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Discussion Starter #1
Overlooking the fact that it's April 15th and snowing like crazy - AGAIN - it seems that I have successfully gotten my three, first year, hives through The Winter From Hell. They seem to be doing just fine and happily occupying themselves with Spring bee-work.

So I met my first year goal - being better for the bees than my barn wall cavities. It's probably mostly beginner's luck and attributable, in part, to the fact that I started only with swarms, at least some of which may be feral survivior in origin. All three obviously have some strong survival traits because they survived my newbee ignorance and often-clumsy efforts to manage them.

But it brings me face to face with the next dilemma. I do understand that the goal of the bees themselves is to grow big enough to cast a reproductive swarm. And I understand that one of the most effective ways to manage this is to do splits. And I understand that at any point I could suffer some catastrope to the queen(s) so having splits or nucs on hand would allow me a hope of both sustainable beekeeping and maintaining my three colonies.

But unlike most beekeepers I read about here on BS I'm not particularly interested in growing my apiary. Three is a fun number of hives. I could (probably) be happy with any single digit number of hives. Also, unlike most beekeepers I have no interest at all in honey harvesting. What jazzes me about my bees is studying their behavior and natural history. They exist in this unique place between wild animals and domestic animals which fascinates me. I run a small veg. and fruit operation so their help with pollination is a plus, but not a big deal, as I don't think having them increases my crop yields much because I farm in area with many native pollinators (which I have been protecting from ag chemicals for decades.)

Local advice is that I have to make honey, or make bees (for sale). It seems absurd to me that a beekeeper with less than a year's experience might even consider producing bees for sale. Sort of the bee equivalent of the least desirable type of back yard puppy mill, just cranking out more animals (insects) to sell. So I think that's a non-starter for me.

I'm OK with doubling the number of hives this year by making ONE split from each colony. And last week I ordered up enough equipment to do that (gotta get painting if it ever gets back above freezing again!) So I'm good for this year to have my original three, plus make a split/spare of each of them. That still sounds like fun. But looking ahead to next year, I'm not so enthusiastic because doubling my six colony apiary begins to sound like real work, and not so much fun.

Has anybody else wrestled with this issue? How did you decide on the right size apiary and how did you manage to keep it there? Maybe I'm missing something obvious.

Thanks for your ideas.

Enj.
 

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Well, when you get to the point that it stops being fun and starts being work. Congratulations on a successful winter but based on experience I am guessing that will not happen ever year and you will need the back up nucs/hives that you create. If you do find yourself with an abundance of hives there are always newbees out there looking for bees and by that point you will know enough to be a mentor. If you have a local bee club or 4-H group I am sure they could put you in touch with someone. Good luck and hope you continue to be successful.
 

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> I run a small veg. and fruit operation ...

Did you feel a need to have 'experience' growing vegetables before that produce was OK to sell? My point is that if you have more bees than you want, there is nothing wrong with offering them for sale, even if you don't have a lot of experience raising bees.

Heck, some people will even pay a premium for bees that have a 'feral' background as I understand yours do. As long as you are honest about what you are offering, split those hives and put the excess up for sale.

The time may come when you will value the added experience you gain from additional splitting, as at some point you may need to do so just to recover from an unexpected setback.
 

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You don't have to do a big split to control swarms. Just watch for queen cells then take out the queen and a couple brood frames and a honey frame and let the big hive raise a queen. Keep the nuc small by giving brood back to original hive but let them stay big enough to make it through winter.. It is nice having a couple nucs handy to give resources to hives when needed. Get too many nucs then selling one or two would be a blessing to the buyer.
 

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I think like with many things you don't know what is too many until you find yourself working without the fun. Once you cross that line the trick is to recognize that and back up to your happy place:)
I guess another option, particularly as you like observing natural behaviour, is to let them swarm:)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks to all who have replied, so far. You've given me some things to think about.

I think I'll still stay in the "fun zone" this year just doubling my hive count by making splits - sort of spare, safety copies of each of my colonies. It's thinking of next year when I might be starting with six colonies and need to split to control swarming that has me worried.

Not to mention the possibility - perhaps even the likelihood - that I'll be faced with additional swarms into the long-used barn cavities. I do not want to have unmanaged bees so close to my hived colonies, so I'd have to turf them out. Or box 'em up and add those to my apiary, too.

I got enough equipment to handle the three splits and one (and in a pinch, two, but don't tell my husband that!) new swarm-derived colonies this year.

I grow and sell plant products because I don't think I could grow and sell animals, even bug-animals. I know this because my university degree in agriculture came with mandatory courses in animal husbandry, even though I was only interested in horticulture.

Enj.
 

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I'm like you. would rather keep it at a backyard level where not so much work but more fun and learning. Along with that I do realize that I have to be able to care for these creatures in a responsible manner. With everything I've read, my GUESS is that for every large hive...one may well need 2 nucs so all three feed off each other. From brood to honey to Queens. So I have 2 -- 10frame hives and am thinking that when I reach those and 4 nucs-6 nucs...I'll feel a lil more comfortable about having the resources to keeping this process alive.
 

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A lot of the people who have been in the bee business for years say you need one nuc for every two or three production hives.
 

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I'm with you on not needing to make nucs for sale. When I retire for good, I may change my mind about making money with bees, and hopefully by that time I will know enough about them to actually make it work.

