Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
When getting started in beekeeping, a common question is, "How many hives should I start with?"
Many people who are first starting out wonder if they can handle more than one hive. They rationalize that if beekeeping doesn't work out, then it is easier to get out of it with only one hive. So is it better to start with one hive or multiple hives?
Many beekeepers start with only one hive and certainly this is fine. However, if you only have one hive, and for whatever reason that hive isn't making it, then you don't have any hives left! With a couple of hives, you're always able to compare hives (how is this hive doing compared to this one?) and hopefully keep going, even though you might lose one along the way. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've lost a few hives due to my own negligence or mismanagement. I'm just thankful that I had other hives to do things right with after I learned from my mistakes. This is why it is better to start with multiple hives as opposed to just one.
When people ask me how many they should start with, I usually tell them, "As many as you can afford." Many people who start with one or two hives usually call back and order more the next year. For those who truly enjoy beekeeping, they are always seeking ways to add more hives to their apiary. Of course available space, budgeting and time has to be considered in adding more hives.
The average backyard hobbyist should always start with 2 hives or more. Why? With two hives, you can compare the hives to each other. If one colony loses its queen, then you can place a frame of brood with young larvae from the other hive into your queenless hive and they will raise their own. If one colony becomes weak, you can equalize the two hives by adding more bees to the weaker hive. With one hive these management practices are not possible.
If I get more than one hive, will it require more time?
How much time you dedicate to beekeeping is entirely up to you. One extreme is that you can install your package in the spring and basically do nothing more with your bees, to the other extreme of inspecting your hives every week. A good management practice is to inspect you hives every two weeks. This should only take about 10 minutes per hive. But, here's what happens for most folks just getting started in beekeeping. They love it so much, they are always in the hive. Looking at it, pulling frames out, searching for the queen and showing friends and relatives. I opened one hive 5 times in one day showing interested people the inside of a hive. It does disrupt their activities, so it is best to limit your inspections to twice a month, but some new beekeepers can't stay out of the hive because it is so much fun! And the disruption in the hive is worth the experience you gain by opening up the hive. With the more hives you have, the more you can inspect different hives and enjoy your hobby more.
With several hives, will the bees know their own hive? Will the hives fight each other?
Bees keep to themselves pretty well. Each hive has a unique smell to the bees. They will not bother other hives. As you can see by the snow picture above, I try to keep about 6-8 inches between my hives so that on windy days, they don't drift into the wrong box. Even if a few do, it is not a big deal.
Will they fight each other? No. They keep to their own business. In the fall, during a dearth of nectar, a very strong hive might try to rob a very weak hive. But through proper management this will not be an issue. Proper management means keeping hives equal and avoiding attracting bees to another hive by mishandling honey or honey supers in the weak hive. Don't work a weak hive for very long in late summer or early fall.
Photo Credit: David Burns