How Many Beehives To Start Beekeeping?

A row of beehives in a meadow

Do you want to start beekeeping but don’t know how many hives are optimal? A single hive may not be worth your time, while too many hives for a beginner may be a disaster for you and the bees. This guide explains how many hives are best when starting as a new beekeeper.

How many hives should a new beekeeper start with?

The ideal hive count will differ from person to person, but 2-3 hives make a great starting point. If you begin with only one hive, losing the colony means there is no backup supply of bees. New beekeepers may struggle to manage more than three hives while learning.

Important: There are restrictions on hive numbers in some urban areas. Always check local beekeeping laws before diving in.

Quick summary table

Number of hivesComments
1Best for anyone with minimal time, physical restrictions and those on a low budget. One hive is easy to manage, but you’re left with nothing if your colony doesn’t survive.
2Our preferred number for new beekeepers. The ideal sweet spot between easy management and spreading the risk in case one of the colonies gets wiped out.
3The most hives we recommend operating in year one. There’s so much to learn, so missing something is easy. The initial investment and ongoing costs may be significant – especially for newcomers to a hobby.
4With four hives, there are many balls in the air for a first-timer. This number may be workable if you have a mentor to help.
An infographic explaining how many beehives are best when starting out keeping bees.

Factors that affect how many hives you can manage

  • Time: A full-time worker with kids and a busy schedule will have much less time to dedicate to beekeeping. They’ll be able to juggle fewer hives than a retiree who has all day.
  • Location of bees: Locating the bee yard near home reduces travel time. Easier access means you’ll have more time to spend carrying out inspections.
  • Physical condition: Beekeeping is hot, hard work with some heavy lifting. Fit and healthy beekeepers will be more capable of operating a bigger apiary.
  • Motivation: If you have spurts of inspiration followed by weeks of inactivity, don’t get carried away with setting up too many hives.
  • Purpose of hives: What will you use the hives for? Harvesting honey, selling bee packages, and offering pollination services each have different time requirements.
  • Budget: Equipment like electric honey extractors will improve the efficiency of your beekeeping operation, allowing for more hives.

Suggested reading: How much does it cost to start beekeeping?

Does a new beekeeper need more than one hive?

Some beekeepers start with one hive in their first season, so nothing stops you from doing this too. It’s a good idea to start with one if you’re unsure whether beekeeping is right for you. You’ll have less initial setup cost, and managing one hive won’t require much work.

First-time beekeepers find it discouraging to lose their only colony. Single-hive beekeepers often give up at this stage, as they have no bees to work with.

Another reason to have multiple hives is the ability to juggle resources as needed. For example, you can transfer brood or worker bees from a thriving hive to a struggling one.

Having multiple hives allows you to compare their progress. If one produces honeycomb and the other doesn’t, it might signal a problem such as disease or an issue with the queen. With only one hive, it’s harder to determine if the problem is with the hive or the result of external factors.

A single beehive next to a stand of trees
Managing a single beehive is okay, but not optimal.

How many hives can a beekeeper manage?   

Assuming there’s enough space, hobbyist or sideliner beekeepers can manage up to 20 hives once they have the experience.

A committed beekeeper spending their whole week managing the apiary could operate over 500 hives. In peak season, they’d need help from seasonal workers to harvest honey.

A full-time worker could manage up to 150 hives if they’re looking to sell their bees rather than focus on honey production.

Tip: We recommend starting small and growing the bee yard as your experience develops.

Also read: when to add honey supers to a beehive.

Do bees fight if I have multiple colonies in the apiary?

If managed well, having more than one hive won’t cause fighting amongst the different colonies. Honey robbing and fighting can occur if you feed bees sugar water out of the hive.

During nectar shortages, feed every hive to reduce robbing behavior. Check out our article on how to feed bees for more advice. 

How close together can beehives be placed?

Domesticated bees can be placed nearer to each other than wild ones. To minimize drifting, allow two feet on either side of the hive. This extra space makes it easier to maneuver during inspections and harvesting.

If you’d like to learn more about placing hives, read our tips on where to place beehives.  

How much time should I allow to care for each beehive?

Expect to spend 15-30 hours caring for one beehive in your first year as a beekeeper.

If you add a second hive, it won’t necessarily double your time commitment. You’ll become more efficient, completing your work more quickly. Allow 5-30 minutes to manage each hive in spring.

The time required to look after a beehive can vary greatly, depending on your management style. Some beekeepers like to inspect every frame and find the queen every visit. Others consider this practice unnecessary and unsettling for the bees.

Will my bees run out of food sources with too many hives?

Your bee colonies are unlikely to exhaust all local pollen and nectar resources. Forager bees can find food sources 2-3 miles from the hive. Most locations will have many flower sources within that range.

A closeup of a honey bee collecting pollen
Honey bees can travel long distances for food.

Did you know? A 3-mile radius will provide a bee colony with over 12,000 acres of available land to find food.  

How many pounds of bees are needed to start a hive?

Beginner beekeepers should buy three pounds of bees per hive to encourage a strong, thriving colony. More experienced beekeepers may prefer to work with two pounds.

How many beehives are needed to make a profit?

An operation is commercial if it has over 300 hives, but you’ll probably need at least 500 beehives to make a decent living from bees. Using them for honey production and as a farmer pollination service will provide a more lucrative return on investment.

Can a novice beekeeper have too many hives?

We’ve found that 2-3 hives are best for beginners; any more is a lot to ask of a new beekeeper. Managing 2-3 strong hives and splitting them the following season is better. You can also increase the number of hives over time by attracting swarms to your empty hives.

Summing up

Beginners to beekeeping are best to start their first season with 2-3 hives. This manageable number allows time to enjoy the bees and learn how their colony operates.

More hives don’t always mean higher honey output. A few well-managed bee colonies can produce more than eight that are in poor health.

Starting with one hive is perfectly fine, but you place all your eggs in one basket.

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