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
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
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
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.
- Beo Cooper had proved that A. m. mellifera had a wider possible range of body sizes than
- At other times he also talked of colonies of "small black bees".
- In the USA the Italian bee is considered small in body size.
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
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
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