Raising the Bar

Two of the many intriguing concepts we came across in Slovenia were Bee-Air Therapy and Api-tourism. The first is the belief that the environment produced in a bee hive is therapeutic, and can be accessed via a variety of devices by which one can inhale the emissions of a colony.  Certainly, one of our tour party, after only a few minutes of such intake, awoke next morning to find that, for the first time on the trip,  her sinuses were clear.  Interestingly, one of the missions of Franz Sivic, perhaps the leading api-therapist researcher in Slovenia, is to find scientific support for these phenomena, beginning with having all experiments and operations monitored by medical doctors who administer both pre and post tests.  

 

The second involves the use of beekeeping and the products of the hive to promote tourism.  The beautiful painted beehouses (cebeljnaks, pronounced chebelnyaks) ) were omnipresent, as were road side signs selling med (ie. honey) and attractive displays in stores and tourist centers promoting honey bee products, including medica (fortified mead, pronounced medusa.) 

 

The focus of much of this activity is the Čebelarska Zveza Slovenije, or Slovenian Beekeeping Association, a comprehensive organization centered in an impressive four story building alongside one of the major highways east of the capital, Ljubjlana. 

 

There are 16 employees, three of whom are full time - the President, Vice-President and Secretary General.  It was the latter, Anton Tometz, who gave up his morning for us, sharing his knowledge and passion for Carniolan bees through the good auspices of our guide and translator, Janez Strasizar.

 

The first records of beekeeping in the Duchy of Carniola, now Slovenia, go back to the 10th century, the national current organization was founded in 1873 and the new headquarters were opened in 2008.     The 5000 square meter, three story building sits on the hilltop of a large acreage with gardens that demonstrate active hives as well as bee forage.  The library, with its 3500 books and journals, all of which were donated and most are digitalized, as well as the restaurant, beekeeping shop, reception area and office space, was 80% self-funded, primarily by dues from membership - annual dues are 40€ per annum, which is about $45.  To put this in perspective, the average annual income in Slovenia is the equivalent of $20 000, less than half of that of the USA.  The state helps with maintenance and running costs of the property in return for a share of the nectar flow information which comes from the more than 40 stations based throughout the country.

 

The objectives, as described by Secretary General Tometz, (and I’m relying on Mary’s notes here because the web page is not available in English) are to advise and educate Slovenian beekeepers and to promote positive public relations for beekeeping, not least through api-tourism and api-therapy. 

 

The challenges facing the association are no different to those in Pennsylvania : declining natural resources as the number of bees increase, varroa and it’s associated pathogens and diseases, and the effect of toxic sprays on honey bees. 

 

There are 400 native bees and 325 bumble bee species in Slovenia, and the emphasis is on preserving the integrity of  Kranjska Cebela - the Carniolan, or grey, or silver, honey bee, which is native to the area and is the second most popular bee in the world, second to Italians.  It is the only bee that Slovenian beekeepers are allowed to keep, nor is any other type of bee allowed into the country.  This leads to interesting dilemmas.  One beekeeper we visited has a major apiary in the foothills of the Alps, very close to the Italian border.  Her queens are open-mated and she cannot control where they fly, nor are they respectful of international borders.  So progeny that have a light appearance are sold in Italy, and those with the Carniolan darker features go to Slovenian or German beekeepers!

 

The average age of a beekeeper in Slovenia is 58, compared to a national average age of 51, but Anton stressed that a number of younger Slovenians were getting involved in leadership roles.  And there are plenty of such roles available - with 207 local beekeeping organizations (literally one per town) in a country the size of New Jersey with a total population of only 2.1 million.  There are about ten commercial beekeepers, two of whom are women  (‘commercial’ meaning having more than 150 hives) and  the largest operation is some 2500 hives.  These figures might be misleading in that the registration of hives is mandatory but free, and there is a tax of  2.50€ on every colony after the first 40, so beekeepers register any colonies over 40 with neighbors and family so as to avoid the taxes. 

 

The cost of a Carniolan queen is similar to what we pay for a queen in Pennsylvania, the average honey production is about 40 pounds per colony,  but the price of honey is only about half of what we get in the US. 

 

Also impressive was the strong focus on children.  The  Beekeeping Association offers three day beekeeping camps throughout the summer, which attract some 2500 children every year. 

 

The energy and enthusiasm in that building was evident and contagious, as was the professional level of leadership, and my recurring thought was, how can a country that is so relatively small, with a population equivalent to that of New Hampshire, think so big?  And this is despite the traumatic, unsettled history of the last century.  It is no coincidence that a study out of Yale placed Slovenia in the top five environmentally successful countries in the world, and the capital, Ljubjlana, is the green capital of Europe in 2016.  

 

If they can do it, why can’t we?  

 

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Latest comments

02.08 | 13:10

Hi Jeremy. I read this writing in the Pennsylvania Beekeeper newsletter. Your writing style is wonderful and so is your storytelling. Thank you for sharing.

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25.12 | 13:26

Thank you, Rob. The origin of the word 'spirit' is 'breath'. Sometimes that sense of connection to something greater can quite take my breath away. Jeremy

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01.12 | 18:43

I like this Jeremy,
I am a bee Keeper too. When I am working with the bees I feel connected with God , self others - the Cosmos.
Peace to you today!

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17.05 | 13:05

Brilliant

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