Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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Wild-hive beekeeping is a national symbol of Bashkortostan

Ralph Dutley
Swiss philologist
«Leaving behind the secrets of genetics, we can safely say: the bee is the original heritage of culture. The smallest agricultural animal not only pollinates plants for humans, but also endows with food, sweetness and light – honey and candles, a variety of medicinal drugs, becomes a polysemantic symbol and inclines to deep reflection. Bees tirelessly show us the wonders of nature. No wonder the old German proverb says: "You always see God's miracle in the midst of bee labor"».
Wild-hive beekeeping

Wild-hive beekeeping is the oldest form of beekeeping, in which bees live in tree hollows. Hollows could be natural or several hollows were hollowed out in thick trees at a height of 4 to 15 m. Hollows can also be hollowed out in box hives, which are then hung on tree trunks.

The dwelling for bees was borrowed by man from the nature of hollow trees, according to the type of which the first wild hives were made. The size of the artificial hollow was determined by the size of the natural bee nest.

The production of wild hives has become a great progress in the resettlement of wild bees, the formation of beekeeping trade.
Natural home for the winged worker
«The wild-hive is hollowed out in trees with a diameter of 60–90 cm, located not far from good places of nectar flow and water sources», – write the authors of the book «Bashkir wild-hive bee».

The trees are usually 20–25 meters high. All lower branches under the wild hive are chopped off, and in order to avoid breaking the wild hive from the winds the top of the tree is also chopped off by 2–3 meters.

To exclude the possibility of ruining the wild hive by wild animals the wild hives are arranged at a height of 4 to 10 meters, rarely higher. In most cases one (sometimes two) wild hive is made on one tree.

For the wild hive arrangement a hollow with a length of 90–120 cm is hollowed out. The increase in length threatens to break the tree. The inner diameter of the wild hive is 30–35 cm. Above, near the ceiling, the diameter of the wild hive is made 1–5 cm wider. Wall thickness – 1–20 cm.

The artificial hollow communicates with the external environment by two holes: the first, the large one, is called dolzh. Through it the nest is examined and honey is taken. Most often the dolzh is made from the south side, it is closed with two wooden lids. The second hole is a hive entrance. It is made at an angle of 90 degrees to the dolzh and is placed 30–40 cm below the wild hive's ceiling.
The ceiling and floor are tilted downward, which prevents from rainwater flowing in. Inside the wild hive two crosses are installed, which serve as a support for the honeycomb, protect them from separation.

The best time for chiselling the wild hive is September-October. Autumn constructions are more durable. The hollowed out wild hive is left to dry for a year or two. Then it is cleaned of resin, garbage is removed and the wild hives are equipped with strips of honeycombs or wax foundation, which are attached to the ceiling. After that the wild hive is ready to be colonized by bees and can serve up to 150 years.
From heaven to earth, from wild hives to box hives
The box hives have the same structure, the only difference is that they are kept in apiaries or attached to trees.

In the article «Transition to the arrangement of permanent apiaries» I. R. Zaripova from the Bashkir state university writes that in Bashkiria box hive beekeeping appeared later than in the central parts of Russia.

In the middle of the 18th century along with wild-hive beekeeping the Bashkirs were also engaged in box hive beekeeping. The first information about the resettlement of bees to housing dates back to 1753, when the Bashkir Iman Rysov, transferring the patrimony to quitrent ownership along the Kama river to the palace peasants P. V. Kotov and his comrades, set a condition that in this patrimony they can make wild hives, catch animals, birds and fish, search natural hollows with bees, cut them down and take them home, own them equally with the Bashkirs.
The box hive on the oak. Shulgan-Tash reserve
The theft of honey, not by bees and animals, but by people, was the impetus for the emergence of protected box hives in the forest or near the house. The scattering of wild hives in the forests, often many kilometers from each other, deprived the Bashkirs of the opportunity to guard them. As a result there have been cases of honey theft. This circumstance in some places (Southern Urals) gave rise to the custom in Bashkiria: when the beekeeper went to collect honey, he took one or two people with him as witnesses that he collected honey from his own wild hive.
Tukmak – protection of the wild hive from the bear. Shulgan-Tash reserve
From a tree with an artificial hollow (wild hive) it is already very close to a box hive – a piece of a trunk with a hollow, in fact – the simplest hive. Such box hives could be put together, closer to home – no need to go far, control over the bees is better.

