Slovenian professor visits UMass to advocate for creation of World Bee Day



Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

AMHERST — As pollinators across the world — particularly the honey bee — are succumbing to diseases and colony collapses, the government of one bee-loving country is trying to create a day to celebrate their worldwide importance.

Janko Božič, a professor of animal behavior and beekeeping at Ljubljana University in Slovenia, visited the University of Massachusetts on Monday to promote World Bee Day, which he hopes will be established on May 20 starting in 2016.

In Slovenia, 8,000 of the national population of 2 million, or one in every 250 Slovenians, is a beekeeper, according to Božič.

“We are so proud of our beekeeping,” Božič said of his fellow countrymen.

Slovenia is the home of the Carniolan bee, famed for being sweet-tempered and hard-working, and that species has been protected by the government, according to Slovenia.si. The country, which is roughly the size of New Hampshire, produces 2,000 tons of honey per year.

Historically, Slovenia has been an active beekeeping country. It produced the first teacher at the beekeeping school in Vienna, Anton Janša, who was famed for being the first to popularize the method of extracting honey without destroying hives, according to Božič. Janša’s two books about beekeeping established the practices in use today of modern beekeeping, according to Bozic.

Janša, who lived from 1734 to 1773, was born on May 20, and that is why the Slovenian government has supported that date for World Bee Day.

Today, Slovenian hives sometimes are decorated with paintings, and bee houses containing more than 100 hives exist. Božič showed an image during his talk of a truck outfitted with dozens of bee hives on either side. The beekeeping owner of the truck drives the bees to different farms and uses them to teach others about beekeeping, Božič said.

Prior to visiting UMass, Božič spoke at the United Nations advocating for World Bee Day.

Sandra Thomas, community marketing specialist for the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment at UMass, said the university was connected to Božič by a Slovenian-American beekeeper on Cape Cod named Mark Simonitsch. She learned that Božič would be traveling up and down the East Coast speaking about Slovenian beekeeping and promoting World Bee Day, and she decided she wanted to have him speak at UMass.

“Slovenia is the bee capital of the world,” Thomas said. “I think they respect and revere the bee and its integral relationship with agriculture that we have lost in America.”

Thomas organizes an annual event in Greenfield known as Bee Fest. Most recently held on June 6, the event featured a honey bee tea party, talks about bee health and habitats, instructions for prospective beekeepers and a bee parade, complete with costumes and kazoos.

“Kids in America are afraid of bees,” she said. “We have to get them to understand environmental concepts at a young age and help kids appreciate our environment, which is so fragile.”

Thomas said the White House is getting on board with pollinator protection with an announcement last month of efforts to protect honey bees and monarch butterflies and create a 7 million acre land reserve for pollinators over the next five years.

Information on that strategy can be found at whitehouse.gov.

Craig Hollingsworth, a professor of entomology at UMass and accordionist for The Bees Knees International Cafe Orchestra, attended Božič’s talk on Monday. He said he enjoyed learning about how bee houses were constructed in Slovenia to maximize air flow and reduce the amount of the water in the honey.

“I’m interested in protecting pollinators and interested in how people do that in different countries,” he said.

Roisin Kirby, who has completed one year at UMass, attended the talk as an intern for a professor, Lyle Craker.

Interested in studying sustainable food and farming, Kirby said she one day hopes to own her own organic farm.

She said it is important to learn about how pesticides and fungicides might have an effect on bee populations.

“I have no experience working with bees, but I’ve always been interested in them,” Kirby said. “I love plants and flowers and bees are necessary if you want to be planting them.”

For Božič, the idea of a World Bee Day would transcend species to all pollinators of plants.

“Beekeepers have to take care of all pollinators; we have to be on the side of pollinators,” he said.

For more information on World Bee Day, visit www.mkgp.gov.si/en/world_bee_day_initiative.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 


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