Pioneers of Slovenian Beekeeping

Slovenian beekeeping know-how was part of the first beekeeping school in the world

The first World Bee Day will be celebrated this year – but why on 20 May? Today marks the birth, more than 270 years ago, of Anton Janša, a pioneer of modern beekeeping, an academy-trained painter and beekeper, and the first teacher of beekeping in imperial Vienna.

The large Janša family from Breznica in the Gorenjska region was poor, but was for its talent for painting. The descendants of the Janša family have long been passionate about beekeeping and probably learned their diligence from bees. Anton was the oldest of nine children (he was born on 20 May 1734), and had the desire to learn about painting ever since he was a child. In 1766 he went to Vienna together with his 15-year younger brother Lovro, where they enrolled in a copper engraving and painting school, and their brother Valentin joined them a year later. Lovro and Valentin became successful painters, while Anton devoted his life to beekeeping in 1769.

Anton Janša Photo: Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica Archives

Janša brought his beekeeping knowledge to imperial Vienna

He applied to a call for applications (Ekonomie Gesselschaft) searching for a qualified teacher of apiculture.  He passed the exams with honours in 1770, and became the first imperial teacher of beekeeping at the beekeeping school in Augarten in Vienna, established by Maria Theresa. He was given the task of travelling around Austria, and studying and teaching beekeeping. He began diligently adding to the knowledge on beekeeping that he obtained in his “school” in front of his home apiary in Breznica. He soon became famous for illustrative lectures based on a thorough knowledge of bees, and the Carniolan method of beekeeping spread across the country. Janša was the first to teach that bees must not be killed and that hives should be put out to pasture.

In addition to teaching beekeeping, Anton Janša also wrote textbooks, where he presented his own method of beekeeping, which was significantly different from the teachings of other writers at that time. He wrote two noteworthy specialist books (in German): Abhandlung vom Schwärmen der Bienen (A Treatise on the Swarming of Bees) in 1771, followed byVollständige Lehre von der Bienenzucht (A Complete Guide to Beekeeping). Both introduced numerous new developments to beekeeping knowledge at the time, and corrected several misconceptions. Today, they have been translated into the majority of European languages. One of his achievements as a beekeeper was to change the size and shape of beehives to enable them to be stacked together in a block.

Janša's apiary in Žirovnica Photo: Jošt Gantar

Janša’s knowledge spread also in his homeland Carniola

Shortly before Janša’s work another Slovenian beekeeper thoroughly studied and noted the method and conditions for beekeeping in Carniola. This was Peter Pavel Glavar, a priest from Komenda, who used his vast knowledge of bees and beekeeping to present the method of beekeeping in Carniola that was in many ways more advanced than in other Austrian lands. In the years 1776–1778 he translated Janša’s book A Treatise on the Swarming of Bees from German, and supplemented it with his own knowledge, thus becoming the writer of the first specialist book in the Slovenian language. If Anton Janša was the first teacher and promoter of Slovenian beekeeping knowledge in Vienna, Peter Pavel Glavar made efforts to develop beekeeping in Carniola at the time, and established beekeepers cooperatives and the beekeeping school in the Dolenjska region.

Peter Pavel Glavar Photo: Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica Archives

The AŽ hive named after Anton Žnideršič

Slovenia has another famous beekeeper, Anton Žnideršič (1874–1947). He was a businessman, and had been interested in bees since he was a child, breeding around 500 bee colonies. He found some shortcomings of the kranjič-type beehive, and developed a new type that allowed for faster development of bee colonies and increased honey and wax yields. Since his development was modelled on the Italian beekeeper Alberti, the new beehive was called the Alberti-Žnideršič hive, or AŽ hive for short, or the Žnideršič hive.

Anton Žnidaršič Photo: Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica Archives

Text By: Brigita Juhart
Source: Sinfo