Slovenian Beekeeping

Carniolan Honey Bee – Apis mellifera carnica

By its origin, this is a local subspecies of the Apis mellifera honey bee that is endemic in Slovenia and the regions located south and south-east from it (Ruttner, 1988). Today, it is the second most widely spread subspecies of honey bee in the world. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula, but for historic reasons the former Slovenian county of Carniola is recognised as its homeland, which is why the Carniolan Honey Bee is a singular source of pride for Slovenians.

Since 2003, it has been legally defined in Article 77 of the Animal Husbandry Act (Zživ) and Article 92 of the Agriculture Act (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, no. 51/06 – Zkme), together with its five-year breeding programme.

The Carniolan Honey Bee is a subspecies of the honey bee which partly differs from the rest of the subspecies in its phenotype and behaviour. By phenotype, it is of greyish colour (the presence of leather brownish spots is allowed), which is why it is also called the Carniolan Grey. Abdominal yellow rings are not allowed. The morphological description, as provided by Ruttner in 1988, defines the cubital index of the Carniolan Grey, which is somewhere between 2.4 and 3.0 (a cubital index is the ratio of two of the wind vein segments. It is used for the morphological definition and differentiation between the subspecies of honey bees). Its main behavioural traits are a soft temper and good foraging zeal.

In 2014, Slovenia signed a national resolution on the protection of the Carniolan Honey Bee. The document contains detailed definitions of the priorities, protection, control and support for the local subspecies of the A. Mellifera Carnica.

  1. Mellifera Carnica Breeding Programme

The breeding programme for the Carniolan Honey Bee is being implemented by the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia.

The queen breeders registered according to the programme have started to exchange genetic material for the purpose of evaluating characteristics and progeny-testing.  The breeding programme is updated every five years. This year, the BAS has confirmed the implementation of the current breeding programme.

The breeding programme defines:

The characteristics of honey bee colonies suitable for reproduction and further breeding

Control

Testing of queen breeding

Observation and forecasting service for the honey yield

The legislation related to the A. mellifera carnica breeding programme:

  • 18/2002 (Spatial Management Act  – ZureP-1-9/2003)
  • 110/2002 (Construction Act – ZGO-1)
  • 45/2004 (Act Amending certain acts concerning agriculture and forestry and repealing certain acts concerning agriculture and forestry – ZdZPKG)
  • 90/2012 (Act Amending and Supplementing Certain Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection Acts – ZdZPVHVVR)
  • 45/15 (Act Amending and Supplementing Certain Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection Acts – ZdZPVHVVR)

Bee House Registration

Bee House registration has been mandatory since 2004. The registration contains the following data:

  • Data on the Owner
  • Precise Geographical Location of the Bee House
  • Number of Bee Colonies
  • Bee Hive Type

Migratory Bee Houses are registered under an ID number and the home address of the owner.

In the case of movement of bee colonies, it is necessary to obtain an animal health certificate indicating the American Foul Brood-free status for the bee colonies in question and giving the flight range of the bee (infestation circle). Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia (117/08, 55/13 and 92/15).

It is also necessary to acquire a certificate testifying that the bees are not vectors for Fire Blight (Erwinia amylovora).

Technology of Beekeeping

According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, Slovenia ranks among the top EU-28 countries in the number of beekeepers per 1000 inhabitants. Quantity-wise, however, Slovenia is among the smallest honey producers in the EU. The maximum honey yield was recorded in 2001 – as many as 2,550 tons.

Some 10,000 beekeepers are active in Slovenia, operating with an average of 16 hives.

In Slovenia the average consumption of honey for food is slightly over one kilogram per inhabitant. Honey consumption has not changed much over the past 15 years. The level of self-sufficiency in honey was 59% in 2016, which means that domestic production covered only slightly over one half of domestic demand.

In 2017, Slovenia exported €1.4 million worth of honey, the highest amount since 2000. The biggest buyer by far was Japan, accounting for 72% of the total (source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia)

Slovenian beekeeping covers four main areas:

  • Honey and apiculture products (such as pollen, royal jelly, propolis)
  • Queen breeding
  • Breeding of bee colonies
  • Apitourism and apitherapy

Traditionally, the hives used in Slovenia are AŽ hives (named after the acclaimed Slovene beekeeper Anton Žnideršič, 1874-1947). Žnideršič was the first to introduce these hives in Slovenian beekeeping. By reading German reference literature he enriched his theoretical knowledge, while his practical work enabled him to identify the deficiencies of the beekeeping methods of the time and to understand that the most common bee hive, the Old Carniolan, was inappropriate for commercial activities and moving the bees for foraging. He tested several models and first decided to adopt a Gerstung beehive, named after the German beekeeper F. Gerstung, with sheet frames (26x41cm), but it soon turned out that this hive was not appropriate for migratory beekeeping,  either. Žnideršič started to devise his own hive of rational dimensions, one that could enable the rapid growth of colonies in local climate conditions, a larger honey and wax yield and easier transportation. He found inspiration in the Italian beekeeper O. Alberti, and designed a hive with larger frames, placed longitudinally on metal bars, with equal dimensions at the bottom brood chamber and top honey chamber. Swarming can be restrained and prevented by moving the brood combs, which increases the foraging zeal.

From the outset, this hive was called the Alberti-Žnideršič hive, or AŽ Hive. The name žnideršičevec was also used. The hive is now well established in the whole of Slovenia and in other countries, mainly in Croatia.

Over the past 40 years, the LR Hive or Langstroth-Root hive also gained importance. It was introduced to Slovenia from the USA. This is a stacking type of box hive which has proved to be very practical and flexible, as it is possible to adapt the number of stacks to the size of the colonies and to the foraging circumstances.

Permanently-placed apiary

Most of the apiaries in Slovenia are permanently placed on one location, if possible in the vicinity of the beekeeper’s home. This method of beekeeping depends completely on the local flora and the microclimate of the surroundings.

Migratory apiaries

Migratory or mobile beekeeping was developed to allow for tracking specific plant varieties and a better yield during the foraging season.

Season-related beekeeping

Due to the climate conditions, beekeeping in Slovenia is season-oriented. In winter the size of the bee population in the hive is reduced, and brooding is suspended. In early spring, and if necessary, the beekeepers then start to add small amounts of sugar syrup or cake, to stimulate the growth of the colonies until the first nectar is available in April or May.

Once the honey in the honey chambers is at least 2/3 sealed with wax, it is suitable for harvesting. The maximum allowed water content in Slovenian honey is 20%, as defined in the Rules on Honey (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, no. 31/2004). The honey harvesting season usually ends in July. This is also the time for treating the colony against the Verroa destructor parasites. Then follows the preparation of the colonies for overwintering. On average, the beekeepers use 10kg of sugar diluted in water per colony. As a rule, the colonies are not inspected during the overwintering period, except for the winter treatment against varroatosis.