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How Many Beehives To Start Beekeeping?

A row of beehives in a meadow

Do you want to get started in 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. In this guide, you’ll discover how many hives are best when starting as a new beekeeper. Let’s get started.

How many hives should a new beekeeper start with?

Although the right number of hives will vary depending on the individual, we suggest 2-4 hives is an excellent starting point. Only one hive means that if you lose the colony, your entire supply of bees is gone. While it’s possible to manage a lot more than four hives, it’s a good number for the first season while you’re learning.

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 a lot less time to dedicate to beekeeping. They’ll be able to juggle fewer hives than a retiree who has all day.
  • Location of bees: If you have space near your house, this offers a significant time advantage over another beekeeper having to travel an hour to get to their bees.
  • Physical condition: Beekeeping can be hot, hard work with some heavy lifting, so factor that in when deciding how many bees you can manage.
  • Motivation: If you have spurts of motivation followed by weeks of inactivity, don’t get carried away with setting up too many hives.
  • Purpose of hives: If you’re just producing honey then it’ll take a lot more work than raising and selling bees.
  • Equipment: If you have the budget for high-quality equipment, you’ll find it much easier to manage the hives.

Does a new beekeeper need more than one hive?

Some beekeepers start with one hive in their first season, so nothing is stopping 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.

Keep in mind that it can be discouraging if you only have one colony and it dies or leaves you. Instead of focusing on the remaining hives, beekeepers often give up at this stage.

Another reason to have multiple hives is that you can juggle resources as needed. For example, if a colony is struggling, you have the option to share brood or even worker bees from another hive that is thriving.

Owning multiple hives allows you to compare and evaluate how they’re doing. If one hive is producing honeycomb fast while the other isn’t, this may be a signal something is wrong. Maybe there is disease in the colony or the queen isn’t laying? With only one hive, it’s hard to know if there’s a problem with the hive, or is it external factors like low nectar supply nearby? 

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 is enough space, hobby beekeepers can manage up to 20 hives once they have the experience. A beekeeper who can commit their full week to managing bees could manage 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.

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, be sure to feed all of the hives to reduce robbing behavior. Check out our article on how to feed bees for more advice. 

How close together can beehives be placed?

Although wild beehives are spread out in their natural environment, it’s possible to position domesticated bees closer together. To reduce foragers bees drifting on their return to the hive, allow roughly two feet of space on each side of the hive. You’ll also find having this space is handy when it comes to managing them as you have more room to move.

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?

The amount of time required to look after a beehive can vary a lot, depending on your management style. Some beekeepers like to inspect every bee and also find the queen every time. Others won’t be so thorough.

As a general guide, expect to spend 15-30 hours tending to one beehive in the first 12 months as a beekeeper. As the beehive count increases to two, don’t expect to spend double the time managing them. You’ll become more efficient and will find your work gets done quicker.

As you develop skills and experience, allow 5-30 minutes to manage each hive in spring. 

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

It is extremely unlikely that your bee colonies will deplete all available pollen and nectar resources in your area. Forager bees are very effective at locating food sources 2-3 miles from the hive. A quick check of a map will probably reveal many flower sources within that radius.

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?

In order to have a strong colony that grows fast, a beginner beekeeper is best to invest in three pounds of bees per hive. More experienced beekeepers should be able to work with two pounds. 

How many beehives are needed to make a profit?

Although many beginner beekeepers get started for non-monetary reasons, some are interested in making money. An operation is considered commercial if it has over 300 hives, but to make a decent living from bees you’ll probably need at least 500 beehives. Using them for honey production and as a pollination service for farmers will provide a more lucrative return on investment.

Can a novice beekeeper have too many hives?

If you have plenty of space available, it may be tempting to dive in headfirst with five or more hives. We think that 2-4 hives are best for beginners; upwards of 5 is a lot to ask of a new beekeeper. You’re better to build up 2-4 strong hives then split them up the following season. Of course, you can also build up 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 2-4 hives. This number is manageable, allowing time to enjoy the bees and learn how their colony operates.

It’s worth mentioning that more hives don’t always mean higher honey output. A couple of properly managed bee colonies can produce more than 8 poorly looked after hives.

It’s perfectly fine to start with one hive, but you’ll lose out on the benefits of having multiple hives. 

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