cell size conversion table - using foundation - 4.9 pictures - selected topics -home

   Should We Really Be 
Using Foundation in Beehives?
and how about frames?

Foundation--an embossed sheet of wax or plastic-- has been employed almost universally by most western beekeepers in industrialized countries over the past century or so to assist and guide their honey bees in starting combs in the shape, orientation and type (worker brood or honey storage) desired by the beekeeper and to reinforce the combs so they can withstand the forces encountered in handling and extraction.  (There are, however still, to this day, regions in the Americas where traditional hives still predominate).

Our Consumer Society

In America and, increasingly, the world, commercialism, and it's companion phenomenon, consumerism have become indispensable to the management,  growth and integration of economies and populations, (more),  However, that is not the topic here, rather we are concerned with one of  the effects.

What is interesting, and relevant to today's beekeepers, is how--in North America--the use of cheap, simple, free and ecologically-friendly beekeeping equipment was almost completely displaced by increasingly complex and costly supplies.

In short, when foundation and moveable frame hives were invented, resourceful manufacturers seized on them as potential products and promoted their advantages.  As a result,

  • Major bee magazines came about as in-house promotion vehicles for the major equipment manufacturers and other commercial suppliers who paid for ad space.

  • Best-selling (and widely promoted) bee texts were written by authors who were closely allied with the commercial interests, and their viewpoint  dominated debate.

  • The proponents of free and cheap hives, and of simple, traditional, inexpensive techniques--of course--had few funds or motives to publish or promote widely, and--as is so often the case--the solutions that made the most money for suppliers and advertisers prevailed.

  • Under pressure from the promoters of costly supplies, the use of anything but manufactured hives and homemade equivalents became illegal, and remains so to this day in most North American jurisdictions.

That is not to say that manufactured, moveable-frame equipment is not well suited to many applications, but, the banning of skeps, gums, and box hives was unjustified and, additionally, resulted in reduced pressure to find non-chemical, non-product-dependant solutions to bee diseases.  Instead of selecting for tough, resistant bees, chemicals, burning, and melting were used, resulting in problems with product contamination and a treadmill of stop-gap measures.

Perhaps it is time to repeal the oppressive laws that outlaw basic hives, and encourage alternate beekeeping.  Skeps and gums and similar hives might prove to be the best solution for pollination and comb production.

The problem with beekeeping as a business is that there are too many moving parts -- Allen Dick, 2000

Before that, stretching back to antiquity, was a long history of successful and profitable beekeeping employing only natural comb built naturally by the bees in cavities ranging from crude and inexpensive logs and skeps to elaborate and decorative urns and carved hives.  Some idea of that--now mostly forgotten--history and the old technologies can be found by visiting a few of the sites listed here.

Where traditional beekeeping techniques are still practiced, there are opportunities for study, and well-known bee researchers--ARS people and university people with reputations beyond reproach with whom we converse at bee meetings--have covered much of the world, researching and documenting the local bees--both domestic and feral--and comparing.  Also, there have been efforts to introduce modern beekeeping into many of these regions.  A workable compromise between the modern, moveable frame hive using foundation and older, natural fixed comb cavities is the Kenyan hive, also known as the top bar hive.  This homemade cavity is proving to be a cheap, practical hive which is gaining popularity, even in developed countries.

At the time of the invention and introduction of foundation, in the final decades of the 19th century, there was considerable experimentation and discussion about the use and design of foundation, however, over the following century, use of foundation became accepted and standardized to the point where few beekeepers gave it much thought.  Although various special sizes were developed for special purposes and some experimenters attempted to change the size of bees by using larger cells, most beekeepers just bought the few standard designs the local suppliers sold, and considered that to be just fine.

This all changed in the last decade of the 20th century, when modern beekeepers were challenged by new and highly problematic pests: tracheal and varroa mites.  In searching for solutions for these scourges, chemicals and management were considered, and the whole question of cell size was once more brought back into focus by the experience of Ed and Dee Lusby in Arizona in dealing with varroa, tracheal mites and bee diseases.

At the same time, Africanized bees--smaller in size than the "European" bees that were in widespread use--reached the USA.  Africanized bees are known to make cells much smaller than European bees, and, for that matter, in South Africa, foundation is sold with cells about 10% smaller than the average size of commercial comb in the US.

