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Busy bees

In the world of bees, women are equal to their male colleagues as entrepreneurs and experts

Beekeeping runs in the Slovenian genes, and many families have a beekeeper in their midst. Moreover, beekeeping in Slovenia is no longer just about obtaining honey, it is also increasingly an innovative business opportunity. Although it is true that in beekeeping circles men are still in the majority, women in no way lag behind their male colleagues in their dedication, resourcefulness, knowledge and success.

Such is the case with Malči Božnar, Franja Zagorc and Nika Pengal. Their stories are in many respects different, but they all share a spark, an energy and enthusiasm when they speak of their work with bees. From their words you can see that their vocation or hobby brings them joy and inspiration.

Urban beekeeper

Franja Zagorc is a beekeeper who was born into the craft, since she comes from a beekeeping family, with her grandfather and father both keeping bees. In 2015 she took a beginners beekeeping course run by the Slovenian Beekeeping Association at Brdo pri Lukovici, and in 2016 she started keeping bees in Ljubljana. She now has the AŽ apiary close to the city cemetery of Žale and the largest shopping centre in Ljubljana. So Franja is an urban beekeeper who at the moment is just obtaining honey, noting that “the foraging in Ljubljana allows me to make excellent flower and linden honey”. Her trademark is apt and playful, with the name Ljubljanski FRAjer. This is a play on words from the names Franja and Jernej (her boyfriend, who sometimes helps her out) and the whole phrase in Slovenian means something like Ljubljana cool dude.

Although producing honey is for the moment still her hobby and she has a full-time office job, her plans are for something bigger. In the future she also wants to produce pollen, propolis and royal jelly, and to design her own cosmetics line. She has dreams of one day running her own company and being  independent.

“Beekeeping has taught me a lot of patience. Nothing happens overnight, often there can be surprises when you open up the hive. Working with bees also calms me a lot,” says Franja.

As a young beekeeper she feels that it is very important to have a mentor. “I’m grateful to my father for helping me. Beekeeping might give the impression of being easy, but that’s not the case.”

This urban beekeeper also feels it is important for towns and cities to be as green as possible. “I would ask people in cities to plant a lot of plants that can be used to produce honey, since they help the bees and us too. Without these wonderful and intelligent creatures, there would be no life on our planet. And in the countryside, farmers should preserve nature by farming as ecologically as possible.”

Franja Zagorc

Gospodična Medična

The young beekeeper Nika Pengal, who is also an apitherapist, takes the view that women are gentler beekeepers. She managed to turn a difficult situation, where she could not find work as a heritage studies graduate, into a success story with her brand Gospodična Medična (Maid of Honey healing). On her very first contact with bees she fell in love with the world they represent. She started off with eight hives, and now she has several million associates. Her working day is very active and passes quickly. Nevertheless, she comes home every day full of energy. She gets up at around six and drives to Jelovica or some other location removed from the city hubbub and pollution, and spends a large part of the day with her bees. In winter she does the seasonal chores – melting wax, making new frames for honeycombs, wiring them (as frames need to be wired), cleaning up and repairing the beekeeping accessories and hives, and spreading knowledge of apitherapy and bees in various talks and discussions. The Honey treasure , pollen, propolis and royal jelly, and she is convinced that it “drives all illness away, and if something does hit you it passes quickly and doesn’t drain you”. Her products include the honey chewing gum ČUBI (pronounced CHEW-BEE), which won a prize in one of the competitions for young start-up companies. Since this product requires a very large amount of pure wax, its production is limited at the moment. It is in fact a kind of medication, and not chewing gum in the traditional sense. It is very effective at treating sinus problems, it cleans the mouth, and helps prevent cavities and bleeding gums.

Although bees take first place in her professional life, she also has an ace up her sleeve with archaeological knowledge. She is interested in the history of bee products in general, for instance how propolis was used in the past and so forth. She shares her knowledge with others at various talks for school and university students, or for the general public.

Recently Nika also gave a lecture in America at a conference devoted to apitherapy, where she talked about the practice in Slovenia and a special massage with honey, and in Spain she gave a presentation on forest beekeeping and apitherapy at a conference entitled Forest products that are not wood.

Maid of honey healing is unstoppable. Nika is also very active in her local environment, and in this she and other beekeepers are actively supported by the municipality of Domžale and by various private donors. She is working together with other local beekeepers in the Domžale Beekeeping Society to construct a new apiary (intended for the disabled, children, tourists and anyone on a walk) which is part of the wider attractions along the Kamniška Bistrica river. Along this bee path, the Society will link together two apiaries, with instructive panels placed in between them offering information on the world of bees. At the start and end of the trail it will be possible to observe a beekeeper at work with bees in the apiary.

Her apiaries are painted in pastel colours, and this is an expression of freshness and youth, as well as determination. Nika has indeed shown her determination by blazing her own trail, which has demanded courage and brought success.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan
Photo: Personal archives
Source: Sinfo