Slovenian AZ Beehive
Source: https://www.threesistersgardens.com/

Introduction to the Slovenian AZ Beehive

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Beekeeping as an endeavour is one of a kind, and definitely an interesting and fulfilling one. All honeybee colonies are unique in their own respect and every beekeeper will encounter their unique share of experiences. The management style and time devoted to raising bees hugely depends on the hive style, climate and the strain of bees. General maintenance of hives is however similar across the globe. For instance, during warm months, the beekeeper has to ensure the queen bee is laying eggs and the worker bees are working on honey stores. The hive should also have enough space for expansion during this time.

On the flipside, colder months require a different approach. Honey stores are consumed by the bees during this time and the bees will rarely emerge from the hive. As for inspection, it is highly discouraged during winter. Any activity that exposes the bee colony will dissipate precious heat from the hive if opened during cold months. You also need to ensure colonies are well fed, and if necessary, provide supplement feed. The AZ beehive has been helping many beekeepers raise successful honeybee colonies globally. It has been recently introduced in the US but appears to have won the hearts of many already. In this write-up we delve into the nitty-gritty details about this hive design.

About the Slovenian AZ Beehive

Slovenian AZ Beehive
Source: https://www.threesistersgardens.com/

The AZ beehive, also referred to as the Slovenian hive, has evolved over the years and what can be seen presently is quite different from the original design. A notable differentiating feature of an AZ hive, is that it does not have honey supers and does not require heavy lifting. The hive has been gaining massive acceptance across the globe including the US and Canada.

Slovenia is the home where it all started. The country is located in central Europe, east of Italy and to the south of Austria. Beekeeping has been in practice in the area for the longest time and things are done differently compared to what you see in other regions. It is believed that the natives of Slovenia have been keeping bees since the last ice age.

Earlier hives comprised the use of simple logs that evolved into what we now refer to the AZ hive. Other versions of hives were designed and developed by various natives in Slovenia but the AZ hive became the most popular. Modern hives that emulate the AZ have been developed. For instance, the Hybrid AZ beehive makes it possible for beekeepers to enjoy the benefits associated with both the AZ and Langstroth hives.

Apis mellifera carnica or the Carniolan bee, is the Slovenian native honeybee and it is the only honeybee that is allowed to be domesticated in the region. The honeybee species has been there for years and is accustomed to the environment. This is a region where winters are longer and colder. The summers are hot and shorter when compared to other regions also.

The  Slovenian bees are also different when compared to other bee strains. They do not drift like other bees but come back to their individual hives. There is also a lower robbing tendency in the strain of bees. The bees also control production depending on prevailing food supply. They are also able to forage on wider variety of flowers due to their long tongues.

AZ Beehive with Langstroth Frames

The AZ Hives that have been designed to accommodate Langstroth frames are referred to as the hybrid AZ hives. These are now available and target beekeepers with different experience levels. It allows the beekeeper to simply take out the frames from their Langstroth hive and slip then into the hybrid AZ beehive.

These modern AZ hives are available for purchase online. Most of the sellers will make arrangements for delivery and you might even enjoy free shipping.

Features of the AZ Beehive

This is a uniquely designed beehive that is worked on from its rear. What that means is that bees are least disturbed by the beekeeper during routine inspection or honey harvesting. The rear access also makes hive access easy and immediate. This also allows the beekeeper to either stand or sit while working on the hive. It is thus ergonomic unlike other beehives.

The front of the AZ hive comes with two entrances for the honeybees. The exits are positioned in each level of the AZ hive. The hive interior has been partitioned into two sections, with the middle separated by a queen excluder. Such a design makes it possible for worker bees to move freely within the hive. Additionally, a built-in feeder is included to make it easier and convenient to avail supplement feed to the honey bees.

