Number of Hives for the New Beekeeper
There are so many things to consider when contemplating beekeeping for beginners. One of the most important is deciding how many hives the new beekeeper needs. This is an important consideration.
A new beekeeper (and some of us older ones too) looks forward to Spring and the arrival of new bees.
What Do The Experts Say?
Most beekeeping classes recommend that the new beekeeper begin with 2 hives. I encourage students in my online beekeeping class to buy 2 hives for their first year.
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
Immerse Yourself In the World of the Honey Bee
Advantages to Starting With More than 1 Beehive
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 same area for comparison.
Is the hive growing as it should? Is the rate of comb building normal?
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 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.
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 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.
Having More Than 1 Bee Hive 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.
How Many Hives Can You Afford to Buy?
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.
How Many Hives 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 4 bee hives as a maximum for the first year. 4 strong hives can be divided into more in the 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 ask yourself, how many hives do you have time for? Time requirements go beyond setting up hives and installing bees.
Beehive do require some maintenance.
If you overwhelm yourself, it become 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.