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Beekeeping in Slovenia

Beekeeping in the past

Mankind has always been aware of the importance of bees for nature, the preservation of biological diversity, and thus the existence of all living beings. The first material evidence of the existence of bees comes from bee fossils that are millions of years old.

Bee colonies used to inhabit stone caves, but they preferred hollow tree trunks. When beekeepers learned to capture swarms and provide them with dwellings in hives (troughs, skeps, etc.), it made honey extraction easier for them.

The role of bees and their behaviour have not significantly changed over the course of thousands of years. The only change has been in the way bees are exploited for commercial purposes. The first major technological advancement occurred when the beekeeper brought inhabited tree trunks into their living environment.

Beekeeping tradition

The rich tradition of beekeeping places Slovenian apiculture among the world's best. Historical records speak of large quantities of honey that Carantanians (people of Carantania, later known as Carinthia) exported among other things, indicating that beekeeping was practiced on a large scale.

Beekeeping in Slovene lands experienced its heyday in the 18th and 19th century. The first specialist essays about bees appeared, and the first beekeeping manuals were published. Beekeepers such as Anton Janša (1734–1773), Peter Pavel Glavar (1721–1784), Anton Žnideršič (1874–1947), and others made significant contributions to the global treasure trove of beekeeping knowledge.

In the 19th century, technological progress reached the entire beekeeping world, leading to changes in beekeeping practices. A significant step forward was the invention of movable comb frames, which occurred independently in different parts of the world.

The history of beekeeping in the Karst region

There are preserved records of beekeeping traditions in the Karst region by schoolmaster Janko Vodopivec, who practiced beekeeping there between 1892 and 1937.

The most strongly represented architectural and design variation of apiaries in central Slovenia are the beekeeping structures of the Karst-Littoral architectural type, also known as the Mediterranean type, which logically and harmoniously adapt to the traditional general patterns of construction in these areas.

1910 was a turning point for the development of advanced beekeeping in the Karst region because that was the year beekeepers organized into a society. The functioning of these societies encouraged a more modern way of beekeeping with hives containing movable combs, which began to be established in the 1950s and 1960s. A significant advancement in beekeeping was the Alberti-Žnideršič hive or AŽ-hive for short, which spread to the Slovene Littoral after 1910 as well.

The history of beekeeping in the Kočevje region

The Kočevje region is a forested land that provides excellent bee pastures, so it is not surprising that the beginnings of beekeeping date back to times when honey was taken from tree hollows. Eventually, hollow tree trunks were brought closer to people’s homes. The first photograph of these hives was taken in 1916 in Novi Lazi near Kočevska Reka.

Two books had a significant impact on beekeeping in this area: Jurij Jonke's Kranjski zhbelarzhik (The Carniolan Beekeeper), published in the Slovene language in 1836, and its revised 1845 edition. Later on, the book became compulsory reading in schools. Beekeeping branches also had a significant influence in this region. In 1912, the first nectar flow observation station was established in Struge.

At the end of World War II, apiculture in the Kočevje region was almost completely destroyed. With the expulsion of the local German population (Gottschee Germans) in 1941/42, a vast empty area remained, slowly filling up with settlers from all over Slovenia.

In 1999, beekeepers established the Society for the Protection of the Geographical Origin of Kočevski med (Kočevje Honey), later renamed the Kočevje Honey Association.