Slovenian Beehives Creating Buzz Among Cape Beekeepers

By: Elizabeth Kintz

Topics: Conservation , Environment

The Slovenian beehouse owned by Cynthia and Matthew Sutphin at their Cape Cod Lavender Farm in Harwich. ELIZABETH KINTZ PHOTO

CHATHAM—Honeybees are big in the tiny country of Slovenia.

Known as the “Beekeeper of Europe,” Slovenia is unrivaled in its apiculture. Not only does the small nation boast an exceptionally high percentage of beekeepers — one in every 250 Slovenians is a beekeeper — the country is home to the Carniolan bee and some of the most famous names in beekeeping history.

Among the most well known beekeeping academics is Dr. Janko Bozic, a professor at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana, where he teaches courses in the field of animal behavior and beekeeping. A commercial beekeeper himself, Dr. Bozic spent considerable time in the United States studying bees as a Fulbright Scholar.

On July 15, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the community center, Dr. Bozic will speak to local beekeepers and enthusiasts about Slovenian beekeeping techniques. The focus of the lecture will be on the management and advantages of the Slovenian hive — the hallmark of Slovenian beekeeping — and controlling the varroa mite. The Slovenian hive is gaining popularity among Cape Cod beekeepers, who are exploring alternatives to the prevailing Langstroth hive.

“I think American beekeepers are realizing the many advantages of the Slovenian hive,” says Dr. Bozic in a phone interview from inside his Slovenian bee house (“It seemed only fitting,” he stated). “Hives are packed close together, which saves space in positioning and insulates the bees; a beekeeper is working inside a bee house, protected from the sun, wind, and rain — more pleasant for the beekeeper and the bees; and there is no heavy lifting like there is with the Langstroth.”

Long the de facto hive for many parts of the world, the Langstroth is made up of stacked boxes of various depths. Within each box are wooden frames in which the bees build their comb. To inspect honey production, beekeepers lift boxes of combs, known as supers, which typically weigh 70 to 80 pounds.

“For beekeepers with compromised upper body strength, lifting these Langstroth supers can be too much,” says Dr. Bozic. “The Slovenian hive is a good solution. It eliminates the need for heavy lifting — giving greater accessibility to beekeeping.”

The Slovenian hive, also known as the AZ hive after its architect Anton Znidersic, comprises many of the same components as the Langstroth hive — both hives have moveable frames — but it does not have honey supers, and the hive is housed in a designated bee house. The Slovenian hives are typically clustered together, side by side, and are stacked in two horizontal rows. The hive’s top level is reserved for the honey-filled frames, while the bottom level contains the queen and brood-filled frames. Bees enter the hive through front entrances, while the beekeeper has easy access to the hive via a rear door that is opened from within the bee house. The hive’s front entrance boards feature intricate folk art depicting religious stories or historical and humorous political content. The beautiful panels are a long-held Slovenian tradition, and also help bees navigate their way back to the hive.

With the Slovenian hive, the maximum weight lifted at any one time is six pounds — the weight of a single frame filled with honey. A hive designed to eliminate heavy lifting appealed to Mark Simonitsch, a retired Chatham fisherman turned beekeeper of Slovenian ancestry. Today, Simonitsch owns and maintains a Slovenian bee house in Harwich with Stephen Daniel. The Simonitsch-Daniel bee house is one of an estimated 25 Slovenian bee houses — each with multiple hives — located in Southeast Massachusetts. Of those 25 bee houses, 10 Slovenian bee houses are located on Cape Cod.

Simonitsch first learned about Slovenian hives when he traveled to Slovenia to visit his cousin’s alpine villages. In September 2014, Simonitsch organized a tour for American beekeepers. “Years of hauling fishing nets took its toll,” says Simonitsch. “At my age, lifting heavy Langstroth hive parts is simply not feasible. The Slovenian hive doesn’t involve any heavy lifting, and, simply put, allowed me to continue beekeeping.”

Simonitsch notes that approximately 50 percent of beekeepers in the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association are either women or older residents with less upper body strength. “I figured I wouldn’t be the only beekeeper interested in a hive that eliminated heavy lifting,” says Simonitsch. Therefore, instead of purchasing only one or two hives for himself, Simonitsch ordered an entire shipment of Slovenian hives — making him the first importer of Slovenian hives to the United States. The first shipment sold out before reaching American soil.

The appeal of beekeeping in Slovenia goes beyond advantageous hive mechanics.

“In Slovenia, bees are a cultural icon,” says Simonitsch. “There is great sentiment for the bees. Slovene children don’t run away from a bee, they run toward it.” In fact, in Slovenian schools, a one-hour bee class is taught each week to children in second grade through middle school.

“We work with the bees — not just to harvest their honey,” says Dr. Bozic. “It is an experience of poetic perfection. In the beehouse, with the aromas of wax and honey and the hum of the bees at work, you are immediately and intimately connected to nature. I compare it to entering a chapel. You have a sense of peace and calm and respect.”

For more information about Dr. Bozic’s lecture, contact Mark Simonitsch via e-mail at fishweirs@capecod.net or phone at 774-722-2409. For information about purchasing Slovenian beehives or about Slovenian bee tours, visit www.slovenianbeekeeping.com or contact the owner of Slovenian Beekeeping, Suzanne Brouillette at BeeSlovenia@gmail.com.

 

DETAILS:

Slovenian Beekeeping Lecture by Dr. Janko Bozic

July 15, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Chatham Community Center