Slovenian AZ beehives – pros and cons

Anybody who has spoken to me at length in the last few months is sure to have heard me raving about Slovenian AZ beehives and why we plan on converting our apiary from Langstroth and top bar hives to Slovenian AZ and top bar hives over the coming years. Here’s a list of pros and cons so you can make your own decision.

For new beekeepers and those who are unfamiliar with different types of hives it is worth explaining their differences first.

A top bar hive is a single, long bodied hive. A row of ‘top bars’ are placed above the body and the bees secure wax to the top bar and draw the wax down toward the bottom of the hive. The bees work on filling the hive by moving from one side of the hive to the next. To inspect a top bar hive each bar can be lifted out of the hive one by one. Honey is extracted using a cut and strain method. We love these hives and there will always be a place for them in our apiary. They are both practical and feature items within our gardens and apiaries.

Top bar
A top bar hive

A Langstroth hive is a series of rectangular boxes that are stacked on top of each other. Boxes (or supers) are added and removed at different times of the season depending on what the bees are doing. Each box contains 8 or 10 rectangular frames. When full of honey, boxes can weigh up to 40kg each. The bees draw wax down and across each frame. The wax is more secure on the frames than in a top bar hive. To inspect a Langstroth hive each box must be removed and each frame lifted out of the top of each box and inspected individually. Honey can be extracted using a centrifugal extractor so the wax can be reused or via the cut and strain method.

Single box beehive
A Langstroth hive with a single box. These can have 4 or more boxes in the height of the season.

A Slovenian AZ hive has similar dimensions to a Langstroth hive in that it is rectangular and comprises of either 2 or 3 levels. This is the equivalent to either 2 or 3 boxes (supers) on a Langstroth hive. AZ hives however are a single unit. You cannot add additional boxes above the unit like you can a Langstroth hive. Inside each level are 10 frames and the bees draw wax down and across them the same as a Langstroth frame. To inspect an AZ hive you open the rear door and pull each frame out individually. Honey is extracted from the frames the same way as a Langstroth – cut and strain or using an extractor. The frame sizes differ between traditional AZ hives and Langstroth hives. Therefore extracting equipment is not interchangeable between the two hives (unless you have a hybrid AZ hive). A hybrid AZ hive is one that has been built to fit Langstroth frames instead of the usual AZ frames.

Rear photo of AZ hybrid hive
A 3 level AZ hive with the rear door open showing all the frames.

Cons of Slovenian AZ hives

There are 2 minor disadvantages to AZ hives. Firstly, they were originally designed to be housed in a bee shed or bee house. This helps to regulate the temperature around the hive, which is a great thing for the bees. The downside comes from having to build a structure to house the hive. This can range from a simple structure to an elaborate room that holds multiple hives. This is an added cost if you chose to continue the tradition.

Secondly, as briefly mentioned traditional AZ hive frames are not compatible with Langstroth equipment. To transition an existing apiary to traditional AZ hives you would need all new extracting equipment and you cannot just remove the frames from your Langstroth hives and slide them into your traditional AZ hive. This made transitioning to AZ hives prohibitively expensive. However, this is no longer an issue. New, hybrid AZ hives are now available. These are AZ hives that have been built specifically to take Langstroth frames. Now you can slide the frames from your Langstroth hives out and slip them straight into your new hybrid AZ hive. Simple!

Up until recently Slovenian hives were not accessible in the Australian market.

