For... Bee Improvement. Published... April 2001
There has been much heated debate in recent months about
foundation and the size and type of the pattern of cell base
Many are fed up with it and find it boring or irrelevant. I
have been part of this debate myself and would like to explain my
When foundation first came into use it was made to the same
cellsize as the bees produced for themselves (4.9 mm - 5.1 mm). Around
1900 there was much debate centred around cocoon build up and as a
result the foundation cellsize was increased. Several other minor
accidental increases happened gradually until around 1930.
The cellsize discussions started again and in 1931 a further
deliberate increase was made (Some doubt has recently been cast on
the validity of the results that this increase was based on). Around
1960 some manufacturers of foundation introduced a larger celled
foundation intended for honey storage (The larger cells are easier to
extract from) a few beekeepers, including Beo Cooper adopted this
larger foundation for brood use. The year is now 2001 and during the
last 100 years or so we have gone from 5.0 mm to 5.45 mm or 5.7 mm.
The increases have happened so gradually that the bees have been able
to follow suit and increase their size accordingly. But the fact that
they have done so does not mean that they are fitter for their
I started looking at cellsize and comb spacing several years
ago as a means of filtering out Italian genes for a breeding program.
In the process of sorting this out I came across the information
about the increases over the last century and decided that it would
make sense to try to replicate the conditions of 1890 and see for
myself, what the differences would be. There are others interested in
this work from a completely different angle... That of varroa
control... In Arizona, the Lusbys, the main champions of this
technique, are currently running 600 colonies without any other
medication or "alternative" treatment (for 13 years). Smaller similar
trials have started in Sweden, but as yet only 18 months has elapsed
for them although they are reporting lower infestation levels than
they would expect.
My attitude is one of restoring the "status quo" of 1890. If
by so doing there is some benefit in disease control, that would be
an added bonus. But before any of this can be accepted or dismissed we
must do the testing. To do the testing we need foundation in smaller
sizings. The existing manufacturers of foundation have been reluctant
to look at the problem, but late in 2000... Dadant agreed to make a
new mill to produce the 4.9 mm foundation for all of these trials, but
owing to an error similar to that which has caused previous
enlargements this new 4.9 mm is nearer to 5.0 mm and some samples have
been measured at 5.08 mm. Those who are producing their own 4.9 mm
foundation are doing so from mills with rollers that are 4.8 mm so
that the natural stretching produces a finished product of 4.9 mm. The
Dadant foundation can be used to regress the bees, but we still need
4.9 mm for our final trials. I ask that you look in your attic for old
roller mills and see what size they are.
Partly as a result of this, but mainly to remove confusion I
have canvassed many foundation manufacturers all over the world. The
text of this I repeat below.
I am concerned that we have a "traditional" method of describing the
dimensions of cells in beeswax foundation, that gives different
results depending on which version of the method is used.
My plea is for adoption of a common standard that is based on
measurement rather than a cells per area basis.
I believe that some of the problems associated with the enlargement of
size of cell, have in the past been accidental, whereas some of the
increases have been deliberate.
I am not concerned to apportion blame for these actions, but to
establish commonality and understanding for the future.
I propose that the foundation manufactured in future should carry a
measurement that indicates cell pitch. This being the measure of ten
cells and ten cell walls divided by ten, to provide a cell average
and that each of the three contiguous cell directions should be
measured and again averaged. The overall average of these thirty
cells and thirty cell walls should be stated to two decimal places of
a millimeter. (ie, 5.45, 5.20, 4.98, 4.90)
Where no cell walls are present then the pitch of the cells will give
the same figure. likewise if one manufacturers cell walls are
different from another the numbers remain accurate comparisons.
I further propose that existing foundation types shall be measured and
labeled this way so that comparisons can be made.
In order to differentiate measured metric sizes from those that have
been calculated I propose that the figures be enclosed in an
equilateral triangle with the top edge horizontal. This would indicate
the directions of the three, ten cell measurements, and indicate that
it was an actual measurement. If this is too complex for catalogue
entries then the letters CP could be used... (ie, CP5.45, CP5.20,
This is a simple standard which would cost little to adopt as only
product labels and catalogue entries would need changing. The
benefits to the beekeeping community (both manufacturer and
consumers) would more than outweigh those minor costs.
The original markings could be retained so that beekeepers unable or
unwilling to adopt a new system would not be disadvantaged.
I have only had positive feedback from two manufacturers so far and
two more have said that it is a good idea, but they will wait and see
if anyone else takes it up.
I will write future articles about the tests and the results
as and when they happen. I will also publish the details of work that I
have done (and am still doing) measuring a piece of comb from a
Top Bar Hive belonging to Chris Slade.
I can be contacted via Email: email@example.com
Written... April 2001
Reformatted... 21 March 2002