Since then, a debate--based on conjecture, "interpretation" of a few selected texts from the past century or two, constant repetition of unproven and contested "facts", and heated rhetoric--has raged over whether bees were 'upsized' during the 20th century, whether they can be "retrogressed", whether smaller cells discourage varroa mites, what the best size for foundation cells might be and finally, whether foundation is really a good idea at all.

The endless debate has taken place in a number of venues, one of which, and perhaps the original venue, is BEE-L.  The issue created passionate discussion and divided beekeepers into two basic groups, the skeptical, and the converted.  There are also some who fall in between.

At the time the topic came up, I was a BEE-L moderator, and I spent some considerable time considering the topic and quite a bit more trying to mediate between the factions and separating conjecture and dogma from apparent fact.

Since cell measurement was central to the matter, and since some people threw numbers around, sometimes using several different measurement schemes and measurement systems in the same paragraph, I set out to create a conversion table that can be found here, and which can be used to follow the leaps back and forth between area and linear measure, English and metric, and to understand the parallelogram error that some make when trying to measure.  There is also a poll recording replies to requests for measurements from around the world.

I also made two visits to Lusbys'. (FWIW, I have the greatest respect for Dee, and sorely miss Ed)--although we disagree on many, if not most points and, with Meijers' help, also tried drawing some 4.9 plastic foundation that Dee sent us. Honestly, the effort was somewhat half-hearted, out of season, and a relative failure, but it sorta worked -- Pictures of 4.9 plastic Foundation

One point that seldom, if ever, comes up in discussion but is really critical to those who run bees for a livelihood and may be considering converting to 4.9 is that--AFAIK--Lusbys have never produced a commercial-sized crop, done pollination, or sold a significant amount of stock from their operation since the beginning of their grand experiment.

Further, although they did manage to get their numbers back up, captured swarms, which are frequent and numerous in the city of Tucson were, I understand, a significant part of the rebuilding process.  If ARS people are to be believed at all, Tucson and vicinity are highly Africanized. This also suggests strongly that there is an AHB component to this story. 

In other words, the commercial viability of their methods has yet to be proven.  I'm still waiting the hear of a North American commercial beekeeper using these methods successfully.

The Beekeepers Quarterly Feb 2008 (Excerpts)
Towards Sustainable Beekeeping Part 1
David Heaf Lleyn and Eifionydd BKA, Wales heaf@ifgene.org -

In nature, to retain nest heat, the combs are hermetically sealed to the top of a cavity, such as a hollow tree, and fixed to the walls at the side. This creates cul- de-sacs of warmed air which, because the warm air rises and has nowhere else to go, is retained in the nest. Renewal of the nest air by diffusion and active fanning by the bees occurs only at the bottom of the combs. This natural ‘air-conditioning’ is under the bee’s control. Anything that is done to undermine it is done at the expense of increased activity by the bees. Increased activity necessarily increases the consumption of sugars, the bee’s heating fuel, which it normally derives from nectar or honeydew. Whilst skeps perfectly mimicked the natural arrangement at the top of a feral colony cavity, modern beekeepers undermine nest heat retention by using frames. These leave air gaps round the sides and the tops of the comb, contrary to the natural situation. Some even winter their bees under a queen excluder with a stack of supers on top. This only works in mild climates provided the sugar supply is adequate to balance the excess heat loss.
For my being made fully aware of the implications of framed beekeeping, I am indebted to books by Johann Thür (7) and Abbé Warré (6). Thür gives a persuasive argument for observing the principle of retention of nest scent and heat (Nestduftwärmebindung) in hive design and resurrects the hive of Abbé Christ (1739- 1813) which was identical in concept to Warré’s. Later in this series of articles I will discuss a type of frame, originally designed for a Warré hive, that minimises violation of the nest heat retention principle and may offer at least an interim solution in countries where the law requires combs to be very easily removable and replaceable.

The problem with beekeeping as a business is that there are too many moving parts -- Allen Dick, 2000

Since those days, I've tired of the perpetual nonsense going on at BEE-L and left the list, but I do read it from time to time in hopes that the quality of discussion might improve, but IMO, there are more posers than educated and critical thinkers posting there these days.

