size debate is very simple to end. We all quit using foundation and in a few years we can see what the bees think.
Been keeping bees on fixed comb for ten years now. No frames! No foundation! Still they do not show small cells all over the comb or hive, but a wide range of cell sizes. There are 4.9 mm cells but just a minority of all cells. Most are 5.1-5.4 mm.

So is that the answer? Ending the debate?
 

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In my experience it's what is at the core of the brood nest that is the tipping point for Varroa, and that is usually 4.9mm or below. The rest doesn't matter that much and usually is larger. They build a wide variety, as you said. Yes, the bees ended the debate when you let them.
 

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My view is based on my conditions and is not based on rigorous tests or measurements. It is based on 37 years using narrow frames and 8 years since first converting to small cell in 2005.

I tried small cell and still had problems with varroa. I changed to highly mite resistant genetics and voila, everything started working again. I now run 11 frames in the brood nest with small cell combs. Supers are still large cell or built from foundation strips. I have 3 colonies on large cell with 1 3/8 frames that are just as productive and mite tolerant as the small cell bees, however, I am going to convert entirely to small cell this year because I see measurable benefit in spring buildup from the combination of small cell with narrow frame spacing. I also want to stay consistent because it makes managing bees and swapping equipment easier.

The end result is that I agree with M. Bush that small cell has advantages, whether for mite tolerance or for spring buildup. Please note that there are MAJOR climate differences between Alabama and Nebraska.

As for using narrow frames, each beekeeper will have to answer that on his own. They have advantages and they have disadvantages. In my climate and with my beekeeping methods, narrow frames have proven their worth since 1977. Their worst disadvantage is that drone cells will often be built along the bottom edge and they protrude too much for easy removal of the frame.
 

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Aren't all TBH natural cell? Seems you could simply compare mite counts in TBH with large cell in Langs and see what the differences are.
 

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Yes and no on the TBH. I can still put foundation Langs frames inside a box hive. If you want you can still
put foundation on the top bars to fit inside the TB hive. That may be more work than needed though.
But I think that natural cell is more flexible to remove the queen cells into a nuc hive.
 

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Yes and no on the TBH. I can still put foundation Langs frames inside a box hive. If you want you can still
put foundation on the top bars to fit inside the TB hive. That may be more work than needed though.
But I think that natural cell is more flexible to remove the queen cells into a nuc hive.
 

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Aren't all TBH natural cell?
And bee gums/log hives, skeps,... name it. I tried all those plus a lot of experimental hives, like the super vertical hive with a side to side length of 20 cm only. Outside measures! My goal was to find out if the diameter of the cavity does influence cell size and orientation. Ian Rumsey did some work on this and I wanted to proof it. It couldn't be verified in my experiments.
 

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Like fogging with FGMO a lot of people say it works some say no so I gave it a try last year and buy the end of JULY I had mite bombs and that was on 4.9 cell and broad breaks.
I ended up treating in the FALL with OAV and killed a pile of VARROA and as of a week ago I had only 4 dead outs out of 25 and it's been really cold this winter.
I'm only going into my 5th year so I know little but i plan on working with what i have this year and see how 4.9 cell works i have only been using 4.9 for 1 season so I'm kinda excited to see how things work out .
I will be testing all year to see witch hives are dealing with the VARRO loads.
Can't wait till thing get going in these parts.:)
 

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In my experience it's what is at the core of the brood nest that is the tipping point for Varroa, and that is usually 4.9mm or below. The rest doesn't matter that much and usually is larger. They build a wide variety, as you said. Yes, the bees ended the debate when you let them.
Michael,

How much of the brood nest is small cell? Is the tipping point for varroa that not enough enter larger cells to maintain a viable population?

Tom
 

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Regardless of how well it does or does not help with varroa, I like the idea of more cells in a given area, or more cells covered by the same amount of bees.
 
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