What Slovenian Honey Farmers Taught Us About Beekeeping

These beautiful houses keep bees safer no matter the weather.

February 17, 2016
bee farm sign
Photograph courtesy of Suzanne Brouillette

One challenge for any would-be beekeeper is protecting beehives from the elements. In the winter, some end up having to wrap hives to keep them warm (moisture is one of the top risks for a beehive over the cold months), and in the summer, they need to find a cool place to tuck them in to avoid the heat. A different solution is to build the bees a better house. 

For hundreds of years the people of what is now Slovenia, just east of northern Italy, have built small houses to protect their hives. Inside the structure, walls of what look like cupboards hold two-chambered hives, called AZ hives. Most American beekeepers tend to use the Langstroth hive, a box with hanging frames that hold the honeycomb. The AZ differs in several respects, but the biggest one is that keepers access the hive from the back instead of the top. 

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bee house building
Photograph courtesy of Suzanne Brouillette

That means the bees can be visually checked through a screened back without disturbing them, and the beekeeper never has to lift heavy honey boxes. “It’s a whole different experience,” says Suzanne Brouillette, of Slovenian Beekeeping in Harrisville, New Hampshire, since both bees and beekeepers remain protected from the elements. 

 

pulling frame from bee house
Photograph courtesy of Suzanne Brouillette

Roxanne and Lee Dunn of White Deer Ranch in Fishtail, Montana, found the Slovenian bee houses while searching for a better way to raise their colony in Montana, which can be harsh on hives. Temperatures in the winter can easily fluctuate between sub-zero and 40 or 50 degrees, sometimes in a single day, and the wind wreaks havoc on everything.  

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The Dunns made theirs from a small preexisting structure on the property. “It might have been a residence at some time,” says Roxanne Dunn. “We built a shelf all the way around the inside of the house. And we used standard hives and pushed them against the (outside) wall.” They also installed observation windows so visitors can see what the bees are doing. 

building bee houses
Photograph courtesy of Roxanne Dunn

Part of the appeal of the Slovenian bee houses is their colorful designs, says Brouillette, who believes the artful touch help bees locate their hive. 

 

“I think the [original images] were religious,” Brouillett says, “but after the Communist regime took power, people switched to more humorous or folk artsy paintings.” Since Brouillette claims to have no artistic talent of her own, she imports classically painted panels from beekeepers in Slovenia for the hives she sells on her site. 

bee farm sign
Photograph courtesy of Suzanne Brouillette

No matter what season it is, the houses help moderate the ambient temperature and weather conditions. “It’s been pretty great because we get some strong winds,” says Dunn. “They’re cozy in there.”