Natural Cell or Small Cell Beekeeping .
Most folks who are keeping bees on a smaller scale do not buy into the idea that for bees to survive you need to douse them with insecticides, antibacterials and antibiotics. The idea that these treatments are constantly needed is not usually the case and many beekeepers are proving it every day across the nation. However we do need to do a few responsible things to keep our bees healthy and happy. Sometimes we have hives that just need a little help, if you can apply an organic management practice that would be the way to go.
Before I go very far into this conversation I want to talk about the back story. I’m not going to go to far into detail in this article. If you want to learn more there are a million specific articles out on the web. Starting at the beginning, bees have been a part of our agricultural society for eons. There are records found in Egypt dating back to when the pyramids were built discussing the methods for keeping honey bees. Through the ages many things have changed regarding those methods of keeping bees. Bees were housed in trees, logs, skep hives, variations of the Langstroth hive and I won’t forget one of the simplest hives to make, the top bar hive. This is very popular with some beeks who want a simpler setup that is not driven toward any specific type of production. All these hives fit their purpose at the time and some are only not used today because of the laws that require the ability to remove frames for inspection. We will be concentrating on the Langstroth only because I have no experience yet with a top bar hive. All in all the one thing that never changed over the course of many centuries of beekeeping is the bees. Well, not so true, about a century ago some prominent beekeepers like A.I. Root and others decided that if they were to breed a larger bee it could do more work. They started experimenting with increasing the cell size on premade wax foundation. This experiment was very successful through the years and 5.4mm cell size was standardized.
With the increased cell size we wound up with a bee that is 1.5 times its natural size and also has a longer gestation period to as much as a day to a day and a half. This is where the problem comes in. The longer gestation periods help with the growth and reproduction of Varroa Destructor, that nasty little mite that can overtake your bee colonies. These nasty little bugs have been living with certain species of Honey Bees for as long as we have been keeping bees. So what has changed, you guessed it, the size of the bee. We were lucky that the mite wasn’t introduced to the continental United States since the European Honey Bee was brought here in the 1600’s. But, we no longer live in that bubble, a global economy brings us many opportunities, one of which is the importation of pests, contaminants and disease. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? Not really, we can revive the genetics in our bees to combat the parasites and disease. One of the first things to do is to get the bees back to their natural state. If you were to perform a cutout on a hive that has been left alone for a few years two things would become obvious very quickly. The first thing you’ll notice is that they didn’t hunt down a tree that already contained prefabricated plastic or wax foundation. Bees build comb with or without our help.
The second thing would be that the bees are what we now consider “survivors”. No one has “helped” them along with chemical treatment, feeding or swarm management. Looking a bit closer at their natural condition, measure across ten cells and divide by ten. What you will find is that the cell size will be less than 5.4mm. Some you may find is as small as 4.5mm. These bees have returned to their natural state. Is this the cure all? Of course not but it will help them help themselves. They have returned to a natural cell size shortening their gestation period and no one is putting chemicals on the colony. The PH of the hive, good bacteria and microorganisms should be in balance. There may be a few mites, hive beetles or even a wax moth or two in the colony but they are well controlled. These bees have learned how to take care of themselves. If you would like to know more about raising Small Cell Bees or Natural Cell bees in the local Tappahannock, VA area, please contact us by phone or by email at Jeff@hivefivebees.com
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