DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, has asked me to work up a project for their members to undertake this year. We are too few in number and too concentrated geographically to do it all by ourselves. I have posted the project on the Irish beekeeping discussion list and people from Wales and from east and south east England are interested in taking part. Here are my thoughts about the project, which aren’t set in stone and I am open to suggestions for improving the protocol before we fire the starting gun. The project must be simple, affordable and repeatable or it won’t happen.
BACKGROUND In my Top Bar Hive I measured the cell sizes and noticed that, not only is there a range of worker cell size, but that the size is greater towards the front of the hive (entrance at one end) and at the rear than in the middle. When plotted on a graph and the zig zag line smoothed, it forms an inverted shallow bell curve. The last time I measured the imprint on foundation, the cell size was 5.7mm (although I think it does vary between manufacturers) and this size was right at the upper end of the range of natural sizes. The cell size also differed across each comb, also being smaller in the middle.
What I have made is simply an observation. In order to expand this into something from which conclusions may be drawn, it needs to be replicated across a wide range of locations and bees to see whether this is something local and particular to my one situation and hive or whether it is general. I don’t expect any DARG members to set up top bar hives for this purpose and so have outlined a project below, using the SMEACQ system with which I expect you are familiar or can google.
SITUATION: DARG needs to DO something – simple.
MISSION: Investigate the sizes of naturally drawn worker cells and draw conclusions.
EXECUTION: Each participant, on at least one hive, preferably more, inserts into the centre of the brood nest in (say) May an old comb taken from the edge of the brood box, from which the centre bred-in part has been removed, leaving just a ‘footprint’ of < an inch (maybe a bit more in the corners) all round to keep the wax drawers on the straight and narrow. Leave it for a brood cycle or two. Remove it, and the foundation-based comb next to it, and measure and record the worker cell sizes top right, centre, bottom left on both sides of both combs. Put the combs back in the hive.
ADMIN: Send to information to the collator/co-ordinator together with a note of the latitude and altitude of the hive and strain of bee (local or introduced).
COMMAND AND LOGISTICS:Chairman/Secretary sends a reminder to members at the appropriate time(s). Collator/collector posts results on the web site as they come in for all to see and comment on the blog. At a spring meeting we can refine/develop the plan and appoint organisers and arrange access to the web site for posting the data and using the blog. Full discussion/analysis can take place at an Autumn meeting.
QUESTIONS: What conclusions can be drawn? Should the project be repeated/extended? Should the results be publicised? How? What next?
If any of you reading this want to play with us, then contact me.