Lately there has been plenty of buzz over new types of beehives becoming available in the United States. It is no secret that many beekeepers are looking for better ways to keep bees, better ways to ensure the hive’s long-term survival, and better ways to house hives, with improvements to their ergonomic design.. I was excited to learn that a Massachusetts beekeeper has been working for the past couple of years to import one particular hive to the United States that has been used for centuries in the European country of Slovenia.
Mark Simonitsch’s family is from Southern Austria. Following World War I, that part of Austria, known as Carniola became Slovenia. Mark regularly visits his Slovenia relatives. He tells me that to be Slovenian is to be a beekeeper. The Carniolan bee has been indigenous to the area of Slovenia since the last ice age. Mark also shares that one out of every two-hundred and fifty Slovenians keeps bees. This is how Mark became familiar with the Slovenia beehive. Recently, I took a moment to sit down with Mark and chat about the Slovenian beehive that has many promising features to current and new beekeepers alike.
Please tell us about the design of the hive.
The Slovenian (AZ) hive has evolved over hundreds of years. It contains the same components as the Langstroth except it has no honey supers. It also prevents the need for heavy lifting. Eighty-five percent of beekeepers in Slovenia use this hive design.
What features does it have that makes it better, in your opinion, to some of the current hives available in the US?
This hive design eliminates all lifting by the beekeeper. The hive is worked from the rear. The rear door arrangement permits a much less intrusive inspection of the hive allowing access to all parts of the hive easily and immediately. When working the hive from the back, the beekeeper can stand or sit. In the front of the hive, there are two entrances for the bees- one on each level. Inside the hive, there are two levels for the bees with a queen excluder in the middle. This allows the workers to move throughout the entire hive. The spruce made hive even includes a built-in feeder.
Mark describes the hive--The overall construction of the hive is similar to a kitchen cabinet.
Imagine a kitchen cabinet (beehive) mounted inside your house on a wall that has an exterior surface. Now think of two bee entrances through the wall of the house-one for each level. Now picture 20 frames inside the “cabinet” arranged as books on a shelf. While standing or sitting inside your home you can access the “cabinet” rear door and access the frames in either level at the same time. Each level of the interior has a rear screened window. The bees are very oriented to using the front entrances. Therefore, only a small wisp of steady smoke, similar to a lit cigarette, is required at the rear door to deter the bees.
My shift to the Slovenian hive is a solution to a need for a better plan with my increasing age and corresponding physical weakness. Fishing wore me out – In October I had another attempt to repair my shoulders with surgery. That was my fifth and last one. If I am going to continue beekeeping I will have to cease all forms of lifting. I am going to be able to do that by using the Slovenian hive and quite possibly I will improve my beekeeping methods given the hive is more user-friendly. I can be more attending with less effort – through the rear door inside a protected shelter for the home/hive. No more outside in the hot sun between, 10 am and 5 pm. There will be fewer times when I simply cannot open the hive on windy or damp days – or on marginally cold days. The bees ignore the rear door inspections much more than bees ignore lifting the inner cover – exposed to the outside.
Do you feel that this is better for the bees?
The bees remain calm. A total inspection of the hive can be made quickly if desired. The bottom level can be visited frequently, unlike the Lang’s bottom deep. The beekeeper has absolutely no tasks that require lifting of more than one full frame of honey at a time.
Also, because the hives are protected from weather and high noon sunlight. The insulation factor from being stacked on and next to one another is significant and can result in improved winter mortality rates. The rear screen windows combined with two hinged vents on the rear door also allows for good ventilation and a reduction of humidity in the summer.
How do these hives overwinter in comparison to other hives?
If desired, the whole colony can be organized into one level with a thin cover over the queen excluder. This will reduce the honey consumed in the winter to be converted to energy expended by the bees to keep the interior at proper temperatures. If the colony is healthy, the brood and honey frames can be divided between the two levels. A second queen can be introduced to the top level. Thus, two colonies can overwinter in the same hive unit. When spring arrives, one queen is removed. Now the number of bees in both levels is considerable and the colony population is ramped up and prepared to forage vigorously and immediately in early spring.
How is the honey harvesting process? Easier? Less disruptive?
The process is much simpler. Frames are easily and quickly withdrawn and replaced. Due to the concave edges of the frames that rest on 3 stainless rods in the hive, there is very little propolis with which to contend. Slovenian beekeepers use an electric frame sweeper with very delicate brushes to remove bees and honey quickly and safely. The bees are returned to the hive from the sweeper bucket.
What do you think we can learn from Slovenian beekeepers?
Beekeeping with Carniolan bees has been occurring in Slovenia for probably 1000 years. Keeping bees is a thoroughly absorbed Slovenian tradition. In general, tradition has been described as a genius of a culture. Slovenians know all aspects of bees from generations of experience. They understand bees almost by instinct in addition to the vast experience.
Mark Simonitsch had a long career in commercial fishing and clam aquaculture on Cape Cod. Mark first became interested in bees after reading about Karl Von Frisch’s Nobel Prize-winning bee research. Mark’s son’s interest in butterflies and children’s science also helped to motivate Mark into becoming a beekeeper.
For more information visit: www.slovenianbeekeeping.com