Oct. 25, 2021

AŽ Hives with Jonna Sanders (S4, E19)

AŽ Hives with Jonna Sanders (S4, E19)

In this episode, we talk with Jonna Sanders about AŽ hives (NA Beekeepers say “AZ”. We learn today that it correctly pronounced “AH-shah”. Jonna is a lifelong AŽ Hive beekeeper and sells AŽ hives in the US. Today we talk with her in depth...


JonnaIn this episode, we talk with Jonna Sanders about AŽ hives (NA Beekeepers say “AZ”. We learn today that it correctly pronounced “AH-shah”. Jonna is a lifelong AŽ Hive beekeeper and sells AŽ hives in the US. Today we talk with her in depth on how beekeepers manage these hives.

We talked with Regional Beekeeper, Paul Longwell back in May as part of our Five-Part Series on Different Hive Types, where he introduced us to the AŽ Hive.

Slovenian in origin, these hives are inside a building or wagon and the bees exit their hives from openings on the outside wall or side. Beekeepers, however, go into the building or wagon and are able to open these hives from a ‘cabinet door’ on the back, so the bees barely notice the beekeeper’s activity.

When asked what’s the best thing about these hives, the immediate answer is NO LIFTING! When the beekeeper opens the hives from the back inside the building, removing the frames to examine them is much like removing books off a shelf. They sit in metal supports so there is very little propolis, they are kept in exactly beespace distance, and they slide out very easily.

Jonna talks about frame size, shape, bee escapes, pollen traps, the types of bees Slovenian beekeepers typically use, overwintering in a building, installing packages, the fact that you can examine your hives no matter the weather outside, and much more.

Remember, no lifting. Listen today and an AŽ Hive just might be in your back yard next summer.

In the episode, Jonna talks about her annual tour of beekeeping in Slovenia. Details are not yet available for a 2022 trip as the pandemic complicates international travel. Contact Jonna through her website to receive updates and announcements.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura

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This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

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Transcript

S4, E19 – AŽ HIves with Jonna Sanders

[music]

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: And I'm Kim Flottum.

Sponsor: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com

Jeff Ott: Hey, thanks a lot Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and you know we'd rather get right into talking about beekeeping and I know you'd like to hear about it. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the hosting fees, to software, to hardware, to microphones, recorders, subscriptions, everything; they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.

We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms, the sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our season 2, episode 9 podcasts with editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is with a number 2. Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms - The Podcast also available from the 2 Million Blossoms website or from wherever you download and stream your shows.

Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We're so happy you're here. Hey, Kim, how are your bees doing this week?

Kim: Well, I haven't looked at them this week. I harvested a little bit ago and pretty soon I'm going to be doing the rest of the things for winter. Right now, they and I are taking a rest.

Jeff: Well, good.

Kim: It's been an odd fall. I'm told it's the warmest October on record, or close to the warmest October on record here in Northeast Ohio. I don't have leaves falling. Things aren't dying. It's still summer.

Jeff: It's funny you say that. The other night, we were watching The Browns on Thursday Night Football, and the weather in Northeast Ohio looked pretty crazy.

Kim: Would you believe Tornadoes?

Jeff: Seriously?

Kim: In October?

Jeff: [laughs].

Kim: There were a bunch of them, and some of them were closer than I'd like to think about. I was doing something else. Didn't hear the sirens. Didn't go to the basement. I was lucky.

Jeff: We could've been talking to you from the Land of Oz.

Kim: [laughs]. Pretty close.

Jeff: Hey, so Kim, how did you spend the early days of the COVID lockdown? Did you do anything exciting, anything worthwhile? You worked on the podcast.

Kim: The early days were weird and I'll tell you why. One of the reasons was is I kind of came full-scale retired right about the same time. My life changed that way. I wasn't getting up and going to work every day, but I was getting up and getting Kathy off to work. Then I was staying home because I didn't have a car, and I would have been staying home anyway because I didn't have a car. The early days affected me different than a lot of people who are used to doing things, because suddenly, I couldn't do anything anyway.

