It seems that the band, “Three Dog Night” truly were advising us on keeping bees. Have you ever only had one hive? I’ve been there and it can really be a rough way to go. When starting out, new beekeepers often want to try to save money by investing in only one hive. Their thought is that two hives is unnecessary and excessive. If they do well with one hive then perhaps they will purchase a second one next year. This can be a big mistake. And, it often causes new beekeepers to become demoralized and give up before they ever truly get started.
“It’s just no good anymore since you went away…”
Twenty-four hours after I installed my first two packages of bees, one colony absconded leaving me with just one hive. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to quit right then and I probably would have if I didn’t have my second hive to look after.
What I learned was, that stuff happens with bees. In the end, they do what they want to. They leave, they can become weak, they sometimes die off.
I limped through my first season with only one hive. And, there were a lot of lessons I missed out on because I only had the one hive. In this article, I will tell you the reasons why it is of utmost importance to start off with at least two hives.
Reading the Hive
Both new and seasoned beekeepers need to “read the hive”. With only one hive you have no way of comparing what might be good, normal or a matter of concern if you don’t have experience in knowing what to look for. If you were to observe a single hive and count 25 bees per minute going in and out you might believe that all is well. However, if that hive was by a second one which had 100 or more bees going in and out per minute, you would then realize that you have a weak hive. By the same token, bee traffic might be very low in both hives. Often times, bee traffic is determined by weather patterns and nectar flows. So, if both hives are quiet on a certain day, you can easily surmise that it’s probably the bee’s natural response to environmental factors and the bees are choosing to stay home. You can’t arrive at those conclusions by observing only one hive.
Sharing the Wealth
With two hives, you now have resources. One way to bolster a weak hive is to add a frame of brood. This can jumpstart the hive and get it back up to speed. Take that frame from the strong hive and place it in with the weak one. This will not only increase the hive’s workforce but can also stimulate the queen to lay more.
Help Raise a Queen
Sometimes a hive can go “queenless”. There are many reasons why this may occur. If the weak hive has no 3-day old (or younger) larvae, the hive will become “hopelessly queenless”. They need that young larva to develop a new queen from. Taking a frame of open brood from your strong hive and giving it to the weak one gives them a fighting chance to raise their own queen. In a few weeks the hive can be back in business with a new laying queen.
If you only have one hive and it is dwindling away it can be demoralizing to watch it slowly die off. Many new beekeepers give up at this point feeling like they’ve failed and they were never meant to keep bees. There is another chance to save those bees though. Combining the weak hive with the strong one is a good way to preserve whatever is left. The weak bees can assimilate into the strong hive, become part of the workforce and further strengthen the strong hive. Depending on where you are in the season you could still possibly split that hive by purchasing a new queen. You may still finish the season with two hives.
“Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one…”
Just getting back to the “Three Dog Night” theme… A great idea is to have two hives and a “nuc” or “nucleus colony”. Not sure what a nuc is? Basically, it’s a mini, full functioning hive with a queen, worker bees, brood, nectar & pollen. It’s a great resource for bolstering your two-full hives, it’s added insurance for the sustainability of your apiary and it allows you to experiment and improve your skills with a bit more of a safety net.
Future articles will explain ways of obtaining a nuc from your own bees. It’s a step in the direction of creating a self-sustaining apiary. And, that’s a very important goal to strive for as a beekeeper. Now is the time to be planning for next season. If you’re embarking on your first season as a beekeeper, save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress, speculation and worry. Plan on starting with two hives. If you’re coming into your second season, I wish you and your hives the best this winter! Starting the Spring with live bees is exciting and provides you with many options. Plan at least, to create a nuc. Or, split your hives to grow your apiary and build up that safety net. Sustainability is the key to being a successful beekeeper.
All the best!
Local Buzz Bees & Honey
Hi Dave, I just stumbled on your site thru Craig’s list. I’m here in Highland, mi and this was my first winter with 3 hives. So far I’ve lost 2. Both Italian, 1 was dead still over the brood and the other starved even thou there is a hive full of honey. My carnelian hive so far looks OK. Lots flying yesterday in between the rain we were having. All 3 hives are mediums 2 for brood 1 for there honey stores and they are full of honey. I’m going to extract the honey from those 2 and start over with them.