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Minimum number of hives to ensure a strong apiary


If I have 3 hives, and one dies, and one is weak - a scenario that is likely - then the remaining strong one I split to hopefully get back to three hives.

Then in that year, it’s almost kinda like I’m starting all over again with (kinda) 3 nucs. Meaning I can almost never really harvest honey since bees will be building their numbers all summer long and building their honey stores for winter.

If that happens again with 3 hives, I’m repeating the cycle. If 2 hives die, I’m back to buying nucs.

I don’t want lots of bee hives. But is there an ideal minimum number to greatly increase chances of success? And to remain independent so I don’t have to keep buying nucs each year?

This is all conjecture - but anyone? :cowboy_hat_face::horse::honeybee:


I think the answers are all at www.beeinformed.org. :wink: The site of the survey in your other post from today. :blush:

If you don’t treat, you will lose x number of hives.

If you don’t feed, you will lose y number of hives.

If you do/don’t rotate old comb, you will lost z number of hives.

Etc, etc, etc, to quote the King of Siam. :blush:

Anyhow, I am not trying to be obscure, but most hobby beekeepers are going to lose 30-50% of their hives each year, depending on location, chance and management practises. I would say the minimum is 2 to have a good chance of continuing, and 3 would be better. I will max out at 4 personally, because I don’t have time for more. If I make extras, I will sell them locally during the nectar flow, or recombine in Fall when I am doing mite treatments for many hives anyway.


I had 50 hives and lost 26 of them and I can tell it’s going to be really easy to make up those losses plus satisfy my 10 nuc reservations. I’m already back in the mid 30’s and I haven’t gotten into any serious splitting yet. Add to that swarm season in a couple of weeks and I’ll be fine.


How come you expect such high losses? I have been beekeeping for nearly 10 years and my average winter losses are 2%.


That raises a very important question…or list of questions! @Red_Hot_Chilipepper, @Dee - what could account for such a difference in losses, assuming your experience levels are comparable? Is varroa really worse here in the US…are our bees more compromised (pesticides anyone?)


Dee , how many hives do you have?


My losses were due to no management last year. Life threw me a curveball last April and beekeeping wasn’t high up on the list of priorities.


I am trying to get down to four full size colonies. I like to overwinter a couple of queens in nucs as insurance in case one of the others fail. If they are not needed I give the nuc colonies away to beginners. I feel that is my ideal number. I am a hobby beekeeper, I sell some honey at a local farmers’ market and at an annual honey fair. I don’t want beekeeping to take over my life.

Well have a read of

In particular, this caught my eye

“Many backyard beekeepers don’t have any varroa control strategies in place. We think this results in colonies collapsing and spreading mites to neighboring colonies that are otherwise well-managed for mites,” said Nathalie Steinhauer, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who leads the data collection efforts for the annual survey. “We are seeing more evidence to suggest that good beekeepers who take the right steps to control mites are losing colonies in this way, through no fault of their own.”


My comment about losses wasn’t aimed particularly at you, If that was the meaning you got through my clumsy wording then I apologise. I hope that life has improved for you.


You’re fine Dee.

I was asking about hive numbers because in order to lose 2% of your hives, you need at least 50 hives (2% would be 1 hive).


2 hives lost out of a total of 100 hives in 10 years. It wasn’t a loss over one year so cheating really
Actually its three…sorry


I reckon, based on what I have read for where you are and your posts- with the diseases, cold winters and everything else, 4 would be good…subject to family approval. Generally speaking I would consider re-uniting after splitting in spring to keep at 4 hives.


Very interesting about the varroa control issue. I immediately thought of different cultural practices and other social forces - like pesticides being more prevalent here in the US…but of course, there is that ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ thing, for all of us, anytime, no matter what.

Four sounds like a doable number to me - great advice and friendly support as always here :blush: Thanks all!