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How many hives?

 
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I know this is a loaded question. But given that I want a thriving  bee population and a minimum number of hives, how many hives do I need to have?  I am assuming that 2 will get me through  minor disasters without taking up too much time or money.  I only want them for my personal use.  I have raised bees on and off for several decades.
 
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Hi John,

From my limited understanding, the answer to your question depends on how much forage your particular landscape provides. There is a carrying capacity for pollinators that gather nectar for food surplus.

For example; My area will support about 2 langstroth hives (A large bottom and two medium supers,that will gather from an area of approximately 5km in radius. That happens to be a very low carrying capacity, mostly due to long winters and subsequent need to build up large honey surpluses for winter food.

If you are in an area that has uninterrupted nectar flows from Spring until early Fall, you could support much larger colonies. Or more individual hives.

I personaly stick with just two, If I have a bad winter kill, or a surprise swarming, I still have the other hive as a back up and aid to repopulation.

You may want to go with three, if you think the land will support it, just for additional insurance. You can always add more supers if the hive wants to expand upward.
 
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Honey bee queen only live for 3 yrs. So in any given year 1/3 of them will die.
Additionally we have to deal with colony collapse which can be closer to 4/5
There is also the issue of carrying capacity of your area (winter store)
And Overharvesting the honey inside the bee hive (winter store)

One could have 1 bee hive with 100,000 bees or 2 smaller bee hive with only 50,000.
With such a setup you would have "4 half size bee hives" vs just 2 full size ones.
 
Chris Sturgeon
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I agree with S Bengi above, other than to say in my experience there a certain population critical-mass to Winter survival. Bees will ball-up around the queen in very cold weather and 'shiver' to produce warmth. The outside layer of this shivering sphere is sacrificed to the cold, and so the ball shrinks down and down as the winter progresses. If there are not enough bees at the start of the Winter (nor enough food to feed them) then the queen will be lost to the cold.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Chris,

Your thinking reflects mine.  I do not want the burden of lots of hives, but I do want a reasonable  security of being able to take a hit.  I am in a rural areA with lots of farming.  There are also orchards and wild flowers.  My current hive is very robust and 3 units high. There is no question a 4th unit will need to be added in Sept. Honey production will probably  continue until Nov.
 
John F Dean
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Hi S,

I am not greedy for honey.  Many bee keepers in this area take 100% of the honey and leave sugar water for the winter.  I always leave the base and a super with honey.  My wife insists on adding a third empty unit with sugar water in it. The approach seems to work well.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Chris,

I just noticed your location.  Yes, I understand your concerns. I used to live in northern MN were I experienced 53 below zero.  Latitude wise, I am south of Frankfort, Kentucky.  At 32 degrees the news media is telling us to bring our animals indoors.  
 
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if you going to buy bees wait till spring so they will have plenty of time to fill out hive boxes and build up honey stores for the winter , you will probably want to start out with 3 nocs, and build full size hive boxes so they will have plenty of room to expand. I tried with one hive box and they all disappeared by fall but when I had 3 boxes they survived and expanded. because of bee transportation laws I had to sell them before moving. but that's my limited experience. maybe next spring I'll get back into it.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Bruce,

I like the direction you are taking this.  At this point I have no solid plans for spring.  I am wondering about splitting my present hi e before a swarm.  The present hive is quite healthy.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Bruce,

I have begun a new thread on starting up a new hive. It struck me that hive splitting needed it's own thread.
gift
 
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