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Beekeeping in Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country in South Eastern Europe which was part of the former Yugoslavia until it gained its independence in 1991.It has a population of around 2 million people with 8000 beekeepers, giving it one of the highest proportion of beekeepers in Europe. In contrast the UK, with a population of of around 60 million, has just 44,000 beekeepers.
In 2008 I went to Slovenia with a party of UK beekeepers to visit local beekeepers and to learn something of the country.

The Carniolan Bee

The history of beekeeping in Slovenia is bound up with the development of the Carniolan honeybee, apis mellifera carnica, the "grey bee". Selective breeding and the strict elimination of any undesirable traits has produced a race of bees which are suited to the local climate and flower sources. The bees are also very placid (beekeepers rarely wear any protection when handling colonies) and do not "drift" from one hive to another. They are also good at working aphids for the honeydew flow - a big part of the local honey harvest. Slovene beekeepers refer to their bee as the "sivka" or "grizzly" because of the bright grey hair along the edges of its abdomen.

The climate in Slovenia can vary from alpine to mediterrean nearer to the coast. Winters are predominantly cold with snow on the ground and summers hot and dry. To protect their bees from these extremes Slovenians have long kept their bees in beehouses rather than individual hives each with a roof and weather proof outer case.
The hives of placid Carnica bees are easily worked from the back inside a corridor in the beehouse. Hives are opened from the rear and frames slide out for inspection.

The name for the original small low hives kept in these bee houses was "kranjici" (Carniolans). The bees that populated the hive took the same name.
A tradition has developed of painting the hive fronts in the beehouse with portraits, pictorial scenes, religious themes etc. Although this began as an attempt to help bees orientate and find their own hive it has developed. Long winters with little to do gave beekeepers the inspiration to paint and the fronts themselves have become sought after works of art in some cases. Many tourist shops and market stalls sell reproduction painted hive fronts and old or rare versions command a high price.
The example on the left is from one of the bee houses at the headquarters of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association at Lukovica.

Although bees are kept in beehouses there is a tradition of migratory beekeeping to follow the blooms such as from the Lime trees, Chestnuts and honeydew. Around two thirds of Slovenia is covered in forest so that honey from trees is a major crop.
Beekeepers who live a distance from the forest keep their bees permanently on "bee trucks" which travel the country in search of flowers. Many of these are decorated in the traditional manner but others, like the truck below have taken a more modern approach.