Jeff: It really impacted a lot of people. There's one guy who really made use of his time. Wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn set out to record all the bees in his backyard. He lives in Bristow, England. He created his fantastic film using his lenses he developed himself in his kitchen, and he released it as a part of the PBS Nature Series. It's called My Garden of a Thousand Bees. It's on PBS. It was released last week. I watched it. It's a fantastic film. The video is fabulous.

Kim: I don't even think that's good enough. You are right. It was incredible. I watched. I saw things I've never seen. Most people saw things they've never seen, bees using tools. It was amazing.

Jeff: It was simply amazing, and the slow motion photography was just wild. It was wonderful. I encourage our listeners, if you haven't seen it, go out to your local PBS station and watch for nature with the film of My Garden of a Thousand Bees, or go out to the PBS website and watch it there. It's well worth your time.

Kim: It is.

Jeff: Kim, what's coming up on Honey Bee Obscura?

Kim: Jim and I have kind of been busy doing other things, but we got together just a little bit ago and we got to thinking. We talked about getting your hives ready for winter, wrapping, and all the different ways to wrap and things. You know what we didn't talk about, it was bottom boards. The floor is as important as the roof. We looked at bottom boards, screen bottom boards, not screen bottom boards, and hive stands, and what they're made of and high off the ground, and all of those things, and kind of put it to bed.

Jim had some good ideas, and I've had some experience over the years, so if you listen to both of us, you'll come up with a good way to handle your hive no matter where your bottom board is.

Jeff: Very good. Bottom board is more than just a something you put the rest of your hive on in, isn't it?

Kim: Exactly. The next thing we talked about, believe it or not, this is a time of year-- If you're a small-scale beekeeper and you're thinking of getting into doing some pollination work, if there's an orchard down the road then the guy's been asking or whatever comes up. Now's the time to start thinking about it, in the fall of the year, because there's equipment you got to get, there's contracts you got to write, all the things that you don't want to wait until the last minute and make a mistake. Tune into that one because there's a lot of good information on there; what you're going to need, how it's going to work, and trying to get a friend to help.

Jeff: Friend to help is always very useful. Very good. Well, I look forward to hearing those shows.

Kim: Yes, they are fun.

Jeff: Yes, they are. Last spring we were doing our four-part series on different hive types. One of the hive types we covered was AŽ Hives. We had Paul Longwell, who's a master beekeeper here and also one of our regional beekeepers, on to talk about his experiences using AŽ Hive. Well, we've had so much interest and so much feedback, positive feedback, on the AŽ Hive. We thought we'd do a deep dive on today's episode with Jonna Saunders, who is president of AŽ Hives North America.

Kim: Well, I know almost nothing about AŽ Hives and it will be good to get some information in depth from them, so I know what I'm talking about, and to see if it's something I might want to chase.

Jeff: I look forward to this too. Paul was really enthralled with AŽ Hives and there's a growing number of beekeepers who really like them based on the Facebook groups and everything else. I look forward to talking to Jonna, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

[music]

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Jeff: While you're there, make sure you click on and subscribe to Strong Microbials' The Hive, their regular newsletter full of product information and beekeeping facts. Hey, everybody, welcome back. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Jonna Sanders from AŽ Hives North America. Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast, Jonna.

Jonna Saunders: Hi, it's so nice to be with you guys today. Thank you for having me on.

Kim: It's nice to meet you Jonna.

Jonna: Nice to meet you guys too.

Jeff: Earlier this year, earlier this spring, we had a five-part series on hive types other than the standard White Langstroth Hive. One of our speakers is a fellow Olympian beekeeper, a master beekeeper by the name of Paul Longwell. He came in and he talked specifically about AŽ Hives, and we've since have received some questions about AŽ Hives and more interest. We thought, "Well, who else better to get in to talk about the AŽ Hive than you?" And you graciously agreed to come on. Thank you, and again, welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to talk to you about the AŽ Hive, and maybe a little bit more about the history and the background. Start with that. Where did it come from?

Jonna: Backing up just a little bit, I wanted to just share the information with you and your listeners that I am ethnically Slovenian-American and my family has been in the United States for a little over a hundred years, but I still have a very deep and large family still in Slovenia which is a tiny, little country, part of the EU now, but it used to be the former most northern province in Yugoslavia.