Design of the AZ Beehive

The AZ beehive is made up of the following components:

  • Honey chamber or supers
  • Brood chamber
  • Hive ceiling
  • Comb frame
  • An upper door opening
  • An inner front wall
  • Outer front wall
  • Back door handle
  • Upper window
  • Queen excluder
  • Entrance closing bar
  • Upper chin /front handle
  • Hive door
  • Lower window with a feeder in the inner frame
  • Lower door opening
  • Windows closing bar
  • A steel screw hook latch
  • A hive bottom
  • Steel supporting bars
  • Varroa screen

The AZ Beehive and Hive House

Slovenian AZ Beehive 3
Source: https://www.threesistersgardens.com/

The traditional AZ hive is designed to fit into what is referred to as the AZ hive house. These are found in most parts of Slovenia. The hives were designed by AZ, Alberti-Žnideršič. These houses are designed in a way that exposes the front side only. The hive houses can also be built into trucks to make it easier to transport the hives from one place to another.

The Hive Exterior

The exterior of the AZ beehive comes with two openings that allow the honey bees to access the hive levels. These openings can be closed when needed, especially while transporting the hive.

The front end of the AZ beehive is the only area that requires painting in this hive. This is the only part that remains exposed when the beehive is placed inside the AZ bee house. The earlier versions of the AZ hives were characterized by artwork that portrayed religious themes, fables, or local culture. Modern designs are predominantly characterized by single colors or floral themes. Religious depictions ceased as from early 1900s.

The Hive Interior

The AZ hive is accessed through its rear. No lifting is required which makes colony inspection easier and faster.

The frames are placed on metal bars that utilize the bee space. Things discourages the honey bees from accumulating propolis or building brace combs on the bottom, top, and in between. These frames are narrower and longer when compared to those of a standard Langstroth hive. These are wired vertically and not horizontally. Any standard foundation to be used on AZ hives should be cut down in order to fit into the AZ frames.

AZ hives allows for the best ventilation. Its exterior door comes with ventilation flaps on both top and bottom. This allows additional air to flow freely into the AZ beehive. Furthermore, its two screened interior wire doors helps keep the bees in place, thus facilitating free air movement within the hive.

Screened interior doors are fitted with feeding boxes that can be used to feed the honey bees during the harsh seasons. You will also find a removal queen excluder at the top and screened bottomed boards at the hive bottom. Colonies can be separated using a solid board when keeping nuc colonies. This will also help when you need to start new colonies before removing the colony once it is bigger.

Available also within the AZ hive interior, is the metal spacer that helps space out the frames to the precise and required distance.

Benefits of the AZ beehive

The AZ beehive offers many benefits. These include:

Maintenance

Hive maintenance is a crucial activity when it comes to raising honey bees. Maintenance can be quite daunting if hives are exposed to the elements. Fortunately, with a hive such as the AZ hive, all you need to do is oil or paint its front side. All other 5 sides require no maintenance. These need to be kept in a shed to keep off the elements.

Space Utilization

AZ design hives optimizes on available space and will serve well anyone that needs to make the best use of their space. The hives can be stacked on top of each other, thus making it possible to have more hives within a smaller space. This means this translates to more production per square unit.

Hive Inspection

Honey bees are naturally territorial and will react accordingly to any perceived invasion. Therefore, any kind of hive intrusion, irrespective of whether it is routine checks or honey harvesting will be treated harshly. Such a reaction can have a serious impact on honeybees. First off, the stress that comes with opening and closing of the hive. Secondly, the exposure that forces the honeybees to respond. All these can stress honey bees which ultimately affects the colony productivity.

The AZ hive makes hive inspection easier. Honey harvesting is also much easier. Honeybees are well secured and access to the frames is through the rear where the colony is never exposed to the elements. This makes honey harvesting easier, and mind you, with AZ hives a single frame is removed at a time. The bees are thus least stressed and will be less aggressive. This benefits both the bees and the beekeeper.

Additionally, you need the least smoke when conducting hive inspections. This is attributable to the fact that honey bees are accustomed to being approached from the front entrance. They are therefore least bothered when you approach the hive from the rear. This means least amount of smoke is required.