The wild hives, scattered over a vast territory, make it possible to evenly use it all, while bees, concentrated in the apiary, can only access the lands adjacent to it. But this difference was more than compensated by the abundance of melliferous plants in the human economy (almost all fruit trees and shrubs, buckwheat, legumes, sunflowers, garden flowers, later – a number of forage grasses).
Box hive apiary. Nurimanovsky district of the Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, 30s of the 20th century
A craft for the strong
Wild-hive beekeeper on a tree. Shulgan-Tash reserve
It is not easy to make, equip a wild hive, examine a bee colony living in a wild hive at an altitude of 8–10, or even 16 meters. All the work can only be done by a trained, brave, strong wild-hive beekeeper, who owns special tools and devices.

Beekeeper climb the wild-hive trees with the help of a kiram – leather braided belt that wraps around the tree trunk and the beekeeper's neck. The kiram, woven of hard leather, is up to 4 meters long and 5–7 cm wide.

To support the legs when climbing a tree notches are made, then beekeeper throw the belt over the tree trunk higher and, holding on to it, quickly, with wide steps, climb to the wild hive.

Having reached the desired level, the beekeeper throws the belt from the neck to the lower back to free his hands, and ties a special footrest to the tree. This is the most difficult operation when working with wild hives.

Standing on the footrest, the beekeeper can securely hold onto the wild-hive tree and perform all the necessary actions for a long time.
The most important thing is to equip the wild hive correctly and on time. This is usually done in mid-May. If done in advance it will be populated by wasps, hornets and spiders that scare away bees. It is important to prevent light from entering the home; for this a bunch of green branches is used – they both shade and let air through.

The lifespan of a bee colony in a wild hive without changing the nest depends on the internal size of the dwelling.

In artificial wild hives, according to the observations of wild-hive beekeepers, bees can live without honeycomb renewal for 8–10 years, and in natural large hollows, where the size allows the nest to be lowered lower and lower, – even longer.
Wild-hive beekeeper's instruments: 1, 2 – queen catcher; 3 – lyange (footrest attached to the trunk with a rope); 5 – a spoon to drive bees
In the spring of 1961 wild-hive beekeeper Kazykhan Mustafin found a bee colony in a ownerless artificial wild hive that had lived in the trunk of an oak tree for many years. The edges of the wild hive's dolzh were overgrown with influx of wood, and the honeycomb of the nest resembled fragile dark brown skin and had cells not hexagonal, but round.

This bee colony released six swarms a year later. The comb honey did not crystallize even in the upper part of the nest; the honey-flooded bee bread survived.

All the combs were full of honey, in total there were 90 kg of wonderful linden honey in the wild hive.
From the history
For the first time about the occupation of bees and the extraction of honey in the places between the Volga river and the Urals was written in the records of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, in his travel book (921–922). He wrote: «In their forests there is a lot of honey in the dwellings of bees, which they know and go to them to collect this honey».

In the 14–15 centuries Burzyan villages were founded. This period is considered the beginning of the birth of Burzyan wild-hive beekeeping. It should be noted that this craft was inherited. In the second half of the 19th century wild-hive beekeeping in Bashkiria reached its peak – between the Volga river and the Southern Urals, wherever nature was rich in honey forest and meadows, generous with abundant honey harvest for bees, they freely multiplied and existed in hollows and wild hives.

By the beginning of the 17th century there is a written confirmation of the occupation of the Bashkir people. In the «Book of the Large plan» (description of the map of the entire territory of Russia and neighboring states of the 16–17 centuries) for 1627 it is noted: «There are the Bashkirs from the estuary of the Belaya river on both sides up to the Ural Mountains, they feed on honey, animals and fish, and they have no arable land». During this period wild-hive beekeeping along with horse breeding was the leading trade of the Bashkir forest inhabitants.
At first, the system of using bees was like this. Most of the bee colonies that settled the prepared wild hives during the swarming season were doomed to death by the Bashkirs in the fall (after all the honey had been collected), and the empty wild hives were carefully guarded until the next season. In the spring before swarming they prepared and equipped the wild hives again with the honeycomb bases for settling in natural swarms. There is information that the wild hives were previously rubbed with fragrant herbs to attract bees.

In the first half of the 19th century in the west of Bashkiria, as well as in the north and north-west, wild-hive beekeeping lost its former importance, gradually giving way to box hive beekeeping. Proof of this is the fact that in the Ufa county [uyezd] in 39 Bashkir villages, where there were 1434 households, 1940 hives and 1352 wild hives were registered. On average there were 1,4 hives and 0,9 wild hives per household. Beekeeping played a significant role in the economy of the Birsk county [uyezd]. Yurt elders noted in their reports: «They are not engaged in any crafts, trade and industry, except for arable farming and beekeeping».

