The right number of hives to keep it fun - Page 2
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  1. #21
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
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    Dane County, WI, USA
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    3,259

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by crofter View Post
    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!!
    10-20 range is a good target range for the season end (for busy, working people).
    Below it becomes too risky.
    Above it becomes too laborious.

    10-20 range enables you to take calculated risks, try new things, butcher few bees while trying new things ..... and still sleep mostly well at night.
    It also enables to run the Mel D's, chemical-free management model (which I largely do).
    And still make enough bee products overall, while running smallish units.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

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  3. #22
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Location
    Covington County, Alabama, USA
    Posts
    1,541

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    12 would be my minimum. Have 20 now. Sold 16 this year. I picked up a new customer this year that runs through about 150 pounds of honey a month (retail store.) So I have to go up to about 40 to keep them supplied. Will try it for a year and see. I have a full time job. I like getting up early and working hard all day on Saturday and Sunday in the bee yards. But I might cross the fun/no fun threshold at 40. We will see.

  4. #23
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    Location
    Dane County, WI, USA
    Posts
    3,259

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by psm1212 View Post
    I have a full time job. I like getting up early and working hard all day on Saturday and Sunday in the bee yards. .
    If I do this, my wife will be wondering why she needs me anymore...
    Already pushing it.
    So....
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  5. #24
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    Lake Forest Park, WA
    Posts
    601

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Since I bought two packages in spring 2015, I have kept just two hives and sometimes one nuc as a spare. Inspection and mite treatment are no big deal with just a few hives. They produce sufficient honey for friends and families, but not so much that I would want to buy an expensive extractor (I use a hand-cranked two frame extractor). There are plenty of flowers nearby without much competition, so I do not have to feed my bees, except when I harvested lots of honey in fall.

    As others pointed out, keeping just a few has its risks. Once I lost a hive in winter and had to buy a package. Three times I failed to raise a good queen and had to buy one from elsewhere. Ideally, I would want to over-winter two <1 yr queens in two full-sized hives and one >1 yr old queen in a nuc, but that usually does not happen.
    Zone 8, elevation 70 ft, near the north end of Lake Washington

  6. #25
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Clackamas Oregon
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    1,352

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    What has not been mentioned is the amount of locations. For a while my hive count did not change but I had some in people’s fields or in their orchards. 15 hives in 3 places takes more time than 15 in two. I also had some ‘creep’ and was up over 20, spread out in 3 or 4 locations and it was all I did to manage them in summer and then with honey. Last year I dropped to 10 and had kept a couple at a friends place a few miles away and it made it fun again.
    Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up Alfred Pennyworth Batman Begins (2005)

  7. #26
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Park County, Montana, USA
    Posts
    464

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Hive creep, hahaha...
    I like 5 production and one side by side for support but I'm up to 8, number 8 is an experiment to try overwintering a monster queen in a single brood box.
    5 Production colonies, 1 side by side 5 frame nuc for support- 7 working queens is all I want.

  8. #27
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
    Posts
    53,886

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    When I was doing it just for fun I ran between 1 and 7. Some years it might have strayed a bit over 7 with nucs, but I tried not to have more than 7 actual full size hives. If you do the math on sustainability, five is a point where you have a good chance of having bees surviving every winter. Five with a few nucs (two or three) is a good goal. This gives you some spare parts to work with.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  9. #28
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Location
    Sisters, Oregon
    Posts
    138

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Thanks Michael. That’s just the validation I was hoping for. It’s not the end of the world if I have to buy bees but I’d rather not. Also not getting too committed to a particular queen. The colony ultimately decides what’s best and that’s good enough for me. These bees are super clean of mites and well fed. May add a pollen super below for next years winter config. So it would be super, hive body, super.
    I'm smart but at the end of the day I'm still the help.

