2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?
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  1. #1
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    Default 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    So the rule of thumb that I see offered so many times is "start with at least 2 hives" And, only when pressed for why do you get, well you can compare and help one with the other and this and that.

    So in practice, what is the best number to start with, and how many would be best to go into winter with? I figure now, that one can't survive without at least some procreation. Whether making and mating queens, or walk-away, fly-back or other kinds of splits etc?

    I don't presume the know the numbers, but instead of using ABC etc, let's just say the right number were three. Split each one to a nuc, and build them up to go into winter with a full size hive and a nuc with the hopes of coming out with at least 2 of your hives and 1 of your nucs. Something like that but with real numbers.

    I have been reading through some "beekeeping calendars." At a bunch of points, there is a call to combine weak or failing hives. From that I am assuming that there are many situations that can cause this, so there must be an assumption of less optimistic beekeeping operations.

    So that said, there should be a least number of hives that can be maintained. In theory if you make it to spring with more, you can craigs list them off, and if, fewer, then you should have enough to get back to such a point?

    Perhaps this is a stupid question. But, unfortunately, it is one I am going to have to answer in order to move forward, and keep marital bliss along with bees.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by Absinthe View Post
    So the rule of thumb that I see offered so many times is "start with at least 2 hives" And, only when pressed for why do you get, well you can compare and help one with the other and this and that.
    And what have you.

    Seriously, though, I think a newbee should start with 3 if they can. Build them up into dbl deeps before Winter. Spend the Winter reading about bees while sitting near your wife. Maybe you can show her how interesting bees are. Forget about splits and all the other things you mention. If you are successful in bringing them through Winter, then you should have some drawn comb to help with your splitting and this or that or what have you.
    How you approach this depends on your end game.

    Good luck.
    Alex
    Ten years of Beekeeping before varroa. Started again spring of 2014.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    So in practice, what is the best number to start with, and how many would be best to go into winter with?

    Any number will do if you can deal with the mites. For that, I say buy a Mighty Mite Killer and learn how to use it. Beehivethemalindustries.com. Best investment I ever made.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    The more you have the faster you learn, IMO. But learn how to treat and survive a winter season, meaning no foraging for months on end, with a few hives - I bought 3 packages each year for two years, one lived. I grew bees from that entry point, bought queens and then achieved some open mated queens. Once you have a good feeling, build up to 8 +/- . For me that is a good learning / hobby quantity - lots of variations but successful beekeeping methods clearly show up. This year I am 9 for 9. I am now learning about and solving queen issues. It seems to be my next step to reaching a sustainable apiary.

    It may sound crazy but I am having trouble finding swarm queen swarm cells this year, zero swarms last year. Now WHY?

  6. #5
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    I was asked this question by someone to whom I was selling bees. Talk about a conflict of interests! She wanted three, and I agreed that three was the best number for a new beekeeper to start off with with a goal of expanding her apiary. She got the bees at the end of March. Now, she is building hive bodies and has ordered the wooden ware for three more hives as her bees are ready to be split. She will overwinter in double deep 8 framers.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Do you have bees at this time? If you have 2 you can use 1 of them to make more colonies. If you have 3 you have no problems even if you fail with 2 colonies. The bottleneck is queens. If you get through the winter/spring then you are a beekeeper and can get out of the buying more bees trap.

    Hint, find out when the flow is over in your area. You have much better luck making queens when the flow is on. I'm in mid Missouri so I don't know when your flow is on, if you have a fall flow or how things go for your area. For me April 15th through June 21 with some years Goldenrod in August.

    I just had a hive that I tried to split to early and recombined. The laying workers must have killed the queen. Today I went into the hive after 2 weeks of recombining. There were 3 frames with capped queen cells. Now I have the chance of having 3 nucs if all of the queens get mated and make it back. If 2 make it back the bees made my split for me. If only 1 makes it back I'm no worse off than I was in March.

    That said you can only do this if you have nucs available. They are the key to increasing. You can make them if you have woodworking equipment or buy them if you don't. Either way it's the only way.