Hive Robbery

Honeybee robbery is a common occurrence in both domesticated and wild bees. However, various factors play a key role when it comes to encouraging hive robbery. Supplementary feed is particularly a point of attention and can lead to robbery. The AZ hive makes it difficult for robber bees to sniff the syrup since this is placed at the rear of the beehive. It is also almost impossible for invading bees to pass through the guard bees before they get to the syrup inside the hive.

Colony Productivity

Bee colony productivity is pegged on many factors, which could be within or outside your control. The prevailing temperature within the colony is certainly within your control and this has a huge impact on colony productivity. The design of the AZ beehive allows the beekeeper to keep the temperatures within recommended levels. The rear should be kept in a shed to allow the honey bees use less energy and time for temperature regulation.  The bees can channel this to more productive activities such as foraging, honey making, and colony protection. During winter months, the honeybees also expend less energy when it comes to heating the colony. Less energy requirement means surplus honey for harvesting to the beekeeper. These hives thus yield more honey per hive.

Honey Extraction

Honey extraction is much easier when you use AZ beehives. The beekeeper can keep the honey extraction equipment within the hive shed. This eliminates the need to haul heavy boxes of honey frames to the honey house. You will walk a small distance to and from the beehive making your work easier and more efficient. It is also worth mentioning the fact that each level of the honeybee colony is separated by mesh screens, to allow the beekeeper to access each level individually. This prevents the bees from escaping during inspection.

Seasons vs Inspection

One of the biggest challenges beekeepers face is changing seasons. Hive inspection is greatly discouraged during harsh seasons such as winter. Consequently, honey bees are not well monitored for any signs of pests or diseases during this time. Fortunately, with the AZ beehive, you can be able to carry out hive inspection whenever you want, irrespective of the seasonal changes. Hives can be opened during windy days without worry of exposing the bees. You can also inspect the hive during hot summer months without any worry.

Heavy Lifting

You can bid goodbye to any heavy lifting of honey filled supers when you use this hive design. For Langstroth hives, on average you have to carry approximately 40kg of weight for a full 10 frame super. When you consider how many hives you have and the distance you have to cover before extraction, it is baffling to learn how much one has to carry on a single day. Considering how long you intend to stay keep bees, it might have a serious toll on your body. AZ hives allows the beekeeper to remove an individual frame a time and work on this. This ultimately translates to least stress on the beekeeper, not only on the short term but also for the long run.

Pros and Cons of the AZ beehive

Pros

  • It is one of the hive designs that have been in use for the longest time. It is however a relatively new concept to the American beekeeper.
  • Its unique design with an exterior access allows the beekeeper to inspect the bee colony at any given season and weather.
  • Brood boxes and supers that tend to be heavy especially when full of honey require no lifting when you use these hive design.
  • One of the best designs that optimize heat conservation in hives. This can be attributed to the fact that boxes are stacked together side to side and top to bottom. The bee colony is thus well protected throughout the seasons, including harsh months.
  • Colony robbing is completely eliminated since supplement feeding occurs within the hive. This does not attract robbing from other colonies.
  • Transportation is made easy since the hive can be moved as a single box.
  • It is so much easier to treat varroa mites.

Cons

  • You can only get 2 or 3 level hive boxes at the present time.
  • Since these hives are non-standard, you do not have so much freedom to use frames interchangeably with Langstroth type hives. Fortunately the hybrid AZ hive overcomes this downside.

Conclusion

The AZ beehive is just like any other hive you will find out there. It will certainly work for some people and not for others. The hive is not readily available just yet and does not require serious monitoring as compared to other hive designs. One of its biggest pros is the fact that bee colonies are kept in a single decorative building, which also severs as a honey house. You need not install expensive electric fences and you will never experience the toppling over of hives. It is so secure and will counter most predators including bears. It also eliminates the muscle power needed for lifting heavy supers, and hive inspection can be conducted at any time and season. In terms of space utilization, these hives might not take much space as the case is with Langstroth hives in an open apiary.

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