A lesson Carniolan bees teach

May 20 is International Bee Day. The first part of the series is on the most popular species and its relevance.
A lesson Carniolan bees teach

# Reena Varghese Kannimala

 "Look at the bees and mimic them..."

 There is this saying among the indigenous Slovenian people about Carniolan bees that are analogous with hard work. These bees get their name from Carniola district in present-day western Slovenia. Initially, they were found throughout the Balkan peninsula and in areas as far north as the Carpathian mountain ranges. But the popularity of these bees has crossed the borders to make it the prized specie of beekeepers.

Besides producing substantial quantity of quality honey, these bees are highly cold and disease-resistant, making them the most popular. Unlike other varieties, Carniolan bees are generally gentle and do not attack. They are early risers and hence get to cover larger distances of gardens before others which all mean higher production of honey.

 Apiary is their livelihood

 It was Slovenian biologist Yanez Gregory who called his citizens beekeepers. As early as the 8th century, Slovenians had turned out to be skilled beekeepers. Until the 1800s, Slovenians made hives from hollow tree trunks which in some regions were called corita or tubs. But the advent of timber mills saw tubs give way to boxes made from wooden planks, earning a funny epithet of coffin.

As demand for honey and wax started going up beekeeping became a very profitable economic venture. Wax went int candle making which was in big demand in churches and monasteries making rulers in Slovenia take interest and give individuals monopoly rights for beekeeping.  Besides, honey was the only known sweetener then. Buckwheat turning into a major agricultural crop in the 1500s turned into a major attraction for bees, resulting in a leap in honey and wax production and their export. Valvasor, a 17th-century Carniolan scholar, had noted that by the mid-1600s Carniola had shipped "thousands of quintals" of honey annually to Salzburg in Austria alone.

In 1770, Emperor Maria Theresa appointed Anton Yansha of Upper Carniola as the first instructor at the newly established beekeeping training school in Vienna. By the late 1800s, researchers understood the ability of Carniolan bees to surmount adverse situations leading to its spread not just across the region but to different parts of the world. In fact, by early 20th Century, "freight trains full of hives" with swarms of Carniolan bees were shipped out to different parts of the world.

It was around this time that traditional beehives made of planks got the name kranjic or ‘Carniolan beehive’. Today, Slovenia has more than 7,000 beekeepers maintaining over 1.6 lakh hives. Radovlyatsa town houses a museum showcasing the apiary history of Slovenia.

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