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.
This was my biggest mistake – starting with only one hive. I’m splitting now so I should soon have two, but not having another hive to compare to has made learning the ropes much more difficult.
I want to start with 50 hives and grow flowers for the bees near the hives and have a fountain with flowing water. But I do not know what hives to purchase and my purpose is honey. After the fifty I would like to set a goal of 2 or 3 hundred hives..
What region do you live in? That may help us when thinking of a hive.
Wax moths have been a big problem for me theirs very little out there for help any natural way to have something in the hive year round I live in Rhode Island
Bee keeper or moth hater for five years
My husband and I are looking for someone to maintain hives on our property- We have 40 acres and can help with cost. We are located in paradise township, PA
Great article that exactly captures the anxiety we new beekeepers have. I took a beginning beekeeping class (6 hours – 4corners beekeepers)- bought a package and obtained a split so I have two hives but I am constantly trying to figure out what is normal and the timeline of what I should be doing. A beekeeping timeline of duties would be very helpful as well as pictures of what we should be expecting in the hives. So far for me, there are lots of eggs and all looks good – we have a proliferation of wildflowers here at 8,400 feet in Colorado mountains but I worry about getting the bees through winter and when to add the next brood box, etc…,
please tell me why you use NUC for your hives and not a 8 or 10 frame. Im new to bee keeping and am setting up using 8 frame due to the weight.