Beekeeping in Czech Republic
(as published in AMERICAN BEE JOURNAL - October 2000)
By George Brezina, MScEE
Vice-president of the West Quebec Beekeeper’s Association
Country in transformation
The Airbus of Czech Airlines took me from Montreal to Prague in 7 hours. I found this historical and cultural metropolis vibrant and booming, living up to her reputation of one of the most beautiful European cities.
Out in the country, the changes brought about by the 1989 "Velvet Revolution", were not always positive. With doors opened to foreign and domestic profiteering, the people had to deal with mistakes caused by incompetent leadership. This was reflected also in beekeeping where the country lost 300 000 hives - about 1/3 of the pre-revolution number. The situation is getting better lately with a recent 60 000-hive increase. Having the average of 1 beekeeper and 10 hives per square kilometer, Czech Republic still belongs among the top beekeeping countries in the world.
The left part of the beehouse serves as an extracting room. Solar wax melter is at the front.
Hives and Bees
The beekeeping in Czechoslovakia (now split into two countries) has been traditionally done by small, mostly sideline beekeepers.
The Langstroth hives are not wide spread. One of the reasons is that they are not suitable for beehouses or migratory trailers. Many beekeepers use one of the Czechoslovak types of hives. In most of them a single brood chamber can be accessed both from the top and the back. The space in the brood chamber is carefully controlled using a movable back partition and insulation. Depending on design, the brood chamber may contain up to 14 frames. The back partition has a glass window to observe the activity on the last frame.
For many years the controlled breeding has been focused to a strain of dark alpine Carniolan bee (apis mellifica carnica), the most accepted bee in Czech Republic.
Disease control is legislated and it is well organized under the national association. Antibiotics are not fed.
Work inside the bee house
My visit to Vlastimil Svoboda, a beekeeping expert of 40 years, could not start otherwise than in his beehouse.
The beehouse is a place to extract honey, graft queens, keep some of the hives and drink mead with close friends.
We did the hive inspection using very little smoke and needed no protection. It is a nice feature of a beehouse that the overzealous guards launch from the entrance end on the outside.
For long hours we discussed the beekeeping, compared our grafting and requeening methods and inevitably got on the subject of varroa control. Having received a theoretical and practical grounding, I was ready for my next visit - the Bee Research Institute at Dol (near Prague).
The brood chamber is also accessible from the back
The Mecca of Beekeeping
The Bee Research Institute was established in 1919. Recently privatized, it employs 45 people. The operation covers medications, mead making, queen breeding, artificial insemination apparatuses, courses, honey analysis etc. You may visit their web site at www.beedol.cz.
This is the place where some leading entomologists came to learn artificial insemination. It is where a complete and successful system of varroa control has been developed and implemented. In contrast to neighboring countries like Germany or Poland, Czechoslovakia prevented any significant losses due to the varroa mite infestation.
Ing. Dalibor Titera CSc. in the lab of the Bee Research Institute
All the hives in the country are treated at the same period of time. If the infestation is kept at a very low level, the basic treatment is almost 100% effective. It consists of three fumigations done from October to December. This method uses smoke and aerosol which can penetrate the bee cluster. The active ingredient is either Varidol (amitraz), or alternatively a fluvalinate solution. The treatment is short, the dose of chemical very low and well controlled avoiding the overdose or underdose - an advantage over a classical strip application. As a consequence there is no detectable contamination. The danger of developing resistant mites is much lower. Another advantage is a very low cost.
In late winter, beekeepers collect the hive debris. The cumulative sample of every beeyard is sent for analysis. The 60,000 samples are processed and reports published. A very accurate picture of the level of infestation and the effectiveness of medications is obtained.
Additional treatments are ordered for any beeyard with more than 3 dead mites per hive. This currently applies only to 20% of the territory. Gabon (acrinathrin) strips or fluvalinate brood coating in conjunction with fumigation is utilized.
Formidol - two stage application boards with 85% formic acid are available without prescription. Coumaphos is not used due to the larger potential of honey contamination.
Non-chemical manipulations such as trapping the mites in drone combs and making splits play an important supplementary role.
The black pipe at the bottom of the extracting basket contains steel balls. These provide a counter balance when odd number of frames is extracted.
I used the opportunity to purchase the dispersing spray gun specifically designed for the late fall /winter varroa treatment and some other items. Needless to say that I was happy to receive a complimentary mead making kit. I would to express my thanks to our host Ing. Dalibor Titera, CSc. and others who made the visit an exceptional experience.
Some more details may be found on www.ncf.ca/apiculture, the website of our association.