The right number of hives to keep it fun
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  1. #1
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    Default The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Started with 4 this year and ended with 5. Id love to hear from backyard beekeepers about the fun threshold and the right number of hives for them and why. My 5th colony was a swarm and its presently overwintering in 1/2 of a resource hive snuggled up to a big colony. Right now the best number seems to be 5 regular sized colonies and 2 nucs within a resource hive. Anything more would seem like work. I love the bug. I also like having a population threshold to share resources. Not even interested in honey if Im being honest about it. Have you started with larger numbers then scaled back? Or the opposite?
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    For me, about a dozen. Enough to get a good honey crop, enough to do some meaningful stock improvement or queen rearing, not too many extra boxes to store etc. Manageable with a very full time job at weekends or summer evenings.

    How many have I got? 21 this winter plus some nucs
    The Apiarist - beekeeping in Fife, Scotland

  4. #3
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    Mar 2013
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I will agree with Fatshark. 10 - 12 is a really good number. However, I got up to 22 this year and will be selling off a bunch in spring. Having 10 hives and suddenly you need to be a good neighbor and prevent swarming and suddenly you have 20 hives. That is not what happened to me but I have seen it happen. Once you get the hang of keeping them alive through winter, and your varroa management is working, the hard part is keeping the numbers down. Now that I have been able to keep everyone alive over the winter for several years and have gotten the hang of queen rearing, I may be reducing the numbers down to 7 or 8. Having to feed, inspect and treat 20 hives is just a bit much with a full time job and all the other responsibilities I have.

  5. #4
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    Ocala, Florida, USA
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Not 40!

  6. #5
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by dudelt View Post
    I will agree with Fatshark. 10 - 12 is a really good number. However, I got up to 22 this year and will be selling off a bunch in spring. Having 10 hives and suddenly you need to be a good neighbor and prevent swarming and suddenly you have 20 hives. That is not what happened to me but I have seen it happen. Once you get the hang of keeping them alive through winter, and your varroa management is working, the hard part is keeping the numbers down. Now that I have been able to keep everyone alive over the winter for several years and have gotten the hang of queen rearing, I may be reducing the numbers down to 7 or 8. Having to feed, inspect and treat 20 hives is just a bit much with a full time job and all the other responsibilities I have.
    Just the feedback I was reaching for. You can sense that there’s a line somewhere with a number on it. I’m going to endeavor to be really good at it and keep my numbers small. Glad I’m surrounded by a national forest. Swarms could be supported here.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    here in Southern Oregon we have mega tons of feral bees. Bees everywhere...
    DavidZ

  8. #7
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I have 9 hives right now and ten extra hives built. I am so glad that those ten extra hives don't have bees in them. I live in fear of having a smarmy season and not having equipment to catch or stop the swarms that my hives may decide on one of these days. If the emptys were full I would feel pressure to build more cause I don't like losing bees. I try to keep my hives from wanting to swarm cause I am not unhappy with what ten or so hives does for me and don't want to build a bunch of equipment just to sell it.

    I am retired and do not want another job but do like a hobby. I don't treat and I am not a good sells man and don't want to put in the effort to become one.

    So my ten hives lets me give a couple of gal to my kids and make about $500 a year for my small effort and is something that keeps me interested but has not turned into a job which I don't want. So I don't get so much honey that it starts piling up cause I am too lazy to sell it but do get enough to take care of the kids and make a little with just word of mouth and no pushing.

    Ten fits my competence level as a bee keeper and is still fun and not work. I can still convince myself that it is a productive thing to do with out having to work for production.
    Cheers
    gww

    Ps When I had three hives, I lived in fear that all would die and I would have to start over. It is not that ten can not all die but I feel more comfortable that with ten, I might have three live no matter what and so maybe three is the right number but ten kinda guarantees the three hopefully. I have not had many die cause I started with three and have 9 but I feel a little more comfortable.
    zone 5b

  9. #8
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    Spokane, Washington, USA
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I have 8 full colonies, and 3 nucs going into winter. Once I figured to mix syrup in (several) 5 gallon buckets with a paint mixer, life got a lot easier.

    The biggest chore was OAV treating (repeatedly) going into winter. (60-80 treatments total, 2 hives were done 12 times) I think I will address that with an EasyVap next year.

    From there, I think I could reasonably keep 15-20 total, and still enjoy it. But I am retired, if I were still employed, that would probably be more than I would like.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    So much depends on a person's reasons for keeping bees ...

    If you're 'just keeping bees' - then I'd say that 10 or so is a pretty good number - for exactly the reasons already stated: enough colonies to weather most calamities without needing to re-start from scratch, and yet a manageable number for treating/ winter feeding etc. without becoming too much of a burden.

    But I find there's a problem with such a number if you plan on doing anything more than 'just keep bees'. If you want to raise queens, for example, the more colonies the better able to make an initial breeding selection. Then there's the issue of following the daughters (plural) and grand-daughters ('plural-plural') to see if your chosen traits have persisted.

    One of my interests is comparing different types of hive, and again ten colonies really wouldn't be enough to do this (especially when queen-rearing as well) - and so the colony numbers just keep creeping upwards !

    This is such a good thread topic, for 'hive-creep' has become an ongoing problem for me too. At the end of each season as feeding for winter begins (my only significant expense) I make plans to decimate the hive numbers down to maybe just 20-30 - but just as soon as the new season starts the familiar "oh - just one or two more extra nucs" begins, and so 'hive-creep' rears it's seductive head yet once again.