    Good Luck

  8. #7
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    A reasonable figure for a new beekeeper, I think, is to expect 50% losses an average year. So if you have two colonies, some years both will die, other years none will die, some years one will die. With only two colonies you will need to buy bees every 2-3 years on average.

    This year is the first I have gotten 3 hives through winter. I hope to split and have a bunch more at the start of this coming winter.

    Having a few swarm traps scattered around is good insurance for the bad years.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    I can speak to this directly as it is what I did on the same advice. Yes all the benefits stated above about having something to compare. It's great to have MORE bees to work as you get more hive time having to do two.

    That all aside, as far as the exonomics, bees are way more expensive to have to keep buying than hive parts. Boxes are relatively cheap and can be bought slowly over time or parts can be made yourself from inexpensive materials.

    Bees however, NUCs are what, $180-$200? There abouts? Packages are in the $120 range? Queens are $35+ shipping, if needed. That gets expensive quick. So, with two hives, you have a much greater chance of making it through winter with at least one, which can be split, to prevent swarming, and now you have two hives again.

    Or you make it through winter with two, split, now you have four. You can bank those in a double nuc, or make more full sized hive and try to overwinter them and grow. Or you sell them off, and maybe hatch a few queens to sell along the way. Selling two nucs is a pretty good bit of cash to make up for the cost of the hobby, along with selling a few jars of honey.

    So the hard lesson is, as I have learned, this all takes a lot of knowledge and experience that we don't necessarily have yet. I quickly learned that the book knowledge counts for a lot, but in practice the bees never do what you expect. So getting through those first few years is key, and not to get to overconfident too quickly. But if you can get a hive through winter and make a split you are on your way and hopefully not having to keep buying bees.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by roddo27846 View Post
    Any number will do if you can deal with the mites. For that, I say buy a Mighty Mite Killer and learn how to use it. Beehivethemalindustries.com. Best investment I ever made.
    Bought mine more as insurance or a back up plan as I'm delusional enough to try starting out TF. Investment may be a better term as all production has ceased due to supply chain issues. Wish I had bought more than one...

  11. #10
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by Absinthe View Post
    I have been reading through some "beekeeping calendars." At a bunch of points, there is a call to combine weak or failing hives. From that I am assuming that there are many situations that can cause this, so there must be an assumption of less optimistic beekeeping operations.
    Slight aside from the main topic, but me, for the most part, I don't agree with combining weak hives.

    Because what you are doing, is getting 2 hives with problems, and combining them. Many is the time I have been called by a friend to help them with a failing hive, I'll go there and they will show me the hive and say they want to combine it. I take a look, often the hive will be down to a fistfull of bees, crawling with mites, (which the beekeeper failed to notice), and they want to combine this with another hive, which will likely be a death sentence for the other hive also.

    There may also be other pathogens that weaken and eventually kill hives, being such things as N. Cerana, or a host of others. Dumping such hives in with a healthy hive is a waste of the healthy hive.

    It could be a hive is weak due to beekeeper error such as say, letting it starve, in such cases if no pathogens are involved then yes it could be combined. But the majority of the time when a hve has become so weak it's survival is in doubt, a pathogen of some sort is involved, and spreading it to another hive will do more harm, than good.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

  12. #11
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    You need to be philosophically against buying and make it the priority and hold that line.

    There are ways to get (and re-get) yourself bees without buying and retain the bees without buying.

    If you don't make it the point of your bee project - does not matter, you WILL keep buying.

    PS: the only justified periodic purchase IMO - a queen with desirable qualities from a desirable source; even this is optional.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Slight aside from the main topic, but me, for the most part, I don't agree with combining weak hives..
    Agreed IF the combining is done blind.
    Disagreed IF the combining is done with needed information on hand (specifically health status of the units to be combined).
    Nothing wrong with combining small, but otherwise healthy colonies.

