Part of the joy I find in travel these days is finding ways to support sustainable travel. Working with local artisans and producers, connecting locals with my travelers is a great way to make a positive impact with tourism. My friend Andrew has been doing just that for some years now, and supporting bee keeping in Slovenia is a fun way to do it.
He’s made friends with beekeepers near Lake Bled, Slovenia, and reports back on his experiences sharing bee culture with his guests.
To hear a chat with our beekeeper friends, check out this podcast on Drinks with Sarah.
One of the things I’ve always known about Slovenians as long I’ve been coming here is their love affair with honey and all things bees. Nearly everywhere in the country you can find honey in all varieties (spruce, fir, linden, cherry blossom, acacia, chestnut just to name a few) and for sale at numerous private houses, kiosks and gift shops.
Roaming the popular outdoor market in Ljubljana, in addition to the stalls upon stalls of honey, you’ll also come across elongated wooden panels with colorful, folksy paintings on them. This unique local art are actually replicas of what 18th and 19th century beekeepers in Slovenia would paint to decorate the front of their hives with motifs ranging from humorous, religious and mythical.
If it seems like this small country (barely 2 million inhabitants) has always been a nation of beekeepers then you’d be correct. There are five beekeepers per 1,000 inhabitants, which places Slovenia at the top of the world in terms of beekeepers per population.
Less than a mile away from Slovenia’s most popular tourism destination of Lake Bled lies the tiny village of Selo. It’s here where my friend Blaž lives and shows off his passion and knowledge of bees and special Slovenian bee-keeping traditions to an ever-increasing amount of travelers.
Whether it’s a love for the way local honeys taste, fascination with the stories behind the beehive panels or awareness for the current global plight of bees, an educational and delicious meeting with Blaž is quickly becoming a favorite stop with my guests.
Wrap Your Brain Around These Bee Facts
•To make one kilogram of honey, a single bee would have to visit 4 million flowers and fly four times the distance around the world
•Every third spoon of world food depends on pollination
•Honey bees’ wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz
•The queen bee is the only one that lays eggs. She lays up to 2,000 eggs per day
•Bees pollinate as many as 170,000 species of plants and without them, there would not be so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, or such beautiful colors on the lawn
Blaž and his wife Danijela have 130 bee hives which, in peak bee season, could mean a total of 6.5 million bees. Blaž got his start 16 years ago when a swarm of bees came into an empty hive that he inherited from his uncle, a beekeeper. Aprehensive at first, Blaž got a little convincing from a family friend and a few more bee families as a birthday present and since then, his whole family has been “addicted to bees” as he puts it.
In addition to hosting guests and handing out samples of the award-winning honeys, Danijela paints the brightly colored panels that are so distinctive and Blaž is now the president of the Section for Beekeeping Tourism at the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association.
I chatted with him regarding the recent big news: after quite a few years of pestering, the U.N. has finally adopted Slovenia’s resolution of a World Bee Day. The first annual celebration will be this May on the 20th of the month. It’s no coincidence that May 20th is the birthdate of Anton Janša, the Slovenian beekeeper who was the first to teach what are now modern-day beekeeping ideals to the whole of the Habsburg empire.
1) Why are bee-keeping and bees so important for Slovenian culture? Is it true that something like 1 in every 100 Slovenians are beekeepers?
In the past, almost every farm had a beehive with bees, as bee crops (honey, wax) were very important and in those times hard to access. Already during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Maria Theresa recognized the well-being of bees, and also that Slovenians have a lot of knowledge about this. That is why Anton Janša got a job in Vienna and was the first apprentice of beekeeping in the world. Simply put, Slovenes like bees and bees with heart, so every 200 Slovenes are beekeepers.
2) What will happen next May in Slovenia because of UN passing the World Bee Day (events, conferences, media spotlight on Slovenia?
A set of three-day events is being prepared. The World Beekeeping Conference Global Challenges in Beekeeping will start on May 18th and will continue with the World Ministerial Conference on Bees and Pollinators in Brdo pri Kranju on 19 May. On the same day, the commemoration of the Carniolan lavender in Višnja Gora will also be opened. On May 20, Bee’s celebration of the 1st day of the bees will take place in Žirovnica, the birthplace of Anton Janša.
3) What efforts did you contribute to making this World Bee Day happen?
Most of the work was done by the ČZS (Beekeeping Association of Slovenia) and MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food) and their joint commission, which led this project and invested all necessary documents and attended all events. As the president of the Section for Beekeeping, I worked more closely with the Slovenian Tourist Board in preparing and designing a brochure for the promotion of beekeeping tourism, in which the World Bee Day was also highlighted. This brochure was then included in the promotion at Apimondia conference in Turkey and other apiculture events around the world. In addition, I also present this campaign to all of our visitors in Slovenia.
4) Do you think that creating a World Bee Day will be able to help the problems we (the whole world) face with declining bee population?
For this reason, the importance of bees and the significance of their work, pollination, and, consequently, the reduction of global hunger also need to be discussed. In Africa, for the survival of one family, people already have enough knowledge and rearing of eight bee families and selling their produce. This is just the beginning. Slovenia establishes the Academy of Beekeeping and with it we want to pass on our knowledge of bee breeding to all interested countries of the world. The next objective is to declare the bee at risk because it does not survive in Europe without the help of the beekeeper. So more will be said about bees, we have greater opportunities to reduce the disappearance of bees, since the world must realize that without bees people will not survive.
photos by Blaz Ambrozic and Luka Esenko
Visit Slovenia with me and Andrew on our Italy and Slovenia tour!