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For... Bee Improvement. Published...

My alert to the importance of cellsize.

This is the article that I would have written for the January edition of Bee Improvement.

How I came to be interested in small cells in the first place.

Some years ago I wanted to get a higher percentage of cappings wax from my honey crop (I needed the wax for polishes and cutting compounds that I was manufacturing).

To achieve this I had some castellated spacers made with 12's spacing and 13's spacing (for National hives) so that there would be more sealed surfaces to uncap and thus a higher cappings wax to honey ratio.

The larger number of frames means less honey per super (more spaces) and so the supers were lighter. The lighter supers were an important bonus to me, as my physique was deteriorating due to various medical problems.

Whilst I was involved in doing this, I had the idea that the closer spacing (if adopted in a mating nuc) may reduce the already low possibility of drones being produced in the mating nucs.

I mused further that by using small celled foundation at a closer spacing... I might filter out unwanted Italian strains, or at least improve the odds, by making them less succesful.

My reasoning was unusual, although A. m. mellifera is considered a large bodied bee, the reason that it is large is that it had been artificially increased in size due to larger and larger cell foundation over the last century.
Beo Cooper had proved that A. m. mellifera had a wider possible range of body sizes than other species.
At other times he also talked of colonies of "small black bees".
In the USA the Italian bee is considered small in body size.
In my mind I turned all of this information on its head and assumed that both types of bee had responded to the larger cellsize of modern times, and produced larger bees than they originally would have, but that the A. m. mellifera had responded more due to their greater ability to adapt in body size. So if I regressed the bees to small cells the A. m. mellifera would be able to go smaller than the Italian bees and thus the A. m. mellifera would be more at ease in the smallest cells and Ligustica had not the ability to go to the smallest size needed for the bees to be "comfortable" in the smallest cells.

I had also some information from New Zealand in 1848, that described A. m. mellifera bees that had originally come from Derbyshire, in hives that had an intercomb spacing of just under 32 mm (1 1/4") and a bee space throughout the hive of 6 mm (1/4"). (Yes! bee space was understood before 1851, but there was no bee space between the topbars and the roof in this design of hive.)

That is the point that I had reached when I first gained access to the internet. As soon as I started searching on cellsize I came across Dee Lusby's texts and most aspects of what I had already thought, fell straight into place.

Do not get me wrong, I am not fully in agreement with what Dee Lusby postulates but I am happy to follow my perspective on the cellsize issue. If Dee's results are widely replicated in suitable trails, I will accept the varroa control aspect as well.

With regard to Dee's work and my ideas... there is yet no proof. We need testing and results before we should jump to any conclusions. Even if the varroa aspect does not work in UK, it is still worthwhile restoring cellsize to the natural sizes that existed before foundation was introduced.

I have started making a batch of frame sides that has a centre to centre spacing of 33 mm and intend making a batch of 32 mm next year. Progress is slow at the moment, as a result of previous ill health and vandalism, I have only one colony at present and developement up to ten is this years main aim, I did it twenty five years ago when I was increasing my stocks but the weather seems against me at the moment.

When I have a few colonies available next season, I will do small cell tests, using several sets of paired colonies, with one of each pair on 4.9 mm and a control on 5.45 mm using sister queens. The varroa in the 5.45 mm colonies will thus be a severe challenge to the bees on 4.9 cells. I also intend, this season, to use starter strips of 5.00 mm foundation, that is currently available frome Thorne, in any frames that are re-waxed. Starter strips will be used in mating nuc frames in preparation for tests next season, by which time I hope to have my own 4.9 mm foundation press in operation.

Dave Cushman, G8MZY
Beekeeping and Bee Breeding Website: http://website.lineone.net/~dave.cushman

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