Once we have convinced ourselves that we realistically need to
downsize the cells to give the bees a better chance...We have to
perform a process that is almost the equivalent of "putting a
quart into a pint pot".
Fortunately several natural
features are on our side. Most of our british bees are on comb derived
from 5.45mm foundation...But if they are given 25 mm starter
strips of 4.9mm...Then they will build comb that is
about 5.2mm. This is a very convenient "halfway" stage.
the bees have been through about 2 brood cycles on this 5.2mm
"interstage" cellsize then the bees can be shaken off onto full
sheets of 4.9mm foundation (or a
Taranov Swarm taken). These latest frames will in most
cases be properly drawn at 4.9mm.
The time to complete two phases is thus about 4 months.
Some stubborn cases require a
further shake down to achieve good comb (I guess about 5%).
It is worthwhile feeding the colonies that
are doing the wax drawing as it will shorten the time taken and
the carbohydrate does not go to waste as it becomes
the hydrocarbon component of the resulting beeswax (a valuable
resource in any case). The beekeeper's workload is increased
as many frames have to be stripped, cleaned and re-waxed (some
more that once in the same season). I hope the extra effort is
worth it, but it does seem a chore at the time! Most recommend 25
mm wide starter strips in normal brood frames (I
use 20 mm simply because I have a jig for cutting them). The starter
gives the beekeeper a chance to see what size the bees will draw
brood cells naturally.
Bees normally draw wax when they need new combs most
(for honey storage). Beekeepers need to be encouraged to draw wax when
the bees will draw
strictly brood cells in early spring. Then draw more combs
immediately following swarming, or going into winter by slow syrup
feeding. Once the bees are regressed, full sheets of foundation are
fed in as much as normal
broodrearing will allow, until the number of bees peaks and the
comb drawing urge is changed, with the bees now disposed to draw
larger honey storage or drone cells. Once this point is reached, 4.9
mm foundation will only be drawn acurately if placed between two
frames of sealed brood just inside the broodnest.
Most beekeepers seem to think that it is just a
matter of putting the small foundation on your hive and away you
However I do not know of a method of doing
this in one stage unless your bees are ensconced on 5.2 mm cells
already. BUT, I am looking at a method which may achieve
this...I say "may" as it is only theoretical at the moment.
Knowing that beekeepers always try to "shortcut" any method that
takes more than 2 visits to the hive...
I propose the following:-
Instead of the full sized frames with starter strips used to initiate
some special frames are made with extra horizontal,
grooved bars at one third height and two thirds height...
strips are fitted (one to each horizontal bar)...(As per diagram below)...
3 of these special
frames are placed in the centre of the "swarm" with full sheets of
4.9mm foundation flanking on both sides.
The logic behind this arrangement is that...at the time
that the swarm is hived the bees will cluster on the three central,
special frames (the clustering is likely to take place here so that
the cluster itself remains completely in contact via the open spaces).
This cluster will be centred on the three topmost starter strips and
the bees will rapidly draw these to provide laying space for their
queen. Because of the "open"ness of the central 3 frames, the progress
of comb drawing should proceed downwards whereupon the bees encounter
the middle set of strips and thus go through a second stage of
The third set of strips is included as the progress through the top
two sets of starter strips may be quicker than optimum and may
also help with the more "stubborn" colonies.
Whilst the second and third strips are being drawn, work will also
take place on the inside faces of the innermost flanking full sheets
which may not be drawn to full depth initially as the bees will use
the periphery for storage.
At some future time when other work is being carried out
the 3 special combs are placed where any brood can hatch but out
of reach of the queen (above a crown board) and subsequently,
when empty, the special combs are removed, cleaned and fitted with new
strips for use on the next swarm.
For the description of the method I have worked on the basis of
3 special frames per swarm...it may be that 4 or 5 are more
appropriate...(The testing will find this out.)
The proposal outlined above has the potential to achieve the
transition simply but I must stress that it has not yet been
There is another "progressive" method which involves making
3 frame nucs (using existing frames) flanking them by two
pairs of frames with "Pierco" 5.2mm plastic foundation and then
filling the rest of the box with full frames of 4.9mm foundation.
As the nuc expands it progessively resizes itself...but the original
central nuc frames have to be removed first and
then the plastic ones...finally achieving all combs with full
sheets of 4.9mm foundation. a similar system to this has been tried
in UK, by Chris Slade, but so far only on one colony.
Surplus frames drawn in 4.9 mm colonies can be used to form nucs
using a couple of drawn 4.9 mm combs and filling the remaining
spaces with full sheets of 4.9 mm foundation and just shaking the
bees from existing 4.9 mm or 5.2 mm sized colonies. Queens bred from previously regressed
stock make an ideal compliment for such nucs.
What Chris did...|
Was to hive a swarm in a national box with the frames
the warm way. He put a couple of old drawn combs at the entrance,
followed by two 5.2 Pierco then, as they became available, home made 4.9.
Thus the bees, as they moved progressively along
the box, downsized themselves.
At first the 4.9 was used for storage until the brood nest
expanded. He has not removed and measured the 4.9
yet but visually, he reports, they seem to have drawn it accurately.
How does regession work?
I hear beekeepers ask this question time and again. I must say that it
has taken me some time for the various aspects to gel together.
I have read much material produced by Dee Lusby and researched in
several hundred textbooks to come to my present conclusions.
There is considerable variance in individual
cellsize which is often masked by taking
an average of 10 cells. Beesize within a single colony varies over a
wider range than cellsize (the cells are more uniform due to each cell
being worked on by many different individual bees).
The 4.9 mm
cellsize is still within the range of even our most bloated modern
bees. Bees have some sort of template for cell building that is
likely to be linked to the size of some of their body parts...Maybe
the length of a leg joint or the angle to which the legs must be
spread to span a cell wall to wall (I do not profess to know
exactly how they do it).
The range of bee sizes that are within
a colonies comb building force allows the smaller bees to work on
the initial stages of drawing the 4.9 mm foundation (because their
body parts fit). The transition
cells may be a manifestation of the larger faction's attempt to carry
out this work. The intermediate comb contains many individual cells
that are accurately 4.9 mm thus the next generation of bees bred in
these particular cells have a
greater ability to draw 4.9 mm cells. Other cells in this transition
comb are larger than 4.9 mm but not as large as the comb from which
the original bees were bred so the workers from these cells are more
able to tackle 4.9 mm at the next combdrawing oportunity. After this
process has been repeated twice all the bees in the population are
capable of drawing 4.9 mm foundation accurately.
This process is further enhanced by harnessing the bees natural
urge to build worker cells rather than honey storage cells. I am of
the opinion that the 5.7 mm foundation that can be obtained in the UK
was originally produced for honey storage purposes but as it has been
bred in by many generations of bee this has contributed to the
enlarging of those races of bee that have a wider range of possible
expansion (AMM... Beo Cooper).
Written... May 2000
Revised... 20 December 2001