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Apiculture is keeping bees in order to produce honey and wax.


Apiculture is keeping bees in order to produce honey and wax; in the second half of the twentieth century it was also used for producing propolis, pollen, royal jelly, and bee venom. In addition to producing bee products, keeping bees is also important for plant pollination and consequently increasing yields (especially in fruit growing). Based on written sources, it can be concluded that backyard beekeeping developed as early as the Middle Ages at the expense of tree beekeeping. The development of beekeeping in the Modern Age was influenced by the introduction of new cultivars, especially buckwheat. In tree beekeeping, natural and manmade holes in the trees were used as beehives, whereas in backyard beekeeping hollowed logs and later on tunnel-shaped beehives made of boards (Sln. kranjič) with typical painted front-boards and bell-shaped skeps woven from straw or made of wicker were used. In Idrija a bee house from 1927 has been preserved (although in bad shape); it was made by master carpenter Jože Kenda for France Lapajne, and its front-boards were painted in various landscape and traditional motifs by Nikolaj Pirnat. The nineteenth century saw the establishment of intensive beekeeping on professional bases using movable frames, extractors, separate honey and brood chambers, and specialized beekeeping tools and equipment. Keeping bees and optimizing the development of bee colonies require professional skills and work throughout the year. The Carniolan bee is spread across all of Slovenia; due to its tameness, diligence, and easy upkeep it has been exported to other European countries since the nineteenth century. Beekeepers form beekeepers’ associations, which already have a long tradition in Slovenia (e.g., the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association for Carniola, Styria, Carinthia, and the Littoral, which was established in 1897 and then renamed The Beekeepers’ Association for Slovenia after the First World War, and the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association after 1951). The Idrija Beekeepers’ Association is part of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association; its beginnings go back to 1947, when the Idrija Beekeepers’ Society was established. The association brings together 76 beekeepers, who keep approximately 1,000 bee colonies. The development of beekeeping in the Idrija region was influenced by favorable forage conditions; in the past, these primarily included large areas of winter heath, which shrank due to afforestation. Today important bee forage includes wildflowers and trees (dandelion, willow, dogwood, and maple in early spring, acacia and fruit trees in May; linden, spruce, fir, pine, wild chestnut, maple, beech, and ash remain the most important bee plants). In the past, bees were transported to buckwheat forage in the fall to Lower Carniola, and today forage in places nearby is primarily used to produce single-flower honey (linden, fir, and spruce). Because the beekeepers in the Idrija region are aware of the importance of honey quality, they let their honey mature in the beehives for a long time. This type of honey contains less water and a higher nutrient content, and has a richer flavor and aroma. In the past, beekeeping was important especially because of the extraction of honey, which was the main sweetener until the last third of the nineteenth century, and wax, which was used for making candles until the mid-nineteenth century. The leftover honey in the combs was used to prepare mead. Honey was also used to make gingerbread or lebkuchen, and honey liqueur, and for treating diseases. In addition to food, in the second half of the twentieth century, honey, propolis, pollen, royal jelly, and bee venom were used primarily in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry. Beekeeping is threatened by bee parasites (varroa mites) and the use of pesticides in agriculture, and indirectly also by the sale of synthetic substitutes for beekeeping products (e.g., synthetic honey and paraffin wax).


Beekeeping in the Idrija region is first and foremost the responsibility of beekeepers, the majority of which (i.e., 76) are members of the Idrija Beekeepers’ Association. Some of them sell bee products either at home, at the Idrija farmers’ market, online, and elsewhere. Individual entrepreneurs (e.g., Marina Šlabnik and Borut Troha) also use bee products to produce beauty and pharmacy products, souvenirs, and promotional gifts. In addition to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association, the promotion of honey and bee products is also co-financed by the Idrija-Cerkno Development Agency (ICRA d.o.o.), the Municipality of Idrija, and the former Ministry of Education and Sport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food, and the Ministry of Health (e.g., the Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project).


People may keep bees only for their own needs, but beekeeping is often used as an additional commercial activity. Beekeeping products are used directly for food as well as raw materials in the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industry. In addition, they are also used to produce souvenirs and promotional gifts, either directly or as raw materials. Beekeeping indirectly influences the pollination of plants and thus increases orchard yields. The beekeeping tradition in Slovenia and projects such as the Traditional Slovenian Breakfast, the introduction of the “Slovenian Honey” trademark, and the protection of the geographical indication of Slovenian honey place the cultural element not only at the local and regional level, but also the national level. Furthermore, the world-famous Carniolan bee and the procedures for registering the designation of the geographical origin of Slovenian honey at the European level also place Slovenian beekeeping at the international level.

Potential usability

Beekeeping is a cultural value that is already in use in the Idrija region and elsewhere in Slovenia. Beekeepers directly and indirectly market bee products, entrepreneurs use bee products to produce promotional gifts or as raw materials for beauty and pharmacy products, and various institutions promote the consumption and use of honey (e.g., the leaflet published by ICRA d.o.o., the Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project, and the registration of the geographical indication of Slovenian honey). As in the past when bee houses and front-boards of the Carniolan beehives were an expression of folk artistic creativity, artistic horizons, and a reflection of the everyday life and thinking of their creators, today bee houses continue to be used as a field of artistic expression. The Idrija Beekeepers’ Association thus plans to renovate a 1927 bee house in Idrija in cooperation with the Municipality of Idrija. In addition, it also plans to offer a beekeeping workshop at one of Idrija’s primary schools. More extensive promotion of introducing honey into the range of local culinary specialties may also be worth considering. Some beekeepers (e.g., Ciril Rupnik of Spodnja Kanomlja) are also thinking about introducing other forms of apitherapy into their range of services, such as the api-chamber or a small room with an open beehive, where air from the hive is inhaled while listening to the humming of the bees.

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