How Many Hives for the New Beekeeper
There are so many things to consider when contemplating beekeeping for beginners. The excitement of getting started battles with the desire to be a good bee manager. One of the most important challenges is deciding how many hives should I start with?
A new beekeeper (and some of us older ones too) looks forward to Spring and the arrival of new bees.
There are some many decisions to make that the whole process can be overwhelming.
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.
How Many Hives Can 1 Person Manage?
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?
Honey bee hives require an investment of time. You don’t have to inspect hives every day.
However, routine inspections are necessary to maintain healthy, productive beehives.
2 Hive for New Beekeepers
Most beekeeping classes recommend that the new beekeeper begin with 2 hives.
This number of hives is easily managed and should not be too much for the first year beekeeper.
In my online beekeeping class , I encourage my students to begin with 2 beehives their first year.
But not more than 3 unless you have a strong helper and plenty of time to spare.
Can you start beekeeping with only 1 hive? Yes, of course you can. But there are some compelling reasons to start out with 2 bee hives
Why Start With More than 1 Hive
Hive Comparisons Allow For Learning
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 hives a beekeeper has, there will be some individual differences.
But if one hive is going “gangbusters” and the one sitting next to it is not, we must wonder why.
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.
Multiple Bee Hives Can Share Resources
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.
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 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.
What is 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.
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.
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.
How many hives are too many? I would not recommend more than 3-4 bee hives as a maximum for the 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.
If you are concerned about forage for your bees, consider practicing some bee friendly gardening, it is easy to add a few plants that bees love to your landscape.
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.
Beehives do require some maintenance. If you overwhelm yourself, it becomes no fun in a hurry.
A couple of colonies help support each other and allow for twice the learning experience.
Too many beehives in inexperienced hands can spell disaster. This is bad for the bees and the new beekeeper.
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.
The practice of keeping bees has a lot to offer for those willing to invest the time in learning how to manage them.