We routinely conduct reader and customer surveys to keep tabs on what you are up to, and what you think about what we do here. Most of them are short, more or less focused on a particular idea or practice, and we quickly make adjustments if needed or beneficial. Less often we conduct longer, more in-depth surveys to determine global shifts in our audience, in what they are doing, who and where they are and what they need to keep on keeping bees. We did one of these this past Summer, and it was conducted strictly via email rather than our traditional send-out-paper-and-get-paper-back forms. Email is, certainly, a less expensive way to do this because of postage and data entry costs, and, if you use the right software you automatically have a data base set up you can ask questions of and do some pretty sophisticated analyses with. 

Right off we know that this automatically excludes some portion of our readers and skews the results a bit in favor of those who have and use email. We have found from past surveys, however, that the number of readers we have that don’t use email is, though larger than we’d like not so low as to not be able to use them. But we also know that, interestingly, the@ group and the not@ group share essentially the same ideas, the same requests and want the same things from this magazine. Moreover, when comparing the two populations they are, with only a couple of small exceptions, essentially identical. Email being the obvious one, and what-else-they-read-besides-beekeeping-magazines the other. I’ll explain that later. 

But wait, there’s more. This was an all-inclusive survey that went to subscribers of CATCH THE BUZZ, the digital and app versions of the magazine and the paper subscribers. We were able to sort out duplicates so we were able to separate them into their respective groups when analyzing the returns. So we had an ‘only’ group for each, and were able to join them for combined analyses. 

It’s a secret how many people this comes to, but from past surveys we’ve done on paper, which, yes, isn’t quite the same, we had a good feel for the percent return we would get, and chose a sample size large enough to make that return percent a statistically significant and more importantly useful number. To those of you who got one of these, and then returned it, thank you. 

As a short aside, I’m a sucker when it comes to surveys. I’ll fill out any survey that comes my way as best I can because I know the folks sending them are (almost always) trying to make my life – better, cheaper, faster, more productive, take-your-pick – and that can’t be bad, right? Of course there are those that are simply gathering information for – advertisers, sales agents and the like – but they are pretty easy to spot. When it’s obvious, I’ll skew the data as far as I can and still make it reasonably believable. I’ve been a 93 year old, mother of six, richer than you can imagine farm wife all my life, high school educated citizen of Germany more times than you might guess . . .

Anyway. Some of this is comparing to surveys taken some time ago, other parts are new and haven’t been asked before. So . . .

You are getting younger, you know. Today 86% of you are over 45, while 20 years ago 92% were over 45. Today, 53% of you have a college education, up from 43% back then, and 37% have been subscribing more than 6 years, while back then it was closer to 45%. Today, 72% have 10 or fewer colonies, meaning 28% have more than 10. That ratio hasn’t changed hardly at all, all these years, and, in fact pretty closely mirrors the 75:25 ratio other surveys have shown in more recent times. Urban beekeeping, not just large cities, but small towns and suburbs is increasing, too. It used to be a 90:10 country:urban split, today it’s a 63:37 split, which is certainly encouraging. 

Two thirds of our readers are male according to the survey, but that’s not quite an accurate statement. What happens is, the magazine gets shared with other folks in the house, but it was a male that filled out the survey. We checked this the last time we did a readers survey, and what we found was that although it was an 82:18 split on the survey, when asked, the readers came out to about a 70:30 split. That moves us this time after that adjustment to just about a 50:50 split, which is refreshing. 

Fifty-three percent of you spend $500 or less a year on your beekeeping, which goes in line with the number of colonies you keep, but 47% spend more, and 10% spend more than $5000 a year on the craft. 

What are the most requested articles? Seasonal management, pest and disease control and identification, swarm management (see below for some of that) top the list, followed by honey production, regional management, marketing, IPM, equipment differences, basic biology, queen issues, and managing and making nucs and splits. 

What else? You want even more on honey plants and growing honey plants, and info from national and state meetings, and what kinds of products can be made with bee stuff, and then, how do you sell what you make. And here’s an opportunity for one of you creative types out there. Web page and YouTube evaluations and reviews. What a great idea! There’s some good stuff out there, but there’s some that’s just plain scary bad, and when you’re just starting out, how do you know the good from the bad?

More of our readers are part of a forum or regularly tune into University or Government web pages than read the American Bee Journal, but only 14% read a local association newsletter. That hasn’t changed much – from what we can figure, fewer than 20% of all beekeepers belong to a local association. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve been here. 

And a final, very encouraging note. Almost 40% want to go from a present hobby to a sideline business in the next three years. That’s a growth model I think is wonderful. Go Beekeepers!

That swarm on the cover came from a hive of mine two springs ago. It had a third season queen, was two supers bigger than anybody in the county, and wasn’t as mean as snot, but almost. My goal, had I been anywhere near Ohio, was to split it four ways, maybe five, and eventually requeen the lot with stock that actually liked me, rather than what was there now. The day I found this, late afternoon, was the day I took off work early to come home and make the splits. Missed it by THAT much, dang it. I watched it leave – I don’t do trees anymore – about 15 minutes after I first saw it. Took a look at what was left and decided I could still get three small splits out of it each with a couple of queen cells to boot. 

OK, how many beekeeping biology errors did you pick up on in that story? Everything I did was wrong, right? First off, that colony should have been split the previous July, probably at least three ways, and maybe four, to provide a broodless period for long enough to get every mite exposed so a treatment would be possible, or at least the bees could groom like mad to clean up the mites. That broodless period lasts as long as it takes the splits to raise a cell, and just when it’s ready I remove the cell and introduce the genetics I want. During this queenless time the split has almost no brood to feed so can concentrate on making the best of the Fall crop and store honey instead of feeding the kids. 

Then,  these units have a brand new queen going into winter, and by the time foraging is over, they have a hive full of very young, healthy and nearly, if not completely mite-free bees. 

So now it’s March, and those bees out there are already planning on doing this very same thing because those colonies weren’t split last July, so now what? Well, working with the bees is a bit different than working for the beekeeper isn’t it? They start thinking that a natural swarm occurs when queen pheromone is dissipating, when there’s a nectar flow on, when the weather is good, and when there’s enough bees. They need all of these to set the scene, so your job is to make sure at least a couple of them are missing. Reduce the population and the space to give a smaller colony environment before early flows and good weather. Common sense says that they need room to expand, but you provide that room in a smaller space – empty comb in no more than two boxes, and one is better, along with a lot of bees moved out, you’ll suddenly have a small colony that isn’t in the expansion mood because there are fewer bees that aren’t pushed for space and a queen with plenty of room. And you also have two, three maybe four small splits to go with it that you requeen if you can, or let them start and requeen before their queen emerges. Big splits from big colonies do well for honey later if you can keep them from swarming just a bit later, but keeping them small keeps them home – mostly. 

Ya gotta love that picture. California has been dry for so long that this must be a mirage, right? Of course by now the biggest pollination event in the universe is over, or nearly so, and it’s time to measure the season. Weather is a kicker this time of year. Rainy days stop flying and flying is how this gets done. Though it’s amazing how few actual flying hours over the course of bloom are needed to get a good set, so – we’ll talk to some beekeepers and almond guys now that it’s over and see. Meanwhile, anybody got some extra dry bottom boards?