AŽ Hives are the best beehive you have never heard of.
Slovenia’s love affair with bees has existed for centuries, with recorded history of Slovenes keeping bees stretching back nearly 1000 years. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the traditional of keeping bees was accomplished mostly by farmers, who used woven baskets called skeps, or 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 Slovenija was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Hapsburg royal line. 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.
The early and late 19th centuries brought new technological advancements in beekeeping to Slovenia. Beekeeper Anton Žnideršic (1874-1947) sought to improve upon the German-Austrian system of leaf hives, and experimented with different frame sizes. In the early 20th century, American researcher Frank Benton brought the Langstroth hive to Slovenia, seeking to convert Slovenian beekeepers to this design. Slovenes experimented with Langstroth, but quickly reverted to more traditional designs, due to ease of management and lack of lifting. Observing that in a natural state, bees choose to build vertically, Žnideršic built these observations into his hive designs, ultimately settling on the current design used, in variation, throughout Slovenia. The name of this hive design, the AŽ Hive, reflects the initials of its designer, Anton Žnideršic.
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.