  10. #29
    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Location
    Salt Lake City, UT
    Posts
    1,136

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    My grandfather was a commercial beekeeper and I learned under his tutorship what it took to do this as a profession, so I became and engineer and this is strictly a hobby, I intentionally work at it to keep it small scale. I try to stay between six and ten, right now at eight. Five doesn't quite cut it to be sustainable, six seems to be the sustainability point. But crossing the sustainability threshold is also a point where you'll automatically start growing. And growing. Ten is past my self imposed limit. My solution to that is to sell nucs.
    Zone 6B

  11. #30
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    New Paltz, New York, USA
    Posts
    78

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I would say 1 colony is not enough because you need another to compare against. But if you want 2 colonies, you really need 3 in case one fails. But then you can't maintain an exact number, so a lot of the time you'll have 4.

    More than that, for me, is too many.

    I have 6 colonies now, overwintering in double deeps. They produced way more honey than I know what to do with. And I think with half as many colonies going into winter I'd still have an excellent chance of having bees in spring. If they all overwinter (again) and need to be split to prevent swarming (again) I'll have to turn to craigslist to get rid of them.

    In theory, an advantage of having more colonies would be that it starts to make sense to raise your own queens and go fully sustainable. What fun! And thrifty too. But when my bees have raised their own queens, the hives have ended up a lot hotter than when I've just bought queens. So screw that. I don't like the local genetics anyway.

    (By local, I just mean the mile or so radius where my virgins mate. I've purchased "local" queens that were great.)

  12. #31
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Cherokee, IA
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I'm a fairly passive beekeeper. I just want to get some honey to use each year and enjoy beekeeping without it being a job. So for me the number is 4-6 hives. This is a manageable number of hives, keeps you with enough honey even if you have trouble in one or two of them, allows for splits, but isn't so much that it becomes a job.

  13. #32
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Hot Springs, AR, USA
    Posts
    39

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    I have 5 hives in 3 different set-ups plus 2-3 nucs going, I don't think I work as hard as I did when I first started with 1 or 2. If I wind up with swarms or too many nucs, I just give (or sell) them to people starting out or have the need. Bees are easy to get rid of.

  14. #33
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Location
    Wildwood, FL
    Posts
    24

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    This is a very informative thread. I started in February 2019 with 1 hive and now have 5. My goal has always been 10. I hope to get there next year.

    Steve

  15. #34
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Chattanooga, Tennessee
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    38

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    It may depend on where you are in life. I started with 4 and ended up with 18. Back down to 9 going into winter. I will probably scale back due to my kids being so busy. Was wanting to do some queen rearing via grafting but don’t know if I want to now. I love playing with the bees probably more than having honey. But when I harvest honey I get a renewed zest for life!

  16. #35
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Location
    Brooklyn, NY
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    13

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    Like everything, I think it depends on time, money and location. For urban keepers 10 is insane to me. Just storing equipment would be a challenge. Idk how you all do it but it is a LOT of work for me to manage my hives. I'm still new at this but I also like to know what is going on and maybe that will fade but even in just 2 years I feel like I've done so many things with splits, combines, nucs, swarms etc. Maybe it will get easier but IDK these guys are not chickens (which seem like the work doesn't change much). Plus if you work FT and have a family (and are a mother...just saying) it's hard to juggle bc busy times for bees are usually busy times for humans in my world (spring/early summer and fall). Ideally, 4 sounds like a good # to go into winter as a hobbyist (e.g. this is not a PT or FT gig) bc if you had 50% die you'd still be left with your base 2. But also if you have more space, time and money go with what feels right for you. It is not a cheap thing. Initial investments for equipment have cost me prob $700 at least. I guess if you have 10 you're buying bulk but you don't know that til you've bought smaller lots tbh. Time wise I was maxed out w work and bees going swarmy at the same time and school ending for my kid so for me. And I have about 400 sq ft of usuable roof space. So I don't think there is a hard rule really. I think you have to take those 3 things and work your own equation. But maybe there is a time efficiency at 10 (or each hive isn't as precious bc you're not trying to save them all)... Just my noob opinion.

