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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I began my 13th year of beekeeping in April 2018. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Small Cell Foundation Starter Strips

My plan is to encourage my bees to build small cells for their brood so instead of using regular foundation in the brood chamber of the two new hives, I am using small cell foundation that I ordered from Dadant. And instead of installing full sheets of small cell in the frames, I am using starter strips. Michael Bush suggested that I cut the foundation into 3/4 inch strips.

Step 1: Melt the wax to pour into the grooves in the frame to hold the starter strips. I bought a crummy double boiler at a junk store in the mountains to use for melting wax. These are cappings left over from last year. As the double boiler heated up, the whole kitchen began to smell like that wonderful honey/bee/wax smell that you can smell by the hives in the hot summer.

Step 2: While the wax was melting I went to my sewing room to cut the foundation into starter strips. My quilting equipment came in handy. I used a rotary cutter blade that I use to cut paper and my quilting ruler and the green cutting board and quite easily and quickly cut the SC foundation into 3/4 inch strips.

Step 3: Fill the groove in the frame with melted wax to hold the starter strip in place. My wax fastener from Dadant hasn't arrived yet so I was up the creek without a paddle (or in this case, a wax tube fastener) and had no way to pour the wax accurately into the frames. On Beemaster, recommendations included using a straw, a bent spoon, a meat injector for grilling. I didn't have a straw, couldn't bend an old spoon without a vise, and didn't have a meat injector - just a turkey baster and it was too big. Then I noticed a small bread pan on my kitchen counter - PERFECT! I dipped it into the double boiler of melted wax and got about a tablespoon. Then I poured the wax gently into the groove and set the starter strips in place.

Step 4: Leave the starter strips to cool in the frames until ready to install in the hives. I actually have a break tomorrow for about 1 1/2 hours in the middle of the day - just enough time to hurry home, put on my bee stuff, and install the nucs into the hives. I can finish making starter strips for the medium box and to put in Bermuda on another day after my wax fastener comes.

Note: The question was asked in a comment - why starter strips? I am trying to get my bees to make natural cells rather than what we request that they make by supplying a preprinted foundation. Bees on commercial foundation build cells that are 5.9 mm. Some beekeepers think that bees naturally build smaller cells - more like 4.9 mm. Dadant now carries small cell wax foundation.

A bee maturing in a small cell matures faster than a larger bee. This supposedly gives the Varroa mite less time in the cell with the bee so the mite cannot mature. Thus less Varroa in the hive.

I am using strips rather than full sheets of foundation because of Michael Bush's approach. The question of is it more work for the bees is answered by Michael in this way:


Doesn't it take longer for them to draw their own combs?
I have not found this to be true. In my observation (and others who have tried it), they seem to draw plastic with the most hesitation, wax with a little less hesitation and their own comb with the most enthusiasm. In my observation, and some others including Jay Smith, the queen also prefers to lay in it."

Some of the beekeepers I most respect are proponents of this, so I am following their lead. Michael Bush (my beekeeping hero) has lots of information on his site about natural cell size.
He typically uses foundationless frames.

A major proponent of small cell is Dee Lusby. She and her late husband Ed have done considerable work in this area.

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  1. What's the purpose really not to place a pretty new ready foundation but only starters?
    Don't you afraid that they'll build many drone cells?
    A nuc needs help not additional work.

  2. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for showing this--I will be doing it soon, though I have the Dadant wax tube fastener. I am a little concerned that my starter strips are large cell, but Michael Bush said he doesn't think it will matter because bees build the top part of the comb a little bigger even with natural cell.

  3. Most of the established SC beekeepers say that using the starter strips allows the bees to draw what they need....so they will draw larger cells when they want to raise drones or store honey and they will build smaller cells to raise brood. Michael Bush says that the hive will raise a certain number of drones regardless of what the beekeeper does, so I'm not worried that they will build drone cells unless they need to.

  4. Hi Linda

    I'll be using 35 mm wide top bars.....i'll saw the bars in half lengthways and screw them tight with starter strips between


    Tom Canada, 12F, Dec 6, '08

  5. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Hello, First time to your site here and I would like to say that small cell is not only a necessary part of beekeeping, but extremely important. Varroa treatments are like chemotherapy in humans. Give your bees a break and use small cell starter strips or whole sheets, your bees will be more productive!!!

  6. Anonymous8:11 PM

    If I start a hive with a 5-frame nuc that has standard size cells, can I go ahead and just start the hive off by filling in with small cell foundation in the other 5 frames?

  7. You can use small cell foundation in the other five frames but the bees won't build small cells - they'll build something that is between the 5.9 standard foundation and the small cell. Over time, if you give them foundationless frames they will build smaller cells.

  8. Hello Dadant Beekeepers,
    Wy you dont try out the Warré hive,only top bars,no starter strips needed,.
    Advantage : no foreign wax with unknown substances,no wax return,les stress for the bees and the beekeeper,no chemicals,AFB spores etc.
    Let the bees bees again like in nature.
    Normandy greetings
    from the Warrè Country
    Jan Michael


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