During Yugoslavia, Slovenia was the most industrialized and it has some unique cultural things that they do there that you don't find anywhere else in the EU, or in Europe, and one of those things is beekeeping. Slovenia has a very long history of involvement in beekeeping that goes back centuries, even before the Habsburg Empire. If you are looking at the history books, there are records that Slovenes were keeping bees a thousand years ago. First, probably like many other northern European countries, in logs and then in skeps. Then in the late 18th century, the AŽ Hive started to develop.

Jeff: No, wait, excuse me. You say AŽ. That's what we're calling the AZ Hive.

Jonna: The pronunciation for this hive in Slovenia is AŽ. The reason for that is this hive was the creation of a man whose name was Anton ŽnideršIč. Say that three times. He was heavily influenced by some earlier European beekeepers, including one whose name was Alberti.

The name AŽ takes A from Alberti and Ž from-- Ž with a diacritical over it-- from ŽnideršIč, and so you have AŽ. I know, in the United States, they have come to be known as AZ Hives, but I'm Slovenian, so this is the way it's going to roll off my tongue better, as AŽ, so bear with me here.

Anton ŽnideršIč was a really creative guy. He was familiar and used the leaf hives that, during the 18th century, were very popular. This was a stacked hive. The reason that he started looking at this is because he was hoping to use the idea of movable frames and then be able to make these hives mobile.

The reason for that was, in Slovenia, you have a different pollen flow than we have in the United States. You have a more gentle pollen flow that goes throughout the season and they would backpack these hives up into the high Alpine villages and even farther up into the fields where you have cows grazing, flowers blooming throughout the entire season, so that your bees would have access to those flowers long after they had died out and gone into dirt down below.

The idea of movable hives and stacked was what ŽnideršIč started to do back-- started playing around with it in the 1890s. He first, in 1902, started to allow these hives to be purchased. The concept was that they needed to be placed in a secondary structure, and this was for a couple of reasons. Number one, for overwintering, and two, to allow the beekeeper to be able to go in and look inside the hives during all seasons. AŽ Hives were first created to a structure, which is called a čebelnjak. Čebele is the Slovenian word for bee, so čebelnjak is literally bee house.

Jeff: Cool. Many of our listeners may not really know much about Slovenia. Can you give us a little bit of background about Slovenia, the landscape? I saw a little bit on the Tour of Slovenia bike race earlier the spring. It looks very beautiful, but very rugged.

Jonna: Slovenia is located in the Alps, in the Julian Alps, and it's a gorgeous country. If you've never been there, I highly encourage everybody who loves bees to come either with me, with my tour, that's going to be starting next year, or on your own, to go and visit Slovenia because there's an entire culture there that's built around bees.

ŽnideršIč is sort of the later side of that. Actually, the first beekeeper, the first instructor of modern beekeeping was a Slovenian by the name of Anton Janša. He was appointed by Empress Maria Theresa back in the 1700s to teach beekeeping. The first manual of beekeeping in the world was created by Anton Janša, and so Slovenians picked up that history and tradition and carried it forward. Today, it's a tiny country, there are two million Slovenes, and 1 in 200 keep bees.

Almost every family has a beekeeper in it. I have I don't know how many dozens. People keep just one or two hives in their yard. This is small-scale beekeeping, and you'll have a village will have 800 people in it, and 200 of them are beekeepers. People start beekeeping with their children very early, and as a result of the AŽ Hives and the ability to easily manage them, they beekeep with them. People are still beekeeping in their 90s because they don't have to lift them, and that's the beauty of this hive system. It's the accessibility for people of all ages.

Jeff: If you can just do a real quick recap of what's the main feature of the AŽ Hive, the AZ Hive, what makes it stand out? What makes it preferable over like the standard Langstroth?

Jonna: This is a cabinet-style hive. If you're an American, you think of your kitchen and your cabinets where you would keep your cups in your kitchen. Think about walking into a shed, and on the wall, you have you either at knee level or even higher, whatever is a comfortable position for you to access your hives. Then just like you would open your cupboard and reach in to get a cup, in the AŽ Hive, you could reach in and you have either two or three inner doors. You can see your bees, you can see them in the middle of winter, you can see them in the middle of summer, and in the middle of a rainstorm, you can go in and access your bees.

