Slovene people had and still have a very close coexistence with honeybees. This good relationship is the logical consequence of the historical development of beekeeping in the Slovene rural areas over the past few hundred years. When sugar was hard to come by there was practically no Slovene farm that did not keep bees alongside other domestic animals. Honey was the only sweetening agent and wax provided indispensable material for making candles. Bees were kept in wooden, low beehives, which were closely stacked together in several long rows. These beehives are called “kranjiči” (Carniolans). A wooden bee-house was built in the sheltered part of an orchard. So honey bee colonies were kept under one roof, protected from snow and cold in winter and sweltering heat in summer. Thanks to certain advantages, such bee-houses are still very popular in Slovenia today and contribute to the cultural image of the landscape.
In the beekeeping tradition a special place is occupied by Anton Janša (1734-1773) who is an excellent example of the knowledge possessed by beekeepers from the province of Upper Carniola in the second half of 18th century. Janša was active as the beekeeping teacher at the Royal Court in Vienna for three years. Because of his early death he had time only to write two books in German; several ideas expressed in these books seemed simply inconceivable at the time:
The beekeepers of that time had beehives installed into bee-houses which were made easier because of a very good orientation sense of bees found in those districts. Beekeepers soon noticed that a large number of front hive entrances caused some disorientation trouble in bees. They tried to prevent drifting of the bees and queens by some additional markings on the front board of hives. Also, they observed the internal hive situation, mostly from the front of the hives. So they started painting the front boards which helped the bees recognise their own hive. These markings were very simple at first, later they developed into a very special art of painted hive front boards. The art as such developed in the late 19th century to the highest degree with more than 600 standard motives painted on more than 50.000 front boards documented up to the present time. Paintings found on front boards give us an insight into the way of life, belief, interests and humour of that time.
Human creativity and talent for design were also revealed in the making of gingerbread. This unique art passed down from generation to generation is still preserved today. In some places, namely in the surroundings of Škofja Loka, there are genuine artists who make various gingerbread figures from a mixture of honey, rye flour, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and potash, and adorn them with colorful floral images. In the past, gingerbread was only made on special occasions such as weddings, but today it is sold to tourists as a unique souvenir of Slovenia.
New technologies in the bee management came to Slovenia at the end of 19th century. The introduction of movable frames, honey extractors and modern hives was seen as a step-forward by Slovene beekeepers. Thanks to the economical interests of bee swarming production the beekeepers were relatively conservative and still insisted on their small hives being installed in bee-houses. They wanted to replace their small hives with a hive that could be put in the bee-house in a similar way as the old hive. Consequently, the back-loaded hive invented by Anton Žnidaršič at the beginning of 20th century was the right choice for them. Anton Žnidaršič incorporated the past experiences of rural beekeeping with a more modern form of bee management in Gerstung hives. He also learned from the ideas of Alberti from Switzerland and the result was a new designed back-loaded hive at first called “our hive” and later “AŽ hive”. It was well accepted by Slovene beekeepers and is nowadays the most widespread beehive in Slovenia. It is interesting to note that hives, such as LR or DB, never really took root in Slovenia, as was the case in recent decades in the neighbouring Austria.
Traditional Slovenian beekeeping has seen knowledge being transferred from one generation to another. The legacy beehives in this area started changing at the start of the 20th century. With the appearance of bourgeois and working classes and the new way of acquiring goods using the achievements of the industrial revolution, the demand for market surplus of honey started to appear.
In a little over half of the century, the kranjič beehives, linen skeps, Gerstung, Neiser, Kuntzsch and other types of beehive had to make way for the more modern construction of AŽ- and LR-beehive. The choice and acceptance of the beehive in Slovenian parts was mostly determined by apiary and migratory beekeeping, the established way of keeping bees. The key role in this was at first played by beekeeper Anton Žnidaršič who in 1903 created his 9-frame beehive called Alberti-Žnideršič beehive (AŽ-beehive for short), because it was modelled after Alberti leaf hive. He used Gerstung frames and fixed the combs with Gravenhorst castellated spacers and windows.
In the interwar period, AŽ-beehive was gaining ground across all Slovenian territory and beekeepers were increasingly introducing beekeeping with movable combs. By 1960 the standard AŽ-beehive completely replaced the kranjič and skep, which have been from then on no more than a special part of history. The innovator himself and other beekeepers later on have continually changed and upgraded the AŽ-beehive in its over-200-year-long history. Therefore, apart from the original two-storey 9-frame beehive there are also the 10-, 11-, and 12-storey beehives as well as the three-storey one. They can all be stacked on top of one another; the apiary and transport units all use uniform AŽ-frame size (41 cm x 26 cm). AŽ-beehive has a wooden frame (casing). Its queen excluder separates the brood chamber and the honey chamber, which are closed by two wire mesh windows at the back. At the front the hive is shut off by a double wall with space in between, which provides additional heat insulation. Apart from the lower main entrance to the brood chamber there is another entry in the middle of the hive that enables entrance to the honey chamber; it is used during intensive nectar collecting and also makes it possible to keep two bee colonies in a single hive if you replace the queen excluder with a dividing board. The colony can be cared for and examined through the door at the back side of the beehive.
AŽ-beehive is a traditional Slovenian beehive, which is still used by the majority of beekeepers in Slovenia. Small, non-commercial, non-professional beekeepers are happy to use it for keeping bees as well as those larger ones whose beekeeping business is their additional or main source of income.
AŽ-beehive is a priceless Slovenian trademark and a part of the Slovenian cultural heritage.
Slovensko čebelarstvo v tretje tisočletje 2/ Pavel Zdešar …(et al.). Čebelarska zveza Slovenije, Javna svetovalna služba v čebelarstvu. Brdo pri Lukovici. 2011. ISBN 978-961-6516-40-2.