Recently, I see that Dennis has returned to BEE-L and has some interesting reports. In the past, I have found his observations and comments very interesting, but, often, seemingly--at least to me--somewhat contradictory and inconsistent.  (Is it my imagination, or does he revise his history?).  His most recent web pages are less so, and provide an idea of how the question of the effects of small cell on bees' ability to resist varroa may be observed.

Nonetheless, until his efforts are replicated and confirmed, there is still some mystery associated with the matter, and--in my opinion--some questionable claims by some uncritical but committed individuals who seem more interested in speculating, taking sides, indulging in rhetoric--and cheerleading-- than in observing.

For that matter, I don't know how people who let their bees build natural comb in top bar or box hives--using no foundation--can call themselves "Small Cell Beekeepers", or how those who force their bees to build on foundation--of any size--can call themselves "Natural" or even maybe "Organic" Beekeepers.

Go figure.  It is clear--to me at least--that there is not a lot of comprehension or intellectual honesty (take your choice) here.

Recently, I have also been a bit surprised to see that some ideas, I mentioned years back, showing up again.  For one thing, people are noticing that bees do not necessarily build combs that have only one size of cell, and that any one comb may have a variety of sizes.  A broodnest certainly does.  Foundation does not.  Moreover, this difference may even turn out to have some importance.

For auld lang syne, out of curiosity, and looking back, I did a search of the BEE-L archives using "foundation" as the search key and "allen" as the author (to cover the various email addresses I've used over the years), just to see if my memory is working.  I limited the search to posts before "1 jan 2004"

Here (below) are all the posts that came up in the search, but, frankly, though, I haven't the time or patience to completely read through them all at the moment.  I leave that anyone who is interested.

Maybe I'll weed them out further, when/if I have time.  Looking them over, I think it is clear what I think.  Read, if you like.  Frankly, these days, my eyes glaze over whenever the topic comes up...

As for a summary of what I think: Try this.

Oh, and anywhere you see "www.internode.net/honeybee" below, in a URL, substitute "www.honeybeeworld.com".  Internode was my WPP at the time.

