May 20: World Bee Day

Portable apiary in Slovenia. (Photo by David Miksa)

Portable apiary in Slovenia. (Photo by David Miksa)

There’s a small country in Central Europe, a very beautiful alpine country, called Slovenia.  Slovenia has only about two million people, but this tiny country is very big in beekeeping.  Tucked between Italy and Austria, it has both mountains and Mediterranean sea coast, creating enticing niches for bees.

Every Slovene family has at least one beekeeper. I think beekeeping might be enshrined in their constitution.  I visited before they adopted the Euro and paid for a Laško with coins that had images of bees, not presidents or queens. Beekeeping is taken so seriously that the nation’s unofficial motto is “Land of the Good Beekeepers“. The country produces gourmet honey, offers beekeeping tourism, and likes to point out that the Slovenes – the wealthiest Slavic nation in the world – takes its work ethic from the honey bee.  Now Slovenia is trying to convince the world to recognize World Bee Day, a day for the bees, which we would celebrate on the presumed birthday of their most famous beekeeper, Anton Janša.

Janša (pronounced YAN-shah)  is a Slovenian national hero and a beekeeper. We don’t really know his birth date –  his parents were illiterate farmers and probably wouldn’t have even known (or cared) what year it was. But their church kept track. He was baptized on  May 20 in 1734.

Beehive entrance plate, painted by Jansa.

Beehive entrance plate, painted by Janša.

The Janša family was impoverished, but three Janša brothers built an art studio in a barn, got noticed by the village priest, and were whisked off to Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, which controlled Slovenia at the time. One of the brothers became an arts professor. Another became a beekeeper. The royal beekeeper.

Anton Janša was the beekeeper. Empress Maria Theresa recognized his skill and appointed him as the queen’s own bee man.  Janša created the world’s first beekeeping school, wrote a couple of important beekeeping books, and introduced modern apiary management. He championed expanding hive boxes to hold extra honey and he encouraged migratory beekeeping, moving hives toward the foothills in the spring to collect acacia (black locust) honey, the Alps in the summer for honeydew from the pines, and into lower pastures in the fall. He was among the first to realize that drones are not water-carriers, but instead mated in the air with queen bees. This latter discovery pre-dates Francois Huber’s similar observation by a few decades but was not generally known when Huber rediscovered it. Janša did all this before he turned 40 – he was only 39 when he died suddenly from a fever.

An image from the Slovene World Bee Day promotional video.

An image from the Slovene World Bee Day promotional video, visible below.

Here’s a lovely, short video of what the Slovenes want you to know about World Bee Day:

World Bee Day is a great idea. The exhibition “Save the Bees” will be opening at the historic Ljubljana castle, on May 20. The Slovene embassy in Washington DC had a big party. Elsewhere, awareness and round tables on “Bees and Sustainable Development” and bee memorials abound. World Bee Day is intended as a day to reflect upon the much maligned and threatened bees. A delegation of the European Union is also meeting May 20 with luminaries of the American bee world at a World Bee Initiative, which you can read about here.

WBDWorld Bee Day is immensely important. Maybe that’s why there are two world bee days.  A group of Americans petitioned the USDA to create a World Bee Day of their own – on August 20th. While the Americans worked their idea through the US Congress, the Slovenes have been asking the United Nations to recognize May 20th as World Bee Day. I’m not sure how all this will play out, maybe the two world bee days will merge and be observed sometime in July.  But I suppose both world bee days will continue, one on a world-scale, the other in the USA.  As they say back at the bee lodge, “You can’t have too many World Bee Days, eh?”

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
This entry was posted in Culture, or lack thereof, History, Outreach, Save the Bees and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to May 20: World Bee Day

  1. Emily Scott says:

    May 20 happens to be my birthday too, so I prefer the Slovenian date 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brenda Peatch says:

    Hello Ron. I found this extremely interesting. I had no idea Slovenia was known for their honey. I have a young couple from Slovenia as neighbours. Her parents were visiting from Slovenia and her mother handed me a jar of home made tomato sauce over the fence. I did notice the sauce was in a honey jar from Slovenia as the label was still on the jar. To return the favour I handed the mother a jar of our honey produced by our bees in Millarville over the fence. Now I am very curious what they thought of our honey. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Slovenian so I guess I will never know. They have since returned to Slovenia.

    Liked by 1 person

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