You have that full-seasonal ability to really be able to gauge what's going on with your colonies, and then the accessibility issue is just paramount. You don't have to lift these hives. There's no lifting one box off of another, like with Langstroth. You open your outer door, you remove your inner doors and your frames slide out, just like pulling a book from a bookshelf.

It's a very simple, and as a result, since you're not lifting the heavy boxes, ripping the roof off all the time, your bees are more gentle. They're just they're not as agitated during inspections. It's a fabulous system.

Jeff: You need one, Kim.

Kim: Yes. That lifting part was attractive even when we were talking to Paul earlier. It got my interest up, I'll have to admit. The question I have goes back to I'm only familiar with Langstroth hives really, Top Bar a little bit, but how do you put a package in?

Jonna: That's a good question. There are all kinds of different ways and the Slovenes will tell you to do it one way, somebody else will tell you another way. The way that I've always been taught by the instructors of the Beekeeping Academy of Slovenia and my family there is you have a device which is known as a hive table. This is a three-sided table with a little lip on it. It essentially looks like a piece of paper with maybe a two-inch piece around the side, and it has little forks on both ends that slide under your bars, because your frames are held up by bars. You slide those in there and lock it. Then as you're doing your inspections or you're installing a package, you would remove your queen cage, place that inside. Remove a couple frames, place your queen cage inside, and then you could shake out your bees over that hive table and they will have the opportunity to walk in.

You can give a little nudge, but they will navigate directly to those pheromones of that queen, and so you're always going to have a few bees flying around. I just give them little spritz with sugar water, and they will walk right in. It's a much simpler way of doing it than some other methods. I've heard from some of Slovenians that you should just place your package inside. I've heard some problems with that method, but just installing the way I just taught you works perfectly for me.

Kim: That brings up the question. The second question I had is when you're just normally examining a hive, you're pulling out frames and you're looking at the frame and you put it back in and you pull out another one, you're going to get bees in the air. Where do they go?

Jonna: I have a specific sort of X-shaped hive table, or hive frame stand that stands outside my čebelnjak. As I'm doing my examinations, I'll just set those frames that I've looked at, that don't have my queen on, I'll just set them over to the side. I can cover them up with a towel, or I can slide them back in. Personally, I like to be able to take a few of those frames out and set them aside so I can see what's going on inside the back of that hive. If I do that and I have my flashlight, I can look in and I can see all the way to the back and see what's going on. That's how I do it. You can obviously-- The frames do slide apart like a fan. If you remove one, there are frame spacers at the back, almost like teeth that hold them in place, that maintain that bee space that's so important. When you remove one at the front, they will open up, so you can slide them together and pull them apart as well. You can just remove one at a time, or you can use a frame stand. It's really your choice.

Kim: I got to go back to the point of some of those bees are going to fly and they're going to go up or somewhere else. Do you have escapes in the roof or the wall or something?

Jonna: In my specific čebelnjak, I have a wire mesh over the top just above my hives, so they're not going up into the eaves. Most čebelnjaki are also built with-- čebelnjaki is the plural. Most bee houses in Slovenia are built with a window, so that you can leave it open and your bees will eventually find their way out. What I find with these is-- so I believe that during your earlier podcast with Paul, that he talked about your moisture flaps inside your outer door. Mine are always open. Either winter or summer, I at least have one moisture flap open. What I will find is that those bees from that colony will eventually crawl back in through that moisture flap, and they'll be inside that inner door.

Usually, what happens is the next time I go in, the rest of the colony has been feeding them and everybody is happy. I can just open up one of my inner doors and they will just stroll back inside. I would say that during a typical examination afterwards, I might find 5 or 10 bees dead inside on the floor, but not a whole lot, because they will crawl back, they will go directly back into that hive.

Kim: That sounds much more organized than me taking a frame out and setting it on the hive stand next to the hive. Because they can't just walk back in, they're going to have to figure out where the front door is or the top is. That makes sense. Okay, I get it.