«An indigenous and common trade for all cantons – beekeeping, produced in the old way in very significant volumes, began to decline as the demand for wax decreased and is now in a very unenviable state», – the commander of the Bashkir army reported in 1852. If in the first half of the 19th century the Bashkirs in the forest regions had two or more thousands wild hives, then by the middle of the century the richest Bashkirs had only up to 200.
If you worked hard, then it's yours
In the heyday of primitive wild-hive beekeeping the forests owned by individual clan communities were exploited by their members together.

However, anyone who knew the simplest ways of using bees could make in the forest the required number of wild hives, prepare them for hiving the swarms, and use them to obtain honey and wax. The labor expended on this gave a person the right to completely use the products of bees from his wild hive.

The communal form of land use and the private procedure for the appropriation of beekeeping products among the Bashkirs consolidated the tradition of applying tamga (stigma) on the wild-hive trees – a sign that a tree and wild hive with its contents belongs to a certain person.
This tradition is not violated even today. According to the head of the Directorate for specially protected natural areas of Bashkiria Marat Khasanov, there are a lot of abandoned wild hives in the Burzyansky district. According to the rules adopted among local wild-hive beekeepers, the trees on which the wild hives are located are marked with a tamga – a generic mark. And this tree was passed down from generation to generation from fathers to sons, grandchildren, etc. During the Great Patriotic War a lot of beekeepers died, and since then the wild hives have been abandoned, none of the outsiders can use them for economic purposes. Scientists can penetrate them only for study. These are the rules, and researchers don't break them.
Burzyan, Central Russian, wild... Bashkir
On the territory of Burzyansky district of Bashkiria an aboriginal bee has been preserved – a dark forest bee, or Central Russian bee, which lives in natural and artificial tree hollows (wild hives) – with the common name Apis mellifera mellifera.

The natural and climatic conditions of the Central Russian Upland have developed useful qualities in our bees – extraordinary winter hardiness, high productivity in local conditions.

«Winters are long and cold in Bashkiria, local bees are supposed to be able to do without flowers for six months a year. This is ensured by the special biological properties of the Central Russian bees, developed in the process of centuries-old natural selection – during their life in hollows and wild hives», – writes V. N. Vlasov in the book «Bashkortostan is a honey land».

At the same time he points out that the food base of the Bashkir bees is the small-leaved linden – the main melliferous plant of the forest, which gives up to 70–80 percent of marketable honey. In Bashkiria the area of forests with its predominance is 933 thousand hectares, or 17 percent of the total forest. Large areas of linden plantations are located in the Arkhangelsky, Gafuriysky, Birsky, Blagoveshchensky, Burzyansky, Iglinsky, Ishimbaisky, Kugarchinsky, Mishkinsky, Nurimanovsky districts. Linden flowering lasts no more than 15 days.
Bees on honeycombs in a box hive. Shulgan-Tash reserve
In our time wild-hive trees with wild Burzyan forest bees have preserved only in the Burzyansky district of Bashkiria.

The development of beekeeping in this place was facilitated by special natural conditions – an abundance of linden forests – a source of massive honey harvests. In addition, the local population was mainly engaged in nomadic cattle breeding, hunting and collecting honey, leaving the forests untouched for a long time.

Mass plowing of land and deforestation in Bashkiria began only in the second half of the 19th century. Untouched forests have preserved in the remote and almost roadless spurs of the Ural Mountains. It was here in 1958 that the natural habitat of the black forest bee was declared a nature reserve.

In recent years the Burzyan bee in Bashkiria is under the threat of cross breeding – crossing with imported southern breeds of bees, and, accordingly, there is a risk of loss of an aboriginal, exclusively unique species for the whole world – the dark forest bee.

The unique dark forest bee has preserved only in the Burzyansky district, and was previously distributed throughout Europe, the Urals and England.

It was decided to save her, but not by prohibiting the breeding of southern breeds, but by the revival of the Burzyan bee and its widespread use.

Initially, it was decided to revive the production of purebred Burzyan bees in the state natural reserve «Altyn-Solok», which is located in the Burzyansky district of Bashkiria.

The reserve is located on the mountainous territory of the upper reaches of the Nugush river and the interfluve of the Belaya and Nugush rivers with the most elevated central part (Masim mount, 1040 m). The eastern border of the reserve is 8 km west of the village of Starosubkhangulovo.

Altyn-Solok is the largest reserve in the republic. Belongs to the least developed territories of the middle mountains of the Southern Urals. Its natural complex is dominated by broad-leaved European type oak and maple forests with elm and birch, occupying leveled elevated areas, as well as slopes of different exposure.

