DOWNSIZING THE HONEY COMB

Applying the liquid beeswax

In they go into the box

Bigger is not always better, even when it comes to beekeeping.   Natural (smaller) cells are better, especially for those of us who are choosing chemical and antibiotic free hives.    Modern thinking is that bigger bees would give more honey; but the downside is that bigger bees are susceptible to a pesky mite called varroa. Think about it this way, if you ran a call center that was an resource and information center for beekeeping, and your company had large computer based call center software — the more information going around or the bigger you company is, the greater the chance of getting a virus.

This year, we are experimenting with downsizing giving them a smaller pattern cell from which to draw comb.   Most commercially available combs measure around 5.5mm; however, bees left to their own devices, tend to make smaller cells averaging 4.9mm in diameter.

By using smaller comb,  we are hoping that smaller cells and bees will help lower the varroa mites levels.

Small cells alone will not save bees from varroa mites, but we sure can help give the bees a fighting chance!

:: Resources ::

Beekeepers call center

Beekeeping courses

Bee Natural: Small Cell

Small Cell Foundation and Varroa Mites

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping

Comments(11)

  1. Quail's Hollar Farm says:

    We have bees as well, although I haven’t seen what a varroa mite infestaion can do, yet that is. All of us here have our fingers for this season. Thanks for the information, good luck this year! We all need it.

  2. Manuel says:

    I’m thinking of starting with bees in the beginning of next year (start of the next bee season) I’m getting books and am learning. I will try to follow a practical course starting in October. One thing I did hear from a professional is that they keep breeding bees to produce more honey and be less aggressive, this is accomplished by inbreeding… The side affect is that they are less strong and more easy get all kind of sicknesses…
    If this is true, I would really want to get more natural/wild bees?

    Greetings,
    Manuel

    • Anais says:

      @Manuel: That’s true. Just like the breed bigger cows for meat, the same things is happening with the bees. Bigger bees means more problems, especially the varroa mite.

  3. warren says:

    I started moving to HoneySuperCell (which is what your comb looks like…I assume it is the same?) and I have had good luck. This is my first full season with all HSC (it’s too expensive to move too quickly!). My mites have not gone away by any means, but my bees were healthier and in greater number than any other year I have kept bees. I have had some troubles with wax moths in my honey supers while they were in storage and decided to cut down some HSC and use that for my honey collection too…I love it. It comes out neater without honey dripping all over the place and I make no less honey than normal.

    So, I hope you will do well. Mites aside, I prefer the HSC anyday over regular wax!

  4. Cas says:

    By using smaller comb, we are hoping that smaller cells and bees will help lower the varroa mites levels.

    The problem is that one of your links: “Small Cell Foundation and Varroa Mites” suggests that doing so will lead to greater infestations, not less. For example, p51:
    “The 4.8mm foundation size had a significantly higher infestation (46.6%) of mites than the others with the 5.4mm coming in with the lowest infestation of 27.7%.”

  5. Catherine says:

    Hi. Love what you are doing. But one one of your reference sources disproves that smaller comb size is better. The studies from the U of G and other entomology labs were well designed and reproducible. I’m afraid that small comb size is a red herring.

  6. maralee foster says:

    I lost two hives last year, not sure why. This year I have purchased two top bar hives in addition to my two Langstroth hives. I’m interested to see if they fare any better. I don’t have bay foundations in the top bar so the bees are free to create a comb size of their choosing. Do you have any preference of hive types?

  7. Heather says:

    I’m sorry, but didn’t God program bees to know exactly how big to make their own cells? So why are people messing with God’s design? Historically speaking, that kind of ‘re-engineering’ only leads to trouble. It’s like Jeff Goldbloom’s character said on Jurassic Park, “God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.” I guess the love of money really is the root of evil.

  8. susan rudnicki says:

    bees have been drawing their own comb for 70 million years, till humans decided they would “make things better” by putting in a sheet of wax impressed with a hexagonal design—-all the cells the same size, by the way. (bees put different sized cells all over the same frame, depending on usage needs) This human conceit is easily avoided by capturing naturally smaller feral bees that show, by their very existence without our “help”, that they are resilient and capable. Let the bees draw their OWN comb, (see “foundation-less beekeeping) which won’t be contaminated with chemical residues as is commercial foundation, and won’t be using a bunch of fossil fuel based plastic—-which the bees hate to draw anyway. They will only draw plastic if they have nothing else.
    Large cell, “breeder bees”, that have been upsized, have workers the same size as small cell drones, exposing the entire brood nursery to varroa. The mite emerges on the same development time as the large cell worker, whereas the ferals beat the mite development time by a day or two, thwarting the pest. While a lot of so-called “researchers” are spending a LOT of time tinkering with pulling apart the genome of the bees to try to “select” the varroa resistant characteristics, if they would let evolution do the work it does best, they would have better bees and not inadvertently “de-select” for characteristics that serve the bees immune and other physiological properties.
    Conventional beeks tend to dismiss and hate the feral bees, especially our partially Africanized ferals, as “too swarmy” and “too aggressive” I have NO aggressive ferals in my apiary of 27 colonies in LA. But I also do not have to buy queens unrelated to their sisters, treat with Apistan or other pesticides, count mites, obsess about mites, and have colonies die anyway, for all that sweat and worry. Even the most prejudicial of researchers dourly admits, the AHBs are very resistant to pests and disease. Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries, Kirk Webster of Vermont, Michael Bush of Nebraska, Dee Lusby of Arizona and Don Schram of Michigan, are keeping treatment free bees on their own combs in severe temperate climates, proving that it can be done and the bees are stronger. These are well known experts we should be paying attention to, instead of looking for ever more exotic cocktails of drugs and chemicals to kill pests on our bees. This abuse is damaging their immune systems and the health of the queens and brood. Even the old style National Geographic Magazine gave Phil Chandler, of the UK’s “Bio-Bees” a chance to articulate these very notions. Here—http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/building-bees/mann-text

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