"Regression" the Natural Way
Gary J Piantanida
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 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, when left on their
own, 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
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 + foundations were 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
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!
Some Works Cited
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, observations and research
"If you think your a Beemaster it's time to quit playing board games"