[music]

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Jonna: One of the things that's unique about this hive style that I mentioned was-- I've run Langstroth. Because of my scoliosis and my spinal issues, I started using these hives. Before that, I used both Langstroth and Long Langstroth. What I will say is that I think that the AŽ hive is superior in the method that you use to remove frames. It's just a more gentle approach. As a result, as compared to my Langstroth days where I have everybody's flying all over the place, you've got bees everywhere, that's not really the case with an AŽ hive. I will have maybe 5 or 10 bees flying around in that beehouse depending on how many colonies I've opened, but most of them will either go back in or they're on that frame stand outside and just doing what they're supposed to be doing. I just don't have bees flying in my face the way I used to when I managed Langstroth hives.

Jeff: Sounds really nice.

Jonna: It is kind of nice. [chuckles] Especially midsummer here in Virginia when it is a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity, and everybody is angry. It is a welcome change.

Kim: I can see that.

Jeff: Sweat rolling off the face and underveil.

Jonna: Exactly. [laughs].

Kim: Your organization manufactures these hives?

Jonna: No, I do not. There's a story there. The story is-- Backing up a bit, I think I mentioned that I have scoliosis. I am a beekeeper that lives with one of those hidden disabilities that people talks about. I've had scoliosis since I was a child. My spine probably looks a little bit like Richard III's. I've been trying to put off back surgery for a decade but it's coming. When I started beekeeping, as a result of my time in Slovenia-- I first went to Slovenia in 1999 to do a language program at the university there. It was then that I was first exposed to AŽ Hives because my cousins had them. When I started beekeeping, I knew that this is what I wanted to do because I knew I didn't have to lift them. That was a really attractive trait for me.

One of the things that I was most interested in is the ability to not have to lift the hives. When I started doing this and I started looking at trying to transition from Langstroth to AŽ, I started looking around at quality. It's like if you're a car guy and someone says to you, "Hey, I've got this great car. It's called a Yogo." You've never seen a car, so you don't know what your options are, and that looks great. Maybe you're from Germany and you're familiar with a vehicle known as the Mercedes, that assessment of what quality looks is just a little bit different. With my cultural ties to Slovenia and knowing what a well-built AŽ Hive looks like, I looked around at what was available and said, "You know what? I think my best options are to get back on a plane and go back to the old country and see what's available there and who's building these things right." That was what I did.

I went all over Slovenia and I found Alexander Jerman. He is a wonderful wonderful master craftsman, really bespoke quality hives. AŽ Hives North America is the North American retailer for Medles s.p. He is manufacturing our hives in a little place called Trbovlje, Slovenia which is a tiny little Alpine village high up in the mountains in Slovenia.

Kim: He's manufacturing them. I'm guessing that there are other people in that manufacture them?

Jonna: There are. There are a number of quality manufacturers inside Slovenia.

Kim: Are all of the manufacturers of these hives-- I guess where I'm going is I can buy parts to Langstroth hives almost anywhere, and they pretty much all fit. Is that the same with--?

Jonna: It's not. This is a really critical piece for your listeners to hear. In Slovenia-- and I'm going to break out my frames here, so you guys can see at home. I'm showing right now what is a typical AŽ Hive frame.

Jeff: Are we looking at the top?

Jonna: You are looking at the side. This is the side view, front view, and dimensions here of a standard AŽ Hive frame is 16 inches wide and 10.25 inches high, and they are 1 inch wide. The Langstroth size of the same hive that my company carries are 17.75 inches wide and 9 1/8 high. The difference in the these frames that you'll see in Slovenia, and this is the only way that they're built, is that it is a straight frame.

If you're looking at it from the side, these are not tapered frames like Langstroth are, and they don't have the dog ears there at the top to rest on. What you have here is you have a dovetailed concave top and bottom frame. They're dovetailed for strength because you're never going to avoid propolis, but as you're giving it a little twist, if they're dovetailed, they've got that strength to help break that propolis bond.

The reason that they are concave top and bottom is so when you are removing frames from your hive, that you are not crushing bees, you were not rolling your bees, that they can slide in here into this little channel, so you're not making everybody angry by crushing bees.