But considering that there has been a MAJOR delcine in the bee population in recent years, I'd say you are doing a great service by at least allowing swarms to build and take off into the wild. If you REALLY want to feel good about yourself, learn to do splits, build nucs, perhaps even graft some queens, and give them to people new to bee keeping. Imagine the smile on someone's face when you tell them that if they buy the equipment, you'll GIVE them the bees (and perhaps mentor them) to get them started. And you're STILL supporting the increase in bee populations.
 

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Sometimes I think about what it would take to retire from my job and be a beekeeper full-time. Mostly in boring business meetings. ;) In reality, I think I always want to be a beekeeper, not an apiary manager. I only have four hives--started with just one last year. I split hive 1 in the fall for hive 2, but got 3 & 4 from a swarm and someone else's split. I could have split 1 & 2 again this spring, but didn't. I have a sneaking suspicion that #2 swarmed last week. And, you know, so what? I feel much like you do--I like having bees, watching them. I would like enough to sell/give away some honey and wax, but it will never be a business.

When I start thinking about having so many nucs and queens on hand and splitting everyone in the spring, it just overwhelms me. Also, being as I am not retired, I don't have oodles of time for bee management. In addition to my four, a friend has two hives on my property. This Saturday, I helped them with their hives (two young boys 10 and 12, and their mom) and inspected two of mine. That was about all I could tolerate in the Florida sun, suited up. I inspected the other two on Sunday. I can't imagine spring management of 12 hives, even just the minimum of looking for queen cells and swarm management.

I agree with those who said to increase the number until it becomes work and then scale back. Who knows? In 3 or 4 years, you may feel like you want to go double digits on the number of hives, sell nucs or honey.

I like the thought of having enough abundance to share with others. Selling nucs will provide others with a way of starting out without having to catch their own swarms. I'd like to offset some of the cost of all the equipment,too!
 

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Well, if 6 is your max, you could always split them to control swarming and then re-combine in the fall or after the flow in order to have strong colonies to overwinter. There is always a demand for a few spare queens in the fall, so I am sure you won't even have to pinch your extra queens.
 

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I started with 2 hives my first year, added one split during the season and wintered 3. Then last Spring I added 2 packages and split hives for a total of 7. I have 4 more packages coming, and that may be about the limit for me, between fun and work. If the bees swarm, I don't care......let someone else catch them. I enjoy extracting some honey and meeting the people who like to buy local honey. Good luck with your bees!!
 

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Well, I'm one of those unfortunate people who get carried away with new stuff. I started out with one hive last spring and now I have at least 7. To me one of the most fascinating things about bees is that they can increase with only modest help. The making of new colonies is the most interesting part of beekeeping, to me.

I wouldn't worry about whether you have the experience to sell bees. If you have a viable colony, disease-free and vigorous, folks will want it and be happy with it. The guy I got my first colony from did me a great service, and while he's been at it for a while, he only makes a few nucs every spring. He's helped a number of newbees get into beekeeping, and in my opinion, that's a noble accomplishment. No reason you couldn't do the same. If you were reluctant to take money for your bees, there are lots of other ways to promote beekeeping with live bees. For example Tim Ives, if I understand correctly, donated bees to inner city community gardens and teaches folks there how to keep bees.

If I ever get to the point of having a surplus of bees, I expect I can sell them very easily, to the same sort of prospective beekeeper that I was last spring. If you take the larger view, you're just spreading the joy around!
 

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In our area, I don't think you would have any problem getting rid of a few spare queens or swarms. There are always folks looking for bees, and regardless of your experience, they would be glad to have the genetics from a long feral colony.

Even just selling frames of brood might be enough to head off swarming, give the buyer the resources to breed from your bees, and make you a little cash on the side. All without much extra work on your part.
 

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We only wanted a couple of hives. Than we got addicted to chasing swarms and now have about 40, way beyond nuts. By August every year I absolutely hate them.

No more golf, fishing, camping, biking, life, etc. Grandchildren and neighbors won't come over, dog won't go in the back yard. Gas, water, electric company bill is the same for every month because the meter readers are scared also. I have to mow the first 30' into the neighbors yard because he doesn't want to get close, etc., etc.

But hey, we should be see the first swarms of the season in about 3 weeks.

Kookoo for Cocoa pufs regards

Don (&Gayle)
 

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The original premise, splitting each year means doubling each year, sounds good in theory. But the reality check comes from reading farther. The reason folks are big on carrying a few extra nucleus colonies into winter, is to replace dead-outs in the spring. You haven't experienced the dead colony in spring, yet. That will come too.

Split your 3, end up with 6. You have doubled the colony count. You have also doubled the potential for colony dieout. You are projecting that after 6 comes 12 the following season, but, that projection assumes all 6 arrive healthy into the next year. You may well discover, that 6 in the fall, turns into 2 in the spring, and then it's a struggle just to get back to 6.

The correct time to worry about to many hives, is when you have to many. No need to fret about how to cross that bridge before you get there.
 

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Now that right there is some SOUND sounding advice! Very good points, thanks for that input grozzie2.

The original premise, splitting each year means doubling each year, sounds good in theory. But the reality check comes from reading farther. The reason folks are big on carrying a few extra nucleus colonies into winter, is to replace dead-outs in the spring. You haven't experienced the dead colony in spring, yet. That will come too.

Split your 3, end up with 6. You have doubled the colony count. You have also doubled the potential for colony dieout. You are projecting that after 6 comes 12 the following season, but, that projection assumes all 6 arrive healthy into the next year. You may well discover, that 6 in the fall, turns into 2 in the spring, and then it's a struggle just to get back to 6.

The correct time to worry about to many hives, is when you have to many. No need to fret about how to cross that bridge before you get there.
 
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