021425 98/02/28 Do Bees heat their Home?
021466 98/03/02 Re: AFB Spores
021539 98/03/05 Re: Swarm Control, Will it Work?
021577 98/03/07 Re: Swarm Control comments
021855 98/03/23 Re: Queen Discussion Group
022498 98/04/15 Re: No Extractor:???
022750 98/04/29 Re: I still find Q cells
023445 98/06/23 Pierco vs Permadent
023500 98/06/27 Re: Pierco vs Permadent
024934 98/10/18 Pierco (again), Dakota Gunness, Pollination
026075 99/01/21 Black vs. White - Pierco Frames
027172 99/04/17 Re: Emergency Queens
027249 99/04/22 Re: requeen? odd comb
027754 99/05/23 Re: Allen Dick: propolis on excluders
027792 99/05/25 Re: dipping woodware
028650 99/07/26 Re: Splits, Supercedure queens
028717 99/08/02 Re: Cut Comb Production
028828 99/08/12 Re: Queen Traits - Comb drawing
028955 99/08/21 Re: Cut comb honey
029232 99/09/08 Comparing Natural Mite Drop to Apistan Drop
029613 99/10/24 Excluder Variability
029822 99/11/18 Re: Feral Colonies
029995 99/12/13 Re: SAFB is a New and Distinct Contagious Disease
030547 00/02/06 Re: Research Funding
030806 00/02/25 Re: Winter kill
031072 00/03/25 Re: Making Foundation
031129 00/03/29 Re: cell size
031136 00/03/29 Re: cell size
031182 00/04/01 Worker Cell Measurement
031184 00/04/02 Attention - Non-North American Beekeepers
031301 00/04/11 Packages on Foundation
031425 00/04/20 Getting Personal
031705 00/05/10 Is Anyplace Safe from Varroa?
032598 00/08/13 Re: Another beginner question
032622 00/08/16 Re: Dee Lusbys research
032777 00/08/30 Re: Cell size & varroa
032775 00/08/30 Re: Beesize(was: Man created varroa problem)
032790 00/08/31 Re: Beesize(was: Man created varroa problem)
032834 00/09/01 Re: worker bee & sizecell size
032909 00/09/08 Re: American Bee Journal collector help
032949 00/09/10 Re: Bees Regression
032971 00/09/11 Angels on the Head of a Pin
033145 00/10/04 Re: Eating comb honey
033166 00/10/05 Re: comb honey question
033173 00/10/06 Re: Section Comb Honey Production
033492 00/11/18 Re: afb in foundation
033526 00/11/22 Re: Varroa board
034728 01/03/08 Re: heating honey and plastics
036225 01/07/11 Re: 4.9 foundation
036235 01/07/11 Re: 4.9 foundation
036251 01/07/12 Re: 4.9 foundation
036271 01/07/13 Re: 4.9 foundation
036270 01/07/13 Re: 4.9 foundation
036275 01/07/13 Re: 4.9 foundation
036285 01/07/14 Re: 4.9 foundation
036288 01/07/14 Re: 4.9 foundation
036290 01/07/14 Re: 4.9 foundation
036304 01/07/15 Re: 4.9 foundation
036399 01/07/19 Re: Plastic Foundation
036462 01/07/23 Re: 4.9 foundation
036795 01/08/16 10 and 9 frame spacing
037021 01/08/31 Re: testing SMR stock
037823 01/12/03 Fwd: Re: Russian Bees and Small Cells
038032 01/12/27 Re: AFB infection rates
038281 02/01/25 Re: Disease Resistance
038650 02/02/16 Re: Natural comb cell size
038715 02/02/21 04:08 135   Thelytoky in Honey Bees, Important in Up-sizing?
038732 02/02/21 09:55 109   Re: Up-sizing?
038758 02/02/22 06:38 99   Re: Up-sizing?
038907 02/02/26 08:42 41   A Great Thesis Topic for Someone.
038911 02/02/26 11:50 46   Re: A Great Thesis Topic for Someone.
039275 02/03/14 17:52 29   Re: Natural comb cell size
040139 02/06/07 09:49 80   Re: Plastic 4.9mm Foundation
040190 02/06/09 22:46 68   Re: Plastic 4.9mm Foundation - Trials
040189 02/06/09 23:20 54   Re: Plastic 4.9mm Foundation - Trials
040295 02/06/17 19:32 86   Re: capensis traits found in Arizona feral colonies
040529 02/07/13 22:11 27   Re: A grand experiment
040672 02/07/21 08:52 99   Re: Plastic 4.9mm Foundation - Trials
040742 02/07/28 11:08 32   More on Cell Size
040782 02/07/31 06:47 27   Re: More on Cell Size
040823 02/08/07 00:44 28   Re: More on Cell Size
041568 02/09/30 09:20 52   Re: Stress - "Housel Positioning"
041576 02/09/30 20:14 47   Re: Stress - "Housel Positioning"
042245 02/11/28 06:40 152   Re: Overwintering on Apistan
042690 03/01/21 16:13 49   Re: Pest transport, was Re: [BEE-L] Newsflash from Kansas City
043232 03/02/28 11:07 21   Starting on Foundation?
043342 03/03/13 13:59 73   Re: new small cell study
043364 03/03/14 12:38 88   Re: new small cell study
043434 03/03/21 09:27 76   Re: Pierco and Permacomb
043482 03/03/29 07:23 39   "Honey in the hive is not the same thing as honey in the bee".
043483 03/03/29 07:47 57   Re: Plastic foundation not drawn out
043606 03/04/07 05:35 23   Re: How much feeding to draw comb?
043971 03/04/28 07:54 56   Re: Plastic foundation
043986 03/04/29 09:47 44   Re: Hive status in Boston area
044310 03/05/21 07:43 54   Re: Varroa Resistance to Apistan
044590 03/06/10 03:36 41   Re: 9 vs. 10 frames in brood chamber [was: pitiful apiary inspectors]
045379 03/08/21 08:08 27   Re: BEE-L Wax foundation
045428 03/08/28 02:05 22   Re: Wax foundation
045531 03/09/01 05:58 34   Re: Paradigm Shift
045568 03/09/02 02:37 26   Re: Wax foundation
046861 03/11/23 21:14 29   Follower Boards?
047066 03/12/10 10:17 82   Re: Sugar Sensitivities
047222 03/12/21 09:06 77   Re: Maths and strong laying queens
047233 03/12/22 12:32 104   Singles, Doubles, No excluder?

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