Jeff: Okay. For our listeners at home, Jonna is holding a wooden frame. It's basically a 1x1 all the way around. You said it's 17 and some inches wide and 10 inches and some fraction tall. On the top and bottom, there's a half-moon groove on the top and bottom where I assume a rail of some sort slides.

Jonna: Yes. These frames will rest right on what is a circular round rail. That rail and this construction on the bottom minimizes your contact space that the frame has with the bar. That also minimizes the space that the bees can propolize.

Kim: Let me interrupt you. That rail then is like a dowel cut in half?

Jonna: It is. They're metal, usually aluminum. They slide across here. There are three of them in there to hold them in place, and your frame slide all the way to the back. Then at the backside, well, it's essentially the front of the hive, top and bottom on each level, you'll have a frame spacer that it's like teeth, and it will hold them in place. It maintains that bee space that's so critical. Then on your inner doors, you will also, one each one, on each level, you will have two of those frame spacers, top and bottom. That's what holds your frames in place. That's what maintains your business.

Kim: It's like the frame spacers that we use when we're done working the hive and we'll put everything back together, we just push that down and it automatically puts the frames where they're going to stay. There's nothing holding them, no rod or anything, but it does hold.

Jonna: Yes.

Kim: Okay. I see how that works. That makes a lot of sense. With metal on wood, you probably don't get a lot of propolis problems.

Jonna: You don't. What I'll generally do when I start my inspection, whatever level I'm working at, the hives I have are 3 level, 10 frames per level, so a total of 30 frames. They're the same size as the Langstroth deep. It's a good size hive. What I'll do is I'll remove one frame, set it aside, look for the queen, look for health of that colony, set it aside, and then I will move those frames just a little bit side to side to break that propolis bond and then pull the next one out.

Kim: You've got to hide that's three-- I'm going to say three supers high.

Jonna: Yes. It's three supers high.

Kim: I can pull out the top one, look at it, look at all the frames, and then put it back in without disturbing the one below. I can pull that one out, look at it, put it back in, and then the bottom one.

Jonna: Yes.

Kim: Okay. All right.

Jeff: They're all the same depth, so you don't have a medium super or shallow super? They're all--

Jonna: No. The reason for that is in-- The standard size hive in Slovenia is a 2-level 10 frame. Traditionally, there were 2 levels, 9 frames. Over the decades that these hives have developed, they've moved to 10 frame, so 20 frames total. What you're constantly doing, since this is a fixed-size hive, you can't just add supers as you go up, you can't. You've got to be getting in there more often, so every week or 10 days. You're constantly moving frames down. You're making room for that queen.

Looking at those frames, as soon as you see that those cells are capped, you move that frame up and then you move down so that she has extra space for laying. You're moving your honey frames up so that you're constantly creating room for that queen. That's very critical to management of these hives because, in Slovenia, the only bees that they use are the native bee species, it's the Carniolan. They don't use Italians. They don't use Russians. That's a really critical piece of understanding the system.

These were hives that were built for Carniolan behavior. They like to swarm. They go into winter with a smaller cluster and they overwinter better. During the winter, they will make sure that that hive has 10 full frames of honey on that second level. If they're using a three-level hive, they'll push everybody down, and then slide that clean spacer up top between the second and third levels to make sure that they have enough resources for the winter.

One thing I'd like to say is that Slovenians do not feed during the winter. That's a difference with us. The Carniolans go into winter with a smaller cluster, and then in the springtime, they explode. This is the hive that was built for that bee species. Since I've been using Carniolans and since I've transitioned to this hive system, I have never lost a colony from the winter. [chuckles] It's a great system.

Kim: All right. Let's say you've convinced me. I need to do this. Where can I get one?

Jonna: Well, I have them for sale here in Virginia. I invite you to come out with me to Slovenia next May. We're going to be having tours out to Slovenia for beekeepers. We're going to go to the Slovenia Beekeeping Association. There's a beautiful beekeeping museum in Radovljica which is a very famous town. Staying at the tourist farms where the food is fresh and the villages are gorgeous, and you're out in nature in the mountains.

