It may sound counter-intuitive, or even irresponsible, to suggest that new beekeepers should plunge full-stop and buy two hives right off the bat. But it is in that inexperience where keeping two hives proves the most beneficial.
By all means, if you can only afford one hive, then one is better than none, definitely. But if you can afford two hive set ups, or perhaps you have the opportunity to set up a hive with a friend, I recommend it.
Before we got our first colony, we attended a bee keeping class, read tons of books from the library and countless online articles. We’ve been keeping bees for seven years and a big part of me still feels like a newbie. In beekeeping classes you learn about hive set up, you learn about brood boxes and honey supers…but there’s a lot to beekeeping that can’t be covered in a two-hour class.
Of all the questions I get asked over at my Iron Oak Farm blog about beekeeping, the majority of them start with “Is it normal for my hive to be doing…?”
When you start off as a new beekeeper, it’s hard to determine what’s “normal” without something to compare it to.
I feel like of all our homesteading endeavors…milk goats, fiber goats, gardening…and on and on, beekeeping has been the most experience-based endeavor we’ve attempted.
I think the difficulty comes in the nature of the hive. Most people, even if they’ve never raised a goat, chicken, dog…can tell when an animal is sick. It’s lethargic, won’t eat, etc. But what does a sick hive look like?
In our human experience, we don’t come in contact with many situations that resemble a hive unless we get into beekeeping. So common sense beekeeping isn’t really that common at all! You can observe changes in your hive, but what does it mean? Is it good that they’re doing that? Is it bad? Is it normal?
Beekeeping is different
For one thing, you don’t necessarily care for individual bees. Unlike milk goats for example, you don’t “milk” individual bees, you don’t feed individual bees…there aren’t thousands of tiny feed bowls that you set honey out for each night. If someone doesn’t finish her honey because she’s not feeling well…you have no idea.
You tend the hive. As a whole.
The hive is more like a complete animal and the individual bees are the cells that keep the hive alive.
Bees are also pretty much self sufficient without us. When things are going well, bees are some of the easiest parts of a homestead. We are mostly observers checking in now and again.
Their world, for the most part, is hidden from us. I’m with our goats twice a day at the very least. I observe them, feed them, interact with them…but most of all I compare them to each other. When one of our goat kids isn’t taking as much of the bottle as his sister, I see the difference right away.
Learning through comparison
Each hive has its own personality. Some hives are very vigorous and are great producers. Others are slower, may experience problems like mites, an unproductive queen etc. When you have two hives, you can compare the progress of one against the other.
Another great reason to have two hives is that if you loose one, you have a backup hive to split and move forward with. You won’t have to wait a whole season before you can buy another nuc.
The control hive
Having two hives also gives you what you can use as a control hive versus an experimental hive.
If there’s a technique you’d like to try with your bees, like a natural mite control versus a chemical one, you can use the comparison to see which techniques work best for your bees.
If you can’t afford two hives to begin with, try to find a beekeeping buddy that you can contact frequently. Join up and work together in hive inspections.
Make a promise to try and share each time you make a change in your hive care, or when you notice something different.