Small Cell Experiment

Honeybee with lots of pollen : Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Happy Honeybee

The sun came out for a week (amazing here).  Thus another busy week: supering hives, removing queen boxes from the nucs I installed, adding brood boxes to some of those; cleaning more boxes, tops & bottoms for more queens that are coming and – here’s the interesting part:  I started a Small Cell Experiment.


Small Cell and Commercial Cell foundation Side-by-Side

A comparison

Small cell foundation has always fascinated me.  It would seem to make sense: the smaller the cells, the shorter the sealed period for the larvae, the less time for mites to breed.  I’ve since learned that the smaller bees also have a tighter area between plates so that the mites have a harder time grabbing on.  (If I’ve got that wrong I am sure a small cell advocate will correct me).

Here’s the downside: all the information on using small cell starts with : Replace all your foundation.  Well, that’s just not going to happen. I run about 50 hives and have enough foundation to run 80.  I’m not going to toss that.  So what’s a Bean to do?

My friend Clyde – a small cell person – suggested that I try just putting small cell into the brood area and use my other foundation in what is usually the honey area.  I figured it would be worth a try.

He gave me 20 sheets of small cell foundation and I went to work. Clyde works deeps.  I work in westerns only.  So the foundation had to be cut down.

Small Cell Foundation being cut to fit western frames :Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Cutting Down The Sheets

Once the right size, I popped them into my western frames.

Western bee boxes with small cell foundation

Hung, Marked, and Waiting

Then I marked them.  The “SC” is pretty self-explanatory.  The arrows need a bit of background.  Clyde is also a proponent of Housel Foundation Positioning (this link goes to an excellent, in-depth explanation by Dee Lusby)

The leg of the “Y” in each cell faces down and that side of the foundation faces out. There’s a really good image of this in the above link.

As long as I was going to experiment, I figured this is the moment to try Housel placement.  It is said that the bees prefer this configuration and will build the comb faster.  It can also help solve a myriad of other issues, according to the article by Ms. Lusby.

Anything that helps us move things along in our short honey season sounds good to me.

I’ll be placing the small cell foundations in this week.  I’ll let you know what happens.

Disclaimer: What I’m doing is not what people usually do with small cell.  Most small cell proponents would say that this will not work. They suggest replacing all your foundation, and further, if you’re moving from commercial size to small cell, they suggest you do an intermediate foundation size.

For more information on small cell (and more) check out:

Dee Lusby’s site

Michael Bush’s information on small cell foundation

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  I’ll let you know what happens with this experiment.   Are you trying anything new this year with your hives? Please share…we can all learn.

Well, the experts were right.  You can’t do this and make it work.  The bees totally ignored the small cell configuration and matched the commercial size cells that were near-by.  Ah well, you never know until you try.


About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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2 Responses to Small Cell Experiment

  1. Robert Henry Wiemann says:

    Dear Sir:
    I am interested on how your smaller bees are doing? I just put swarm traps out using 4.9 foundation. I just have three of these hives and they are doing very well. Two of them are going to be big enough to split in the spring. I dont see that they would die since they are very vigorous.
    Henry (commercial guy) Greeley Co

    • Hi Robert – That didn’t workout for me – I should have posted an update. But I was doing something that everyone said would not work: Trying to get the bees to build small cell in the breeding area of the hive while keeping commercial foundation (of which I own tons) in other parts. Folks were right, you can’t combine small and commercial (I like to try things though). But my friend, Clyde, who has small cell does great. If I started all over again I would be in medium boxes (which I am), but 8-frame ones (I’m in 10 frames), and on small cell. But with around 50 hives, all on commercial foundation, and stacks of foundation in the honey shed, I’m not inclined to do the whole regression thing. If you start on small cell, you’re fine. If you want your hive to go there, you have to regress though an intermediate size, wayyyyyyy too much work. But in general, my bees are doing pretty well. AFB again, but small/commercial cell has nothing to do with that. I like dark bees who are bred for resistance to pests and diseases. I think that’s even more important than foundation size. Glad to hear you hives are doing well – touch wood. Around here, one never really knows until “spring dwindling” passes…we can only do our best by the bees.

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