End In Sight
It’s been nine years since I embarked on my small cell experience. And I have a little more to share.
In 2007, I moved from Wyoming to Florida. It wasn’t practical to take my hives there. So, in 2006, I started reconfiguring them as two deep hives. It’s the conventional configuration here. Then, I ran them for a season, much like I did before learning to work with the bees. You can read about it at the bottom of my Checker Boarding page.
In early spring, 2007, I gave all my hives to a commercial beekeeper friend. He promised to take care of them and check out the effects of small cell comb for himself.
In 2008 I returned to Wyoming. And in 2009 I retrieved those hives. Although those small cell hives were located in a migratory commercial beeyard plagued by mites, foulbrood and apis cerana, they had been managed to survive without treatments.
After restructuring my small cell test yard and running it in a conventional manner for a season, 7 small cell hives were given to a migratory commercial beekeeper. He used them to replace the dead outs randomly located on four way pallets. They were essentially randomly placed in a conventional, large cell, treated, commercial 12 pallet beeyard. Two top bar hives were put in the corner of the same yard.
- pallets with any small cell hives were overwintered in the beeyard
- remaining pallets were shipped to California for almond pollination
- additional pallets were shuffled in and out as needed
- small cell hives were left untreated
- small cell hives were managed identical to their treated large cell neighbors
The small cell hives were in a unique situation.
- they were removed from any advanced beekeeping techniques
- any factors due to isolation and location were eliminated
- and survival/production could be directly compared to treated, large cell hives
Their first season there was the worst ever seen in this yard.
- none of the hives made any surplus
- all went into the winter light with minimal pollen reserves
The second season was better than the first, but still not good.
- the bees made way less than an average crop
- most beeyards in the area stored just a few frames more honey than what’s needed to survive
These last two seasons have been a couple of the worst in memory.
I’ve returned from Florida to Wyoming. And I’ve reclaimed those small cell hives. Here’s what I found after two seasons:
- all the small cell hives survived and thrived except for one, which had a queen failure
- another small cell hive was split into it to make up the difference
- the top bar hive queen failed. I wasn’t surprised as she was over three years old
- small cell hive honey production was as good as any hives in the yard
- no visible mites, evidence of brood disease, or symptoms of PMS were seen in the small cell hives
That wasn’t the case with the surrounding large cell hives. Mites, apparently showing resistance to treatments, were visible. The commercial operation was overwhelmed with mites. Mite treatments were applied to all his hives at every inspection. Symptoms of PMS were seen in a few hives. Most hives were prosperous with both bees and mites.
An outbreak of Terra resistant foulbrood was also rampant in the commercial operation. All the large cell hives were treated with Tylosin to contain the outbreak.
Most of the large cell hives experienced queen supersedure problems. Most required requeening. Some more than once.
I’ve already shown small cell yards can tolerate mites, when mite infested large cell yards are in the area. But is was doubted, even by small cell beekeepers, that small cell hives could survive in the conditions I’ve described.
While knocking down this yard for migration and winter, initial observations indicate small cell hives can handle the mite loads imposed on them when immersed in a commercial yard infested with mite infected hives, and run in a conventional manner.
And those small cell bees are prospering and producing, without treatment, in a situation where the large cell hives require almost continuous treatment to survive and do the same.
A Closer Inspection
A week after knocking down the yard, I’ve returned for a closer inspection and a detailed looked at those small cell hives. Broodnests were opened and closely inspected. I searched for mite fecal deposits, disease, or anything unusual in the brood comb. Nothing unusual was found. No phoretic mites were seen either.
I also closely inspected the failed top bar hive comb as well. The queen failed, as previously stated. No fecal deposits were found in the top bar hive comb.
Once, when I was a slave of the scientific method, I would have put screened bottom boards on those hives and embarked on another mite counting project. But that’s not my situation now. I’ve looked at these hives for several hours and they’re doing fine, even when surrounded by mite infested, large cell hives. And they survived when managed in a conventional manner in a commercial setting.
The first impression of my small cell hives, upon returning to Wyoming, was the poor shape that the equipment was in. It was all new when I started messing around with small cell years ago. Now, corners and covers are suffering from rot. Those nice yellow to white translucent combs are now an opaque black. The paint is spotted, stained, bleached pealing and quite unattractive.
I was originally going to send these hive to pollinate Californa almonds. But I was afraid some of the equipment wouldn’t survive the trip. And maybe make a big mess for someone to cleanup.
Few would look at these hives and find much value in them. But I’ve learned much about bees from them and had a great adventure along the way.
My attitude about small cell topics is in about the same shape as my small cell equipment. I’ve got a couple of loose ends and that will be it. I may follow them or maybe not.
- I’ve written all I care to about it
- I’ve shared all I’ve observed about with it
- And I won’t be entering any more discussions about it
- It’s history
It’s a beautiful Indian summer day. The mountains, with their glorious fall colors, are just moments away. And I’ve got better things to do than ‘prove’ something to someone else or to worry about mites.
So, I’m out of this beeyard. I’ll pick up my favorite woman. Soak up some solitude, silence and beauty in the distance heights. We’ll motor down a single, dirt track in my Jeep. Find a warm spot out of the wind. And enjoy the last few moments left before the snow settles in.
My small cell bees are fine, even when surrounded by large cell, mite infested hives and when run by a conventional beekeeper.