  17. #36
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
    Location
    Pleasanton, CA, USA
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    30

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    I live in California - SF suburb so backyard space is limited. I like to keep 3-6 hives in my backyard; anything over 8 has to go. Usually I overwinter 4 (this year it’s 3 hives and 2 nucs). I don’t need to feed except maybe after splitting if I didn’t put in enough honey frames. I don’t use chemicals to treat my bees so I split often to control mites; my last brood break split was on Oct. 1st - and both those hives is doing fine (yes the Queen mated in late Oct.) Bees fly here all 12 months. Mid-Nov and forecast is 70’s and 80’s (77 today and it’s Nov 6th). Last year only 2 of 4 hive survived, from those two I ended up with over 16 hives from splits - definitely guilty of hive-creep. Gave away most of my bee splits.

  18. #37
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Gore, VA, USA
    Posts
    1

    Default

    Ive passed the easy to keep up point with 35 current hives. With this many, I find there are times I must work hives whether I truly want to or not or else I can quickly get behind. Ill likely sell down in spring to get back to 20 or so next summer.. for me that is about ideal in terms of effort vs reward. I could have sold down this season but decided to just carry them on through winter in order to pick my breeding stock from a larger pool come next spring

  19. #38
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
    Location
    Albany NY
    Posts
    99

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    It depends!! &#x1f642;
    Many good posts. I find mentoring, teaching, and helping the local club to be difficult as the busy times are when everyone needs you. Why You keep bees makes all the difference. My preference is to sell surplus bees rather than honey. I use management rather than chems to deal with mites. I split and raise queens for overwintering from swarm season until 4 - 5 brood cycles before frost. We have a spring flow with swarm season and a fall flow starting with golden rod with 4-6 weeks of no nectar flow in between. I aim to harvest honey beginning of July and use all the extra equipment in a last round of splits for queen rearing. Honey pulled late means I have drawn comb to put on small colonies/splits. I have been selling "spring nucs" which are splits I make early with a bought (tf) queen (as I don't start rearing queens until too late to sell nucs) made 4-7 weeks before sale (so all brood and sometimes most bees are from new queen). I am in upstate NY. I do need to feed or add honey to the smallest late splits shortly after the fall flow starts to get them ready for winter. I have carniolan crosses.
    I have found that I can sell as many spring nucs as colonies I overwinter, I can tripple that number of colonies. In a good honey year I can harvest about 30# per overwintered colony. This does not seem ambitious to me and I have not had a bad year. I have also never had Afb or efb. (I do get inspected every year so I can sell bees.)
    So if 7-21 is your range you need equipment for 21 winter set ups. You could sell 7 nucs, harvest 210# honey, and go into winter with 21. Assuming you have reasonably good survival you will need to sell more next year to avoid hive creep. And you can afford to take more risk. This sounds like fun to me.
    We run more colonies but with this amount during peak times (early spring assessments and splits, swarm season, honey harvest, fall assessments and feeding) I would need to spend about half a day/ week in the bees. For other times (winter, summer dearth) I can spend as much or little time as I have, prepping equipment, moving honey....).
    I find when I have high losses or more time in the spring I do the work more slowly and enjoy it more. When I have no losses or time I work quickly, make more assumptions based on what I'm seeing, and enjoy the increddible productivity of these creatures.
    I hope this helps someone!
    Happy beekeeping everyone!

  20. #39
    Join Date
    May 2017
    Location
    Spokane, Washington, USA
    Posts
    239

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    As far as time spent - I spent far more time keeping my 2 hives the first year than I did this year with 10ish.

    Until the mite treatments this fall, that is ...

  21. #40
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Location
    Raymond, Washington
    Posts
    1

    Default Re: The right number of hives to keep it fun

    Quote Originally Posted by bushpilot View Post
    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.
    I am on my 9th OAV and still have 200 mites in 2 hives out of 9. I broke down and bought a provac and it really saves time. As to number of hives, I could handle a few more-maybe 15 hives and 2-3 nucs just in case.

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