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How Many Beehives Should I Start With?

One of the most important challenges for beginner beekeepers is deciding how many hives should I start with? The excitement of getting started as a new beekeeper battles with the desire to be a good bee manager. If you are going to do this beekeeping thing, you want to have enough beehives to make it worthwhile. Yet, it’s no time to get in too far over your head and have a bee disaster. So, how many hives are enough?

Beginner beekeeper working 2 hives image.

How Many Hives for the New Beekeeper

A new beekeeper (and some of us older ones too) looks forward to Spring and the arrival of new bees. There are many decisions to make and things can feel a bit overwhelming.

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In fact, some of us become obsessed with the world of the honey bee. And we focus on everything and anything that has to do with bees. The more the better right?

One of the first major concerns for new beekeepers is buying bees. But before you place your bee order – you need to have an idea of how many beehives you wish to manage.

Beehives in a field how many beehives for the new beekeeper image.

How Many Hives Can 1 Person Manage?

Most new beekeepers should not begin with more than 3-4 hives. However, 1 person could manage many more beehives. I once had 26 but I dont recommend it.

The best number of hives for your apiary may be different than that of a friend. How many hives can 1 person manage and properly care for?

That number will vary greatly depending on the individual involved. Will you be doing all the work yourself? Do you still have a regular 9-5 job or are you retired? Is heavy lifting a problem? Your time and physical limitations must be considered.

Is 1 or 2 Hives Best for New Beekeepers?

There are some compelling reasons to start out with at least 2 bee hives for the new beekeeper. Over the years, I have seen many new beekeepers become discouraged and quit beekeeping when their one colony died.

Most beekeeping classes recommend that the new beekeeper begin with 2 bee hives. In my online beekeeping class , I encourage my students to begin with 2 beehives their first year.

Even with the best efforts, honey bees do not always thrive. Having more than 1 hive in the bee yard gives the beekeeper more resources to work with when a colony is having difficulty.

Frame of bee brood and even nurse bees themselves can be shared between hives that are very strong and those struggling to grow.

Beginner beekeeping class participants inspect a few hives image.

Can I Start Beekeeping with Only 1 Hive of Bees?

Yes, of course you can start beekeeping with only 1 hive. I have know several beekeepers that began with only one hive.

However, some of them faced struggles that might have been easier with a second hive in the apiary. That does not mean it is impossible to be happy with one hive.

Most of those who begin with a single purchase an additional hive or 2 the next season.

Having Multiple Hives Allows for Better Comparison

If a beekeeper has only 1 hive, how can you evaluate its progress? You have no other bee hives in the bee yard for comparison.

Is the hive growing as it should? Are the bees in your one hive building comb   at a normal rate? Having 2 bee hives gives you a chance to compare.

No matter how many colonies you have, there will always be some individual differences. However, if one hive is going “gangbusters” and the one sitting next to it is not, we must wonder why.

This is the time to perform a hive inspection and see if the queen bee is present and laying. Also to assess the bee brood pattern to look for signs of disease etc.

Making notes of your bee hives’ progress is important.  These notes from your beekeeping journal or notebook offer important learning opportunities from year to year.

Sharing Resources Between Hives

Why would a colony need resources from another? Even a good bee hive can have problems. Perhaps the bee colony swarms and is unable to re-queen itself. Or, the beekeeper may kill a queen during a hive inspection.

If both colonies are strong and healthy, you can remove a frame of eggs from one colony and give it to the hive in need. This allows the hive to make a new queen.

Beekeeper inspecting frame of bees from beehive image.
Brood sharing is possible when you have more than 1 colony.

How many hives do you need to allow sharing of resources? At least 2 hives are needed. If you have 3 hives, that will give you even greater freedom to build up weaker hives.

Now some beekeepers would say that you should let weak colonies die. Sometimes, that may be true. However, I feel that not all weak hives are bad colonies.

A honey bee colony can have bad luck just like the rest of us. Adding some bee brood (young bees) to a struggling colony may be the boost that it needs.

Multiple Hives Increases Your Chance of Success

It doesn’t take a new beekeeper long to learn that beekeeping is not easy. Many experienced beekeepers lose colonies every year.

The first year of beekeeping is an exciting and frustrating time. If you have only 1 colony and it dies, you have zero bees.

That can be especially hard to take after all of your expense and effort. With another hive in place, you are not starting from scratch next season.

Your Beekeeping Budget

Beekeeping is not an inexpensive hobby. You will need to buy bees. The honey bee colonies require some basic equipment and hive components to start.

New beekeepers need protective clothing and other tools. Purchasing bees, equipment and protective wear can easily run into several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

When you are considering what is really needed, perhaps you should consider buying only the needed equipment and tools and invest a bit more money in that second hive.

As long as you have a bee smoker, hive tool and protective wear – do you really need every one of those little beekeeping gadgets that are on the market this year? Instead that money may be better invested in having a second hive of bees for your first season?

Yet, it’s no time to go “hog wild”. Your investment is better protected if you keep your hive numbers to a manageable number. Having too many hives to take care of is a recipe for disaster.

Several beehives in a yard near a home image.

How Many Beehives Are Too Many?

We must also consider the other end of the spectrum. Some new beekeepers start out being overly optimistic. With no beekeeping experience, they want to set up large bee yards with many hives.

This is a really sad situation for the new beekeeper and the bees. It is unfair and irresponsible to have more beehives than you can manage.

It is much better to begin with a couple of hive this first year. If things go well, 3-4 strong hives can be split into more next Spring.

Trying to manage more than 4 hives without the help of a hands-on mentor is risky. It is much better to spend a year learning and enjoying your honey bee colonies. After successfully over-wintering a colony or two, you will be ready to grow your apiary.

Does Multiple Hives Cause Bee Fighting in the Apiary?

No, having multiple hives in the bee yard is not likely to cause a lot of problems among the colonies. Though you must be more watchful for honey bee robbing as your hive numbers grow.

Practice good beekeeping management by avoiding spilling sugar water in the bee yard. Don’t throw down chunks of burr comb or other hive debris.

If you feed a colony, feed everyone. It is only during times of a nectar shortage that the beekeeper really needs to be concerned about honey bee robbing behavior.

How Close Together Can You Place Your Beehives?

As modern beekeepers, we are keeping hives much closer together than you would find in nature.

However, hives can proper when placed very close together as long as the beekeeper is consistent with keeping the bee yard clean as mentioned above.

I like to see 2 feet of clearance space on each side of a hive whenever possible. This reduces the episodes of “drifting” when foragers return to a different hive.

But the biggest advantage of this spacing is giving the beekeeper room to work on all sides of the hive when needed.

How Much Time Does Having More Hives Require?

The needs and desires of each beekeeper will differ. When deciding how many hives to have in your apiary, consider your budget and the time required to maintain your bees.

How long it take you to inspect 2 hives versus 1 hive depends in part on your technique.

If you like to look at every bee on every frame, it will take you twice as long. If you are only doing a quick check for problems, the addition of a second hive does not result in a lot more time.

Final Thoughts on How Many Beehives You Should Start With

A couple of colonies help support each other and allow for twice the learning experience. If you only have the money and time for 1 bee hive, go for it.  But try to befriend some local beekeepers in your area so you will have some resources to draw on if you need help. Proper management is the key to success no matter how many hives you have.

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