Beekeeping in Slovenia

World Bee Day

Slovenia has been striving to have the United Nations Organisation proclaim 20 May as World Bee Day. With this initiative, Slovenia hopes to raise people’s awareness of how dependent we all are on bees and other pollinators. 

It will help us remind people around the world annually that preservation of bees is of great importance. The main message of the initiative is that by strengthening joint concern for bees, we can achieve better results in the protection of bees and the development of beekeeping.

Bees and other pollinators are extremely important for people’s lives; namely, as much as one third of food produced throughout the world depends on pollination. As they carry out pollination, bees positively affect entire ecosystems by contributing to the preservation of the ecological balance and biodiversity in nature.

Beekeeping in Slovenia

Beekeeping occupies a special place in Slovenia's economy as one of its oldest traditional crafts. The Carniolan honeybee (Apis mellifera carnica) or the Carniolan grey bee, is an autochthonous species in Slovenia, which means that no other bee species are allowed to be kept. Honey, their product, is more than just a sweetener: it has healing properties and is used as the basis for many beauty and medicinal products. 

According to the statistics, Slovenians are a genuine beekeeping nation, as a relatively significant four out of every thousand of its residents are engaged in this activity. Beekeeping is a traditional agricultural activity in Slovenia and enjoys a status equal to that of other types of agricultural activity. In the past, when sugar was in short supply, almost every farm kept honeybees in addition to other domestic animals. One bee product is beeswax, which was used to make candles. 

Slovenian honey is a trademark

Carniolan bee (Apis mellifera carnica). Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

Slovenia is the only European Union Member State to have protected its native bee, the Carniolan bee (Apis mellifera carnica. The Carniolan bee is famed for its docility, hard work, humility and excellent sense of orientation. So it is this bee that is one of the rare internationally recognised and protected features of our country.

This breed of bee is regarded as the second most widespread bee breed in the world. For this reason special attention is devoted to preserving and cultivating the pure Carniolan bee, which is also regarded as part of the natural and cultural heritage of Slovenia.

The art of painting beehive panels

Slovenian museums have preserved a good number of original beehive panels. Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

Another special feature of Slovenian beekeeping that has gained international recognition is in the area of folk art – this being the art of painting beehive panels, something not known anywhere else in the world. The beginnings of this folk art can be traced back to the middle of the 18th century.

The smooth wooden panels on the front of bee houses posed a challenge for numerous folk artists, and this gave rise to fascinating images that turned simple bee houses into veritable open-air art galleries. The pictures on individual bee houses of course also helped the bees in their orientation, and made it easier for the beekeeper to remember individual houses.

Slovenia’s museums have preserved a good number of original paintings from which countless replicas have been made – new beehive panels done in the antique style are among the more original Slovenian tourist souvenirs. Numerous Slovenian beekeepers still like to decorate their bee houses to this day along the old patterns, but using modern motifs.

Slovenia – homeland of famous beekeepers

Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

Historically, the Slovenians have also accounted for a series of famous men who established the professional foundations of beekeeping. In the 18th century, when Austrian Empress Maria Theresa founded a beekeeping school in Vienna, the first teacher of beekeeping at this school was the Slovenian Anton Janša (1734-1773). He was famed as a great theorist and practitioner in beekeeping.

Exceptional credit for developing Slovenian beekeeping also goes to the priest and teacher Peter Pavel Glavar (1721-1784). He was regarded as the best educated beekeeper in the then Slovenian lands. Many of his tips are still heeded by beekeepers today.

One of the most famous Slovenian beekeepers was Anton Žnideršič (1874-1947).

All of them, as well as other distinguished Slovenian beekeepers, contributed to beekeeping becoming a noteworthy sector of the economy with a whole range of characteristic products – apart from honey, the bees were also raised for beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and for their venom, which was used medicinally.

We should also mention that Slovenian beekeepers publish their own professional magazine, Slovenski čebelar [Slovenian Beekeeper], which boasts a tradition going back more than 130 years!

Slovenian honey - a new European trademark. Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

Slovenian honey – a protected trademark

From the middle of September 2009 it will be possible in Slovenia and certain other EU countries to buy Slovenian honey as a product of protected geographical indication, ensuring the highest quality of our honey. Slovenian beekeepers have decided to use a protected Slovenian honey jar in its original form and volume of 720 ml. Slovenian beekeepers can also boast a relatively rich selection of different honeys (flower honey, forest honey, acacia honey, linden honey, spruce honey).

Slovenian honey is high-quality, because it comes from the environment in which we live and because our beekeepers ensure that the honey has truly come from this location.

Bee tourism

A few years ago (2003) Ljubljana hosted the world beekeeping congress Apimondia. In addition to a series of expert meetings, guests visited numerous Slovenian beekeeping centres and individual private apicultural enterprises. After this congress, a number of publications around the world carried a mass of articles about Slovenian beekeepers and about our country, so now each year numerous groups of beekeepers are still visiting Slovenia.

Recommended locations by Slovenian beekeepers

First and foremost they like to take guests to the Beekeeping Centre at Brdo pri Lukovici. Many local people and foreign guests also like to see the Beekeeping Museum in Radovljica, which is unique in the world, while in nearby Breznica stands Janša’s bee house, which is supposedly just like the one that was there more than 200 years ago. There are also numerous beekeeping attractions in all of Slovenia’s other regions.

Text by Jože Prešeren