    But - I've yet to find 'self-discipline' listed in any of the beekeeping supplies catalogues.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  11. #10
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I like that idiom “hive creep”; I truly don’t know how to address it though.
    Proverbs 16:24

  12. #11
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by Cloverdale View Post
    I like that idiom “hive creep”; I truly don’t know how to address it though.
    Agreed- love the term “hive creep”. I have heard of splitting then recombining in the fall to keep the numbers down. Little john is right about the limitations for the more advanced skills but I’m going to live with that and buy great queens if needed from a skilled beekeeper. Boy the queen rearing is like a sirens song. So is splitting. I want to keep my enthusiasm for this hobby.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    becoming engaged in the scientific method will help maintain and improves ones enthusiasm. there are endless questions to ask and pursue if your mind is up to it. i enjoy chasing efficiency and establishing where boundaries exists. be forewarned the deeper you become involved the more difficult it becomes to find people with similar or greater passion and the risk of burning out becomes real. it is no fun pouring, so much work into something which you do not want to share with people who may not appreciate the journey. the good news is if you hit the hobby hard you will have tools which you banked along the way which will allow you to conquer the next hobby more efficiently as well.

    for anyone who can relate with what i have said please pm me as i could use a friend.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    No one appreciates a problem more then I do. It’s served me well in my career and interests. I have many other hobbies. The most noteworthy one is my equestrian riding and husbandry. It’s a study and intuitive art just like this one. There’s only so much you can learn from a book. There’s another level of communication going on that cannot be understood by the human mind. I drove home the exact moment my swarm was going by. That was not a coincidence. I also found them because I knew I would. That had more to do with relaxing then it had to do with thinking.

    As far as burnout, I’m seeing my mentor overwhelmed with too many hives and sound as if she’s regretting the number and obligation. That’s why I started this thread. There’s the right balance here I just know it. We each need to feel for it and commit to living it.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by gww View Post
    When I had three hives, I lived in fear that all would die and I would have to start over. It is not that ten can not all die but I feel more comfortable that with ten, I might have three live no matter what and so maybe three is the right number but ten kinda guarantees the three hopefully. I have not had many die cause I started with three and have 9 but I feel a little more comfortable.
    That is exactly why I decided to have ten hives! I finally figured out how to keep them alive and suddenly every swarm in the neighborhood started coming to my yard. I caught 5 swarms this year and 4 last year. Only one of them came from my hives. Add in a few splits to prevent swarming and some mating nucs from queen rearing and that is how I ended up with 22 hives earlier this year. I thought that selling 10 nucs this year would have kept the numbers down but I guess I need to try harder next year.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Yes there is a big difference in the comfort factor with 3 compared to 6; then with 10 -12 you can get to be more like Greg. Tough love!

    I put 13 to bed one fall with very inefficient methods and found I was resenting the work. Some standardised methods could have cut that down considerably but still, I knew that was more colonies than I needed, or really wanted.

    European Foulbrood appeared next spring but I did not diagnose it as soon as I should have (too many hives maybe). I put 6 to bed that fall.

    This past spring I had 4 of them dead out, one queenless and one strong. That was definitely not happy beekeeping numbers! This fall I put 5 away for the winter. No more sign of the foulbrood.

    6 colonies and 2 or 3 nucs for insurance or sell in the spring is the plan going forward. Plans are wonderful when the play out as planned!
    Frank

  17. #16
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    dudelt
    and that is how I ended up with 22 hives earlier this year.
    My first year with three new hives and I had about 6 or 8 extra hives built and sitting there. It got warm in feb so that the bees could take advantage of the tree pollen and then cooled down. Before it got to 70 degrees again, two of my hives started swarming and then I caught two swarms in traps and I was out of equipment, gave one swarm away and was sitting on eight hives and having to spend all winter building ten more hives.

    I have been good with the swarm control the last few years but have learned what can happen. I don't mind selling splits to others to put in their equipment but build too slow to be just making stuff to sell. On the other hand, I never want to have to buy a bee and so am trying for that happy medium. I also hate trying to sell stuff though your honor stand is going to be my go to if I ever do get in a bind.

    I see where you are coming from and also how on the good years it can get away from a person. I always am worried about the bad year that I know will come some day and I don't want to buy bees but also don't want to go into the bee business.

    So far so good and so far, enjoyable. I did think that fatsharks link says it pretty good. My whole goal is to not have a hobby that keeps costing me money and I don't want to work hard enough to make a lot of money. I just want to muddle along and piddle in a fashion that I can justify in my own mind with out being critical of others who have different goals.
    Cheers
    gww

    Ps Frank, I have seen your other hobbies and can agree that you could resent the work with too many. If you found some way to keep your equipment, building back up will not be quite the burden. If you had to destroy, ouch.
    zone 5b

  18. #17
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    Default

    I typically have 6 to 8 honey hives and don’t get overwhelmed. Come springtime (split time) that number usually doubles, but I can usually get rid of those in a couple months via Craigslist!

    Ryan

  19. #18
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    It seems the consensus would be 10-ish and I concur. I learned grafting and went crazy this past spring. I'm selling many of whatever overwinters and trying to get back to 10 in spring. I may go crazy grafting again for sales, but it seemed that when I went over 10 it went from a fun hobby to an extra job.

    Even though I enjoy it a lot, I don't need another job right now.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I agree also; too much of a chore and I’m only at 20. I want to enjoy this.
    Proverbs 16:24

  21. #20
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    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by LAlldredge View Post
    Started with 4 this year and ended with 5. ......
    Started with 4 this year and ended with.......... 17 as of this writing.

    I would not feel secure enough to only be sending 5 units into the winter.
    Just my style.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

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