The location of the reserve at the junction of landscape areas and the low economic development of the territory contributed to the preservation of a rich animal population here, including the Burzyan population of the honey bee and wild-hive beekeeping. The presence of preserved wild-hive trees, spots of amateur wild-hive beekeeping and a good food base provided an opportunity for the state nature reserve «Shulgan-Tash» to put forward an initiative to organize here a specialized reserve for the protection of the Burzyan bee.

The reserve has a scientific and environmental significance, preserves the gene pool of both the aboriginal population of the honey bee and other species of bees, as well as other protected, including rare, animal and plant species. Provides a stable existence of the aboriginal population of the honey bee in the wild, wild hive and apicultural beekeeping. The territory is part of the Important Bird Area of international importance «Interfluve of the Belaya and Nugush rivers». This is reported on the official website.
«Shulgan-Tash» is a stable specially protected area with an undisturbed environment, an area of 225 thousand square meters, located in the interfluve of the Belaya and Nugush rivers with dimensions of 27–35 km by 3–15 km. The aboriginal Burzyan wild-hive bee has been in genetic isolation here for a long time, it has been ecologically and ethologically adapted to the living conditions in the Southern Urals.
Honeycombs with honey in a box hive. Shulgan-Tash reserve
In the near future, by 2021, in Bashkiria on the territory of 10 specially protected areas the reproduction of the dark forest bee will be established. 12 isolated reproduction apiaries will be organized. These are the natural park «Zilim», the reserve «Altyn-Solok», the reserve «Population of the spring pheasant's eye in the Blagovarsky district», the reserves «Birsky», «Nakazbashevsky», «Ishimbaisky», «Shaitantau», «Askinsky», «Asebar», «Ikskiy», as well as outside specially protected areas in the wild animal rescue center «Kulyashka» and in the village of Lemezy of the Iglinsky district.

According to the head of the Directorate for specially protected natural areas of Bashkiria Marat Khasanov, by the result of the genetic analysis the purity of the Burzyan bee is 88 percent, although in previous years this figure was much higher. When checking the wild hives on the territory of the Burzyansky district, it turned out that in some of them live Carpathian bees.

Wild-hive beekeeping has developed significantly in the foothills of the Urals, where a significant number of small-leaved linden grows. Only the Burzyan wild-hive bee can withstand the harsh conditions of these places. Southern breeds die from frosty winters, and they are mainly focused on collecting nectar from agricultural crops – sunflower, buckwheat, rapeseed. Therefore, the quality of honey obtained by Burzyan bees is considered higher and complies with the approved state standard: linden honey can be considered as such if it contains at least 30 percent of linden nectar. In Burzyansky district this number reaches 90 percent.

Currently the Altyn-Solok reserve contains 1200 wild hives, of which 200 are inhabited. There is also an apiary with hives, which contain the genetic elite for the control by scientists. In 2018 the mortality of bees in the Shulgan-Tash reserve was 60–70 percent – according to experts, this was due to the fact that the bees crossed with southern relatives and could not withstand low temperatures.
Why it is angry? Because honey is taken away…
Among beekeepers, especially adherents of traditional beekeeping, there is a belief that Burzyan bees are much angrier than their peaceful southern sisters – Carpathian and Carniolan bees.

Vasil Safiullin, a resident of the village of Novousmanovo of the Burzyansky district of Bashkiria, disagrees with this statement. He took up wild-hive and box hive beekeeping two years ago. Since childhood he worked with his father in a traditional apiary with beehives in the Karaidelsky district.
«Next year I will relocate all the bees from hives that are at home to box hives. I have 24 of them. I will never breed Carpathian bees, in our area it does not make sense – they simply will not stand here, they will not survive the winter. And the Burzyan bees are not angry, they sting and attack only when someone constantly climbs to them and takes honey. If you don't touch them, they just fly and do their job»,
– says Vasil.
In his opinion, the difficulty in wild-hive beekeeping is that it is more difficult to take honey, especially from the Burzyan bee. This is only possible in October, when insects gather in a tangle. The advantage is that you disturb the bees less in their house – they collect honey more calmly, and this only makes it healthier.
Local bees are characterized by a long wintering period, an accelerated increase in the strength of bee colonies in spring and the use of a short main honey harvest during the flowering period of the small-leaved linden.
Real honey
Natural honey, collected by Burzyan bees from herbs, has a complex chemical composition. This determines the healing properties of honey, and the high winter hardiness and vitality of Burzyan bees, which always ate natural food and which were never fed with sugar, also depend on this.

Bashkir linden honey thanks to its outstanding taste, healing qualities and aroma has become widely known not only in our country, but also far beyond its borders. Its qualities have been highly appreciated at many international congresses.
  • Author (compiler): R. T. Valeeva, 2019