Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that is enjoyed by many people. But, it requires some effort to keep the hives healthy and productive. As you plan your apiary you have a few important things to think about. These include: how many beehives one person manage (assuming you are working alone), how many hives you can have in one location and how to know when you simply have too many hives. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions vary from one location to another and even one beekeeper to another.
The actual footprint of a beehive does not require much space. However, the bees inside the hive must have room to forage for food. And, if you hope to reap all the benefits of beekeeping – you need healthy colonies and that requires work.
How Many Beehives Can One Person Manage?
We are all different and have different amounts of available free time. On average, we often hear a recommendation of 2 beehives for a beginner to start with. Then a small apiary often reaches numbers betwee 5 and 10.
In deciding how many beehives one person can manage, we must think about the experience level of the beekeeper and available resources and time.
Good management of beehives is quite different from other types of livestock farming. Yes, if you have a bees, you are caring for livestock.
Our livestock or bees are able to travel several miles in search of food. But, they are also subjecting themselves to dangers beyond our control. This means we have to perform periodic inspections to look for problems inside the hive.
If you are unable to “tend” to your bees in a reasonable manner, most hives will die within a year or two.
Factors Affecting Ideal Beehive Numbers
Because of the many variables involved, only you can determine how many hives is the right number for your ideal bee apiary. You may have to experiment a bit and gain some experience before you find your beekeeping comfort zone.
- time you have available
- physical abilities
- cost to get and maintain beehives
- needed space
Time Available for Hive Management
Bees do not keep themselves. You may think that they sure do- what about the wild bees. That’s true but many of those colonies fail each year. Hives maintained in a bee yard set up by a beekeeper require some oversight.
How much free time do you need to keep bees? A common figure given is that you should expect to spend 20-40 hours per season on management per hive.
But, these figures are difficult to apply in actual work. Common sense says that 10 hives require more time to work than 2.
Do you have an extra hour to spend in the bee yard once a week (or every 2 weeks) during the busy season? Beekeeping is not a daily chore but there will be time when your bees need you.
If your apiary is too large, it is also more difficult to handle special situations such as protecting the hives during mosquito spraying.
Take it easy in that first year or two until you have a better understanding of colony needs. Most beginners should start out with 1-2 hives that first year.
Instead, you need to consider the time and resources you have to work with when deciding how many hives your apiary will hold.
While beekeeping does involve some heavy lifting, there are ways to work around most of those issues. Still, the more hives you have the more lifting you may need to do.
It is also unfortunate (at least for us Southern beekeepers) that many hive inspections need to occur during the hottest days of the year.
Can you take the heat? We can employ some techniques to help keep our beehives cooler – but the beekeeper can overheat too.
My days of managing 25 hives in the July heat are over. It is much easier and quicker to inspect 3 or 4. If you are lucky enough to have a helper, the number of hives you can physically tend is much greater.
The cost of beekeeping supplies is a real issue. There are ways to save money but expect your colonies to have some ongoing expenses. In some situations, you will need to buy sugar to feed your hives.
Most beekeepers will be faced with the need to purchase supplies to control varroa mite infestation.
Prices for these vary greatly but the greater number of hives you have – the more money you may need.
How Many Beehives Per Acre?
When planning a bee yard, space is a major concern. It does not require much space to set down a hive – or even four. But, the physical space where the hive sits is only one factor.
How many beehives per acre? Well, it depends on where that acre is located. In the middle of hundreds of acres of sweet clover in bloom – the area would support a lot of hives.
But what happens when the clover bloom stops or a nectar dearth occurs. The bottom line is that the more hives you have in one spot – the higher your chances of having to feed them more often.
When the goal of having bees is only for pollination, migratory beekeepers temporarily place many boxes in one area. But, this is just for a short term – as determined by the needs of the crop.
For small scale beekeepers the recommended beehive density is 2-3 hives per acre – when using bees for pollination. This is to ensure good pollination of all crop plants.
The area surrounding your bee yard has a certain level of available pollen and nectar. The more hives in one spot, the more competition for the workers collecting resources needed by the colony.
The majority of hobby beekeepers in my region can keep up to 10 hives in one area before they start to feel the affects.
Some Averages Around the United States
Looking at the opinions below you can understand why it is so hard to give “hard and fast” numbers. The best number of hives in one spot depends on too many factors.
Risks of Over-Stocking
If your hive numbers get out of hand you may experience a myriad of problems.
- Increased feeding
- Violation of local regulations
- Complaints from neighbors
- Unable to give bees health treatments due to time or money
- Weaker hives with sick bees
Some beekeepers live in areas where they are only allowed to have a maximum number of beehives in their backyard.
If your local regulations call for no more than 2 colonies and you have 10, this could lead to legal trouble.
So what is the perfect number beehives to keep on your property? That number is different for each beekeeper.
Assuming you are not in a city environment – it is mostly calculated using your allotment of time and money to care for the bees.
Swarming Contributes to Apiary Growth
The population of a honey bee colony is cyclic. It ebbs and flows with the season. Going from a smaller population in later Winter to a raging hive of 50,000 or more during the height of Summer.
How do bees control this crowding situation? They often cast a swarm. Honey bee swarming is natural reproduction on the colony level. This is how bees spread colonies across an area.
While beekeepers often attempt to prevent beehive swarming, it is a true fight against nature. In spite of our best efforts, the colony often does swarm.
And being beekeepers, we have to try to catch it right? Not every swarm is retrieved but many are and it can be quite entertaining to harvest a swarm from a tree.
Beekeepers also put out swarm traps or bait hives to catch wayward swarms. Yay, we have another hive of bees.
However, a common problem is due to swarming and colony growth, before you know it you have 10 or 12! We good naturedly joke about this phenomenon of having too many hives – but the struggle is real.
All of this is very exciting and wonderful until you look out there and think – hmmm do I have too many hives in my backyard? Don’t let your hive numbers get out of control to the point that you can not keep them healthy.
Let the swarm go (very difficult for beekeepers – I know) or call another beekeeper to collect it. If you have a full-time job, a couple of hives in the backyard may be all that you need.
This is impossible to truly answer due to the variables. A region with season long rich nectar sources could provide food for hundreds of hives. The defining factor is the resources near the bee yard not the space itself.
For migratory beekeepers involved in agricultural pollination, some crops do need a certain number of hives to achieve good results. This is not a big factor for backyard beekeepers.
The amount of good forage within flying distance is the main factor in deciding how many hives you can have in one apiary. Areas with large amounts of nectar producing plants – that bloom all season long can support the most hives.
In most beekeeping classes (for sure in my class), we encourage beginner beekeepers to start with 2 hives. This is the top number suggested for most small backyards unless you have a larger than average space.
On average in the US, 1-4 hives in one location is the common number for hobby beekeepers. The hives needs a bit over 2.5 square feet for space to sit and a bit of room to work around them (5-6 feet optimal).
A Final Word
At times, most beekeepers do end up with too many colonies for their space, time or budget. In this case, it is best to sell the extras or combine the smaller healthy hives together.
Don’t overload yourself and have this wonderful experience become a dreaded chore. Having too many beehives in one location does make more work for the beekeeper.
In the world of apiculture, our major goal should always be to be a good keeper of the bees. And the best one is not usually the beekeeper who has the most hives. If you have too many beehives your will not be a happy beekeeper – and neither will your bees.