Pros of both traditional and hybrid AZ hives

The numerous pros of Slovenian hives clearly outweigh the limited cons. They include:

  • Less stress on the bees. This is important if you care for your bees and want the best for them. The best way to describe the stress of hive inspections on bees is to picture your own house. When you open a window only a small breeze comes in. The air temperature is affected slightly and it takes only a short time for the temperature inside your house to warm up (or cool down) again when the window is closed. If your entire roof was removed the temperature in your house would be the same as the temperature outside. It would also take a very long time for the temperature inside the house to return to what it was once you replace the roof. This is the best way to compare inspecting a Langstroth hive to an AZ hive. Langstroth hives require you to separate each box or super to inspect the box below. This completely disrupts the temperature within the hive and places large amounts of stress on the bees. Compared to an AZ hive where you remove a single frame at a time from the rear, in a bee shed where the temperature is controlled and the bees are not exposed to the elements. The stress the bees are put under is far less when inspecting an AZ hive. Bees that are less stressed are also less likely to be aggressive. This means they are easier to work during inspections as well. A win for the beekeeper.
  • If not for your bees, buy them for your back! Langstroth hives = lifting up to 40kg multiple times per inspection. AZ hives = lifting 3kg multiple times per inspection. A full 10 frame super of honey from a Langstroth hive weighs in at approximately 40kg. In a good season you might stack your Langstroth hive 3 or 4 boxes high. Consider how you will remove the top 40kg box from the hive, where you will place it and how you will move it to your extraction point. Multiply this by the number of hives you have. Now consider how long you would like to be a beekeeper for. How long do you think your body will allow you to keep lifting and manoeuvring 40kg boxes? When you are no longer able to lift them then what? Do you give up your passion? Or do you buy all new hives and equipment that can be worked without lifting 40kg? Once the empty hive is placed in its location you will only need to be able to lift a single frame full of honey. 3kg! How much longer would you be able to continue beekeeping if you only had to lift 3kg at a time? How much money would you save if you purchased the correct equipment the first time around instead of having to replace your hives as you get older?
  • Increased honey yields compared to Langstroth hives. Housing AZ hives in a bee shed keeps the temperature immediately around the hive more constant. The bees need to expend less time and energy heating and cooling the inside of the hive. In spring and summer this equates to more time foraging and creating honey. In autumn and winter the bees don’t need to work so hard to heat the air surrounding the colony. Less energy exertion means they consume less honey over winter. This means you need to leave them fewer frames of honey to over-winter successfully. Therefore your honey yield per hive increases.
  • Inspect your hives whenever you want. Being housed in a bee shed means your inspections are no longer dependent on the weather. This benefits both the bees and the beekeeper. You can inspect your hives without getting sunburnt during our harsh summer weather or overheating the colony. And on those windy days you can still open your hives without fear of cooling down the colony too much.
  • Use less smoke during inspections. Bees are accustomed to using the front entrance of the hive and are less aware of manipulations occurring from the back of the hive. This means they require less smoke during inspections.
  • The footprint of your apiary can be much smaller with AZ hives. AZ hives can be placed next to and stacked on top of each. This allows you to have a larger number of hives in a smaller area.
  • AZ hives are less likely to be robbed when you are supplement feeding a hive. Because the feeder is placed at the rear of the hive foreign bees cannot smell the syrup as easily. They also have to travel past the guard bees deep into the hive to access the syrup – which is less likely to occur.
  • Save time and energy when extracting honey. Have your extraction equipment in the same shed as your beehives. No more carting heavy boxes of frames from the apiary to the honey house and back again. With your extraction equipment in your bee shed you can walk the frame a few steps to your extractor, extract the honey and return the frame to the hive. Simple. Efficient. Easy.
  • Designed to access each level individually. Individual mesh screens are placed across each level at the rear of the hive. This ensures minimal numbers of bees escape from the rear of the hive during an inspection. Because the bees are also orientated to the front of the hive they are less likely to be aware of manipulations occurring at the rear of the hive during inspections.
  • Less hive maintenance. When placed in a bee shed you only need to paint or oil the front side of the hive. The remaining 5 sides are contained within the bee shed and not exposed to the elements.
AZ hives on trailer, van and stilts
House your AZ hives in a shed or a truck to keep them mobile.

We hope this list of pros and cons has helped you decide on whether Slovenian AZ hives are the right hives for you. You can read more about them here or purchase them from here. Whatever hives you decide to use we wish you all the best in your beekeeping adventures.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your journey!

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