AŽ Hives: The best beehive you have never heard of
Slovenia’s love affair with bees has existed for centuries, with recorded history of Slovenians keeping bees stretching back centuries. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the tradition of keeping bees was accomplished mostly by farmers, who used woven baskets called skeps, or in hollow logs which were carried by backstraps into the Julian Alps to the high mountain meadows, where the flowers are plentiful in Spring and Summer. In the late 18th century, the practice of Slovenian Beekeeping was enhanced through the research and practices of Anton Janša (1734-1773). Janša, a Slovene painter and apiarist, is responsible for writing the first modern beekeeping manual. At this time, the area now known as the Republic of Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Hapsburg royal family. Although Janša originally trained as a painter in Vienna, his family kept large quantities of beehives, and he had skill in this area. In 1769, Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa, recognizing Janša’s innate talents with the science and practice of keeping bees, named Janša as the First Instructor of the Imperial Beekeeping School in Vienna, then the capitol of the Hapsburg Empire. Janša’s influence in Slovenian beekeeping is remembered today, and his birthday, May 20th, is celebrated as World Bee Day.
At the turn of the 20th century, several imported modern beehives and their domestic versions were in use in Slovenia. Since none of them satisfied the needs of Slovenian beekeepers, however, the most resounding innovation was provided by the pioneer of the new beekeeping era, Anton Žnideršič (1874-1947). Žnideršič, a large-scale beekeeper from Ilirska Bistrica, designed a beehive, the AŽ. Žnideršic sought to improve upon the German-Austrian system of leaf hives, and experimented with different frame sizes. The AŽ beehive he created enables the Carniolan honey bee the best possible development in the Slovenian environment, ensuring a higher yield of honey and wax, and making it easier for beekeepers to work in the apiary and transport bees to foraging.
Žnideršič’s beehive was established under the name, the Alberti-Žnideršič beehive, as Anton Žnideršič was inspired by the German beekeeper Adolf Alberti when designing this beehive. The AŽ hive is opened from behind and is part of a stack of hives placed into a secondary structure with a large overhang to protect the hives fro moisture. In the AŽ beehive, the combs are placed longitudinally, in the direction of the bees’ flight. Combs can be moved like pages in a book, or removed like books from a shelf.
The AŽ hive quickly became popular among Slovenian beekeepers, and is still used by more than 90 percent of beekeepers in Slovenia. Thus, the home of the Carniolan honey bee is usually an AŽ beehive. The AŽ Hives currently in use in Slovenia are, more or less, the identical design in use for over 100 years. They feature rear-door access for the beekeeper, two or three-levels for frames, and are designed to be placed into a secondary structure to protect the hives. There is no lifting required to manage AŽ hives, apart from removing the individual frames, which typically weight around six pounds. The hives are a particularly good choice for individuals with physical limitations, as they can be adapted to nearly any structural design the beekeeper chooses.