Jeff: I'm torn. I'm torn. I wouldn't know whether to stick around to go to the beehives, or bring my bike along and ride in the morning and do the beehives in the afternoon.

[laughter]

Jonna: You can rent bicycles there as well. If you're so inclined, Mount Triglav is quite a climb. You can do it in a day. I've done it in a day, but that was 20 years ago. It's a gorgeous country.

Jeff: Yes, it is.

Jonna: Bring your appetite. Bring your love of bees. There's so much to see and so much to learn. The Slovenian Beekeeping Academy has really taken off in the last year. This is a subordinate unit to their Ministry of Agriculture, so the equivalent of our USDA. They are staffed by entomologists, Dr. Janko Bozic from the University of Ljubljana and others who are experts in this hive style, and who've been managing bees for decades. Janko's been keeping bees since he was a child. Now, his specialty is applied entomology, looking at hive structures and how to take this to the next level.

One of the things that they're doing in Slovenia that we're not really doing is they're very serious about collecting pollen. I'm going to show you this here. This is a unique creation. Fits right on the front of your beehives. In Slovenia, what they will do is when the bass and the linden start coming in, you can easily collect 20, 30, 40 kilograms per week of pollen. They will collect all of that. Then later on, during dearth, they will feed it back to the bees.

Jeff: I apologize for interrupting. What you did show us, and maybe we can get a picture of this and the frame for the show notes, that's unclear now. This basically looks like a pollen trap with, what is it, six different plastic tubes on it?

Jonna: Yes.

Jeff: It's a pollen trap of types that looks like it slides into the front of the hive itself-

Jonna: Yes.

Jeff: -on the outside of the čebelnjak.

Jonna: [laughs] Čebelnjak.

Jeff: Čebelnjak.

Jonna: It mounts right on your-- This is where your landing board is and it mounts right about there, and so your bees will come in these tubes, they're going to drop pollen as they go and it goes right into this little path. It's a screen that looks a little bit like a colander. They just collect that and feed it back.

Another interesting thing that they're doing in Slovenia with that pollen is most men take a little bit, a tablespoon a day, as a medicinal to ward off prostate cancer. They do some unique things over there with bees that we're not doing. They also have apitherapy, it's called taking bee air.

I was first exposed to this 20 years ago because I also have asthma and my cousin said, "Oh, you have asthma. You need to go hang out in the bee house." While I'm thinking to myself, "You want me to do what? Are you crazy?" Over there, people will sleep in the bee houses. Beekeepers sleep in there all the time and there will be a mattress with a sheet over it and you take a book in and a couple of times a week for health reasons. Especially people who have COPD or other respiratory ailments will just go hang out in the bee house and breathe bee air. It's a wonderful experience. You can watch the bees. You can listen to the bees and breathe bee air. It's very relaxing.

Jeff: I can imagine it would be very relaxing.

Jonna: This is part of Slovenian bee tourism as well. It's the opportunity to do this.

Kim: Do I have to make a reservation to sleep in one of the bee houses?

Jonna: I don't think so. I think we're going to go where you can just go in there.

Jeff: It gives a whole new meaning to VRBO. Well, we could go on and on and on and maybe we should have to consider future podcast episodes talking about the management challenges of the AZ Hive or the AŽ Hive because I find it totally fascinating and I think many of our listeners would too. I need to ask you, I know there's a lot we haven't covered, but is there anything you want to say before we wrap it up here for today's episode?

Jonna: I think that what I would like to say to your listeners is when-- and I'm happy to be the resource to help people. I want people to be successful with this hive type. I think what I would say is do your research very carefully in terms of who your hive manufacturer is. There are a number of great manufacturers in Slovenia. Not everybody that is claiming that their hives are made in Slovenia are actually made there. There are a lot of people that are running into trouble because they will buy something on eBay, they will buy something on Etsy, and it comes in the mail with no instructions. They don't know how to use it.

The problem of trying to put Langstroth frames into this type of hive is that the systems are not completely compatible. What happens is you put Langstroth frames in to this type of style hive, and because the bee space is not consistent between top and bottom, and you have the flat Langstroth frame bottoms, that it quickly becomes a ball of propolis and you are unable to extract those frames and there are so many people that, for better or worse, they didn't understand the differences. I will tell you this. That, in Slovenia, for Slovenian beekeepers, no one is selling these kinds of parts.

