Beekeeping in Slovenia

 

Slovenia has around 8000 beekeepers. A quick calculation shows that the country has four beekeepers per 1000 inhabitants, which means that the Slovenians are truly a nation of beekeepers. Beekeeping tools and beeswax foundation embossing rollers is very important for the beekeepers.

 

A Rich Beekeeping Tradition

When sugar was hard to come by, there wasn't a Slovenian farm that didn't keep bees alongside other domestic animals. Honey was the only sweetening agent and wax provided an indispensable material for making candles. Bees were kept in wooden, low beehives, which were closely stacked together in several long rows. These beehives are called "kranjiti" (Carniolans). A small wooden bee house was built in the sheltered part of an orchard. So honey bee colonies were kept under one roof, protected from snow and cold in winter and sweltering heat in summer. Thanks to certain advantages, such bee houses are still very popular in Slovenia today and contribute to the cultural image of the landscape.

 

Anton Janša - Beekeeping Teacher

The career of the great Slovenian beekeeping teacher, Anton Janša, coincided with the beginning of hive painting. Born in 1734 in the idyllic hamlet of Breznica near Bled, Janša helped on the farm and, as a young man, kept bees. He also took up painting. His desire to continue his education led him to Vienna, where he graduated from art school with honours in 1769. However, he was not destined to become a famous painter like his brothers. At that time the Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa, established a beekeeping school in Augarten. A small wooden bee house was built in Vienna and Janša became the first beekeeping teacher in this school. The profound knowledge of bees that he brought from his hometown, as well as his exceptional perceptiveness and inherent wit, helped him gain a reputation as an excellent theoretician and beekeeping practitioner.

 

Janša wrote two books in German, and several of his ideas seemed simply inconceivable at the time: that drones are not some sort of water carriers, as had been believed, but males that inseminate the honey bee queen in flight; that the queen is the mother of all living beings in the hive, including drones; that the old queen flies out of the hive with the first swarm and the young queen bee flies out with the next swarm; that bees infested with severe foul brood can be cured by being shaken into another hive and left to starve for several days. This method is still used, and was recommended by Janša, although people knew very little about the disease at the time. Who knows what else our compatriot would have achieved were it not for his early death at the age of 39. He remains a shining example not only to Slovenian beekeepers, from where he originated, but also to Austrian and Viennese beekeepers, among whom he worked prolifically.

 

The Grey Bee

The present territory of Slovenia is the home of the grey bee species, the Carniolan bee (Apis mellifera carnica). Slovenian beekeepers also fondly call it the "Carniolan grizzly" because of the bright grey hair along the edges of its abdomen. Its basic characteristics include gentleness, diligence and an excellent sense of orientation. Because of its gentility, people started to keep beehives close to their homes. News of the gentle character of the grey bee soon spread to other nations - initially in Central Europe, where the aggressive dark species, Apis mellifera mellifera, was endemic. The end of the nineteenth century was the beginning of lively trade in live bees and swarms, later to include Carniolan Queens.

 

An oblong wooden beehive known as a kranjič, where the bees were accessible from the back or front, was designed for mounting on carts and transporting to distant locations. Until the beginning of World War I, specialised Slovenian merchants exported tens of thousands of bee colonies and, in many places, these completely superseded the native dark bee. Today, their work is being continued by honey bee queen breeders, who sell approximately 30,000 queens, mostly to the countries of Central and Western Europe, with exports increasing annually.

 

An Acclimatised Species

Let us return to the Carniolan grizzly, which is successfully kept in Slovenia, Austria and Croatia, as well as elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. For centuries this bee species has adapted to the climate and foraging conditions of the country. It tolerates cold, snowy winters, frequent rainy and windy summers and makes good use of available forage. One of its beneficial characteristics is discovering and collecting honeydew from spruce and fir trees, and in this regard it surpasses other breeds. It also has a well-developed hygienic behaviour, which makes it less prone to disease.

The Carniolan bee spends its winters in a small cluster with a relatively modest food supply, but its development in spring is explosive and colonies sometimes reach their peaks as early as May. Such a rapid build-up often takes beekeepers by surprise and if they do not provide their bees with enough space for storing honey, swarming may soon begin. The inclination towards swarming is not a desired quality in the bees of large, commercially oriented beekeepers. By appropriate selection and breeding, experts at the Institute of Agriculture in Ljubljana, are determined to select bee colonies which are less inclined to swarm and are thus acceptable for more demanding bee buyers around the world. They also select bee colonies with an inherent resistance against the Varroa mite.

 

Beekeeping Organisation

Although the main purpose of beekeeping has been, and continues to be, the production of honey, other benefits enjoyed by the beekeeper are nonetheless gaining importance. In their respective societies, beekeepers feel accepted and welcomed as if in their own homes. They meet friends and colleagues who share similar ideas, exchange opinions, and plan various activities such as specialised lectures, exhibitions, anniversary celebrations and many more. All these activities enrich and refine beekeepers.

The Beekeeping Association of Slovenia was established 130 years ago and comprises 200 beekeeping societies. Almost every society has its own flag, which accompanies its members during merry making, or in moments of farewell, when paying their last respect at an open grave. Of equally venerable age is the Slovenian Beekeeper, whose interesting and detailed articles are an excellent source of information on activities in the beekeeping world.


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