    I too was against combining up until now.
    Well, had I done a couple of emergency combines in late winter, I could have had different wintering outcomes this season.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    I think 2 is a good minimum for the first year, and 3 is gooder. But they are a lot of work (it seems) in the beginning. Once beekeepers hits their stride, I think 5-8 is generally sustainable for most situations.
    So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by GregV View Post
    Well, had I done a couple of emergency combines in late winter, I could have had different wintering outcomes this season.
    Emphasis could, LOL. Could have been better, could have been worse.

    Unless you have very good skills, pathogens such as N. Cerana can be near impossible to diagnose. A hive with N. Cerana can appear totally normal. Solid brood pattern etc. just, it slowly dwindles and eventually dies. Such things can be a complete mystery to new players. And even to old players LOL.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

  16. #15
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by William Bagwell View Post
    Bought mine more as insurance or a back up plan as I'm delusional enough to try starting out TF. Investment may be a better term as all production has ceased due to supply chain issues. Wish I had bought more than one...
    Treatment free didn't work for me. I got tired of watching bees die after a couple of years. The Mighty Mite works and works well. I hope to buy a third when they go back up for sale.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Slight aside from the main topic, but me, for the most part, I don't agree with combining weak hives.

    Because what you are doing, is getting 2 hives with problems, and combining them.
    Not necessarily.

    It could be a hive is weak due to beekeeper error such as say, letting it starve, in such cases if no pathogens are involved then yes it could be combined.
    Or - having created nucs late in the season, which haven't had the chance to built-up.

    But the majority of the time when a hive has become so weak it's survival is in doubt, a pathogen of some sort is involved, and spreading it to another hive will do more harm, than good.
    "Majority of the time" ?

    A few sweeping statements there - I rather think each case needs to be considered on it's own merits.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  18. #17
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    Well I would say that it can be very, very important not to combine unless you are quite sure you identify the reason for a colony being weak. Colonies slow to develop deserve closer scrutiny than ones running out of time at the end of the season. I combined some that in hindsight almost certainly had EFB. Bad, bad move.

    I think there must be a list of things not to do and I am working away at crossing them off as I get them behind me!
    Frank

  19. #18
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    Default Re: 2, 3, 5, or 35 What are the least practical to get out of buying bees every year?

    I got into beekeeping 10 years ago just as a hobbyist, without any plan except to learn.
    I agree 2 or 3 first year, and get to 6 - 10. Stay there and learn to be more efficient and a better keeper.
    Time early on with a mentor going through his/her hives is fruitful in terms of exposure and efficiency.
    I found that when I got to six I could quit worrying over the dinky hive and combine it and move on.
    I found that with more than 10 it becomes a bigger time demand than "a hobby."
    When you can quit buying bees, you can decide how many you want.
    8 years, 8 hives

  20. #19
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    Lots of the answers sound theoretical. The others sound locally true ("all beeekeeping is local"). So much depends on your goals and methods. I don't think it is possible to say a beekeeper needs x number to be sustainable. Then an unforseen tornado hits or bear gets through the fence or.... Also, some regions have swarms aplenty and some don't. Maybe decide how much you are willing to spend each year and build a business plan. Learn how to keep bees the first year. Learn how to overwinter them the first and second year. Then move on to being sustainable / not buying more bees. Some manage to do it all in 1 year. Some repeat the first and second years until they give up. The "correct" number depends so much on your methods and goals....
    Statistically in the wild, healthy bees only have a 33% chance of survival to maintain a stable population (assuming each healthy colony casts a prime and after swarm....). If your survival is only marginally better than that you gotta rethink....
    To answer you question more directly let us know what your methods a32nd goals are.

  21. #20
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    Every year I set certain sustainable goals I want to achieve in beekeeping. Last year it was to learn how to graft queens, I managed to raise a few queens and I’m still learning the many techniques to achieve that. This years goal is to make more queens and to overwinter more colonies successfully. I also want to learn how to make mead.

    I just set yearly goals in ways to be sustainable. Also ways to do things cheaper never hurt either.

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