First off there are some confusing terms that have to be explained:
Small cell: 4.9 mm cells mass stamped on a sheet of artificial wax placed in a hive to guide the bees as to what cell size to build.
Natural Cell: Simply put no artificial foundation is added the bees are free to construct a nest as they see fit.
Regression: The method of forcing a colony to build a smaller cell size. This word falls into two categories forced regression and natural regression that why it is confusing.
Forced Regression: This method involves using artificial wax foundation sheets imprinted with a 4.9 mm cell size they are put on every frame of the hive. This is a fast way and usually involves culling and reinstallation of sheets of foundation several times before the desired environment is reached.
Natural Regression: This method uses no artificial foundation instead the bees are allowed to build the nest however they wish it to be. Bees that were raised on artificial foundation usually build cells somewhere between what is natural 4,9 mm or smaller and 5.5 mm. The bees are allowed to continue the season the way they wish. In the spring the colony is shaken into a new hive and the old nest is harvested. The difference between the two regressions is that the bees are free to decide what cell sizes are needed and where they are located as in the wild. No artificial foundation is added
First off let’s clarify what is meant by regression. Regression is a term coined by Dee and Ed Lusby Langstroth hive users. These beekeepers use artificial foundation sized at 4.9 mm cells, this means if you measure the width of 10 brood cells (cell wall to call wall across the middle) it will be 4.9 cm divide by 10 and you come up with 4.9 mm as a single cell width. The reason for the need to “regress the colonies down to 4.9 mm foundation comes from just the opposite. In the early 1900 man decided that we could enlarge the honey bees thus enlarge the honey yield per colony. Some comb measurements were taken and the 5.5 + foundation was born.
All of the above mentioned terms and methods were in response to the Varroa Mite. Everything was going fine in the honey industry until the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mite showed up in bee hives everywhere. The honey producing industry was nearly wiped out as it was late in the game that scientists realized the damage this little parasite was causing. Pesticide companies came to the rescue marketing insecticides to be used in the hive to control the pest. Then the second catastrophe hit when beekeepers realized the pesticides were not working!!! What happened? The little pest had built up a resistance to the pesticide. The chemical companies went back to the drawing board to invent a stronger pesticide.
Meanwhile back on the Lusby Farm something was being noticed, bees that were on smaller cells were surviving with the mites somehow, but how and why? Not being scientists and not really having the means or desire to investigate further they made a foundation mill and filled their hives with what they coined “Small cell foundation” a term that will come to confuse beek all over the world. Well they had success and declared small cell foundation the silver bullet. Bee equipment distributors quickly jumped on the band wagon and marketed the product and everyone jumped on it.
The Lusby’s quickly became proponents of “Organic” beekeeping Dee Lusby can be found moderating a Yahoo organic beekeepers list where if you even mention adding anything that does not naturally occur in the beehive you are quickly reprimanded and shunned from the community, OH! Wait, artificial foundation is the exception here and this is where the camps split.
The Lusby’s wallowing in the praise of their discovery followed by hundreds of beekeepers desperate for the silver bullet cure failed to follow their wonderful discovery scientifically to the end. Well one Beekeeper did Dennis Murrell decided to finish what the Lusby’s stubbornly refused to do. Dennis discovered that small cells were an integral part of the survival of the colony. He also discovered that it was not just 4.9mm cell sizes that played important roles but a variety of cell sizes determined by the colony to fit colony needs. Allowing bees to build nests free of obstructions yielded a colony that could devote maximum resources to areas needed when needed! He also noted that the smaller cells were at the core of the brood nest and that all bees allowed to manage their own colonies cleaned that core brood nest at crucial times of the year that were conducive to colony survival.
A colony that needs a variety of cell sizes but is forced to work with or rework artificial foundation is wasting time and resources which is causing stress on the colony. Additional stressors are exactly what the colony does not need when it must deal with mites.
In conclusion we owe Dee and Ed Lusby thanks for stumbling on the smaller cell theory and Dennis Murrell who had the foresight to finish the work. The bottom line is weather you choose to force Mother Nature or work with her! It is plainly clear through my bias in writing which way I intend to go!
The Lusby’s writings in the POV section of www.beesource.com
Dennis Murrell’s web site http://bwrangler.com/index.html
My own experiences and observations