Nobody is trying to do this. The only types of frames that you will see available for sale are the ones that have the standard one-inch frames all the way around with the concave tops and bottoms. That's a technology that's developed over 120 years of these hives and their R&D process. That's what you need to look for. You look for dovetail frames and you look for those concave tops and bottoms. You look for a straight frame. If you put a Langstroth frame into a box, if you see those, I would just say to steer clear because, quickly, you're not going to be able to get your frames out.

Kim: Good advice.

Jeff: Do your research before you buy.

Jonna: One of the things that I want to do is be the conduit for people to understand about this system and about Slovenia. I, along with some other Slovenian Americans, there's a Facebook group that we created a few years ago called Slovenian AŽ Hives Advocacy. I would encourage all of your members that's interested in this hive type to come and join us.

Opportunity to collaborate regionally in the United States with people who are using these, find a local club, create a local club, get some resources and some direction from people in Slovenia who have been using these for decades because that's really where your knowledge base is. I'm a practitioner and I'm proud of my heritage, but I really defer back to those people who have been using these hives for 40 or 50 years. They have all the tricks of the trade. They're on there and active. This is a great opportunity to cross cultures and get to really get your hands dirty with another hive style.

Jeff: Fantastic. Well, we'll have in our show notes and also in your guest bio, all the contact information. We'll have Facebook links. We'll try to include some pictures and photographs. I encourage listeners, if you're interested in the AŽ Hive or what we call the AZ Hive, not the Arizona hive, the AŽ Hive, do your research first and don't plan on setting one up this year. Maybe do your research and get one started over the winter.

Jonna, we really appreciate having you on the show. I know we just touched, scratched-- didn't even scratch the surface. We just even just touched the surface of everything there is to know, but really enjoyed having you on.

Jonna: Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you both. It was a really great opportunity to see you in person and work with you. Thank you so much for this time today.

Kim: Well, I think I'm going to have to look into this a little bit more, Jonna. I think you've convinced me I need to broaden my horizon.

Jonna: Well, I certainly hope so. I will say this, my back is happier since I started running these hives. I don't have to lift them and I really like that part of the whole experience.

[music]

Jeff: Well, you heard Kim, that you can sleep in your hive. Well, Jonna, again, appreciate you being on the show and look forward to having you back.

Jonna: Thank you very much, guys.

Jeff: AŽ Hive, I'm really fascinated by this. I'm not even sure what to say. There's so much to know. It's a different way of thinking. Like so many other people, I've been brought up on a small white box.

Kim: She did a good job of explaining it though. I think if you want to explore this further, go to our web page and take a look at the pictures that she provided. Once you see how that frame is shaped, the top bar and the bottom bar, concave and slide on a middle rod on the bottom and the top, I can see where that works well. The size is nice, no lifting is nice. My only-- I might even say concern, but it's the source of material. Where do you get them if you want to expand? Because I don't build things. That would be the thing to explore, but otherwise, she did a good job. It was an interesting show.

Jeff: Yes, absolutely, the right questions. Where do you get that? Where do you get this? If you weren't a builder, if you weren't somebody who likes to tinker and could look at plans and actually build something, I look at plans and say where do I start?

Kim: I don't have those tools.

Jeff: All right. Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping, for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as a sponsor. Check out their full line of beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:49:59] [END OF AUDIO]

 

Jonna Sanders

Owner - AZ Hives, North America LLC

Jonna “Jay” Sanders is an Alexandria, Virginia-based beekeeper, military spouse, and Entomology Ph.D student. She also lives with a hidden disability (Scoliosis), which informed her path through the beekeeping world, and led her back to her ethnic roots in the Republic of Slovenia.

Her desire to use Slovenia’s AŽ Hive system for beekeeping led her to found her company, AZ Hives North America LLC. Jonna is actively working with Slovenia’s world-renowned experts in beekeeping, to spread Slovenia’s deep knowledge and unique heritage of beekeeping to the rest of the world.