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Buzzing in Bulgaria: Bee Keeping

Bulgarian honey is not only tasty but an extremely good export and during the Seventies and Eighties Bulgaria was amongst the world’s top ten countries in terms of the volume of honey produced and the number of bee keepers, however the number of keepers have been falling and there is fear that the old tradition of bee keeping is dying out and the government is trying to promote bee keeping with EU subsidies available to those who want to take on this buzzing trade. There is a distinct gap in the market for anyone looking to farm bees in Bulgaria and even if you are new to this there is plenty of help and advice on hand but you need to follow the rules on bee keeping even if you only want one local hive.


Bulgarian Bee Law

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is responsible for the implementation and management of legislation for bee keeping known as apiculture and they take advice from a national branch of the apiculture union. The objectives of Bulgarian law regarding apiculture is to help create favourable conditions for its development and to encourage new bee keepers as well as maintaining existing ones. The law also aims to protect the biological and ecological balance of nature so that honey production does not exploit pollen producing plants or the quality of the bee products. There are various rules about the importation of honey to be considered if you want to make this a full time occupation, however if domestic production is all that you are looking for then the rules are straight forward.

Registering with the Bee Keepers Union

If you want to open a hive or go into full time bee keeping the first thing you should do is get in touch with your regional branch of the Apiculture Union. The Union is a non profit making organisation there to help bee keepers in their business as well as introducing them to processors and the traders who wish to source bee products.

Only Bulgarian bees can be used to make honey and bee related products in Bulgaria and currently there is a gap in the market with around 450,000 bee families. The required number for the ideal pollination of Bulgaria’s wild and domestic plants is around 900,000. Once you join the Bee Keeping Union your details will be registered onto a national database and your hives will be monitored to ensure that you are working within the law to the positive benefits of nature. The Union is not there to discourage you and they are happy to provide new bee keepers with plenty of help and experience including organising and conducting training and arranging veterinary care. Of course the courses are in Bulgarian but you can take a translator along.

Legally you cannot operate more than 150 beehives and if you intend to sell your honey you must obtain a certificate from the union to ensure that it meets their quality requirements. You also need to obtain a veterinary certificate confirming the good health of your bees. Failure to comply with the law will result in fines and penalties.

Registering with the Mayor

As well as registering with the union you also need to register with the mayor in your town or village who logs all the details about you and the number of the bee families and registration number of the apiary location of your hives and the date of your veterinary medical certificate.You must do this within 15 days of setting up your hive. The mayor then has one month to register you with the regional office of the Agriculture and Forestry Commission and the National Veterinary Medical Service. There are no fees associated with this part of the registration process.Your hives must be enclosed by a fence and must contain the name of the owner, his company and the company address as well as the company Bulstat number, the number of bee families and the registration number of the apiary. Should any of this information change you have 15 days to notify the mayor and the bee keepers union. You do not have to have a company to keep bees, ownership is permitted for individuals too.Each year, by August 30th, you are required to submit further details about your hive including the number bee families, the number bee families purchased in that year, the number of bee families sold and the number of bee families, which spent the winter in the hive. If you decide to move your hive either permanently or temporarily you must obtain permission from the mayor.

Finding a Home for Your Bees

There are very strict laws about where you can site your hives after all bees can kill and it is important to ensure that your swarm does not develop a flight path, which would endanger anyone’s health or life. Bees fly in asset route back to their hive and they use this path without fail. In the event that your bees settle in another person’s hive, then the law dictates that that person becomes the owner of the swarm. Therefore it is important to take advice and training from the Bee Keeping Union about ways to avoid losing your bee swarm. You can locate your hives on state owned or privately owned farmland and forests as well as on regulated land. If you own more than 10 bee families, the state or local municipality can determine your rights to use land to develop a permanent apiary. If state land is sold and you have hives there, you will have the right to buy the land providing you have owned the apiaries on the land for over 20 years; there must also be over 10 bee families. You will qualify to use state land if there are no more than 50 bee families in a 2.5 km radius. If you want to locate a hive in your garden then it must not be more than 5 m from the boundary any neighbouring property, although if the hive entrance is not facing the boundaries of another property the distance can be reduced to 3 m. You can locate your hives next to a boundary fence providing it is over 2 m high. If your land is on a slope and your neighbour’s property is at least 2 m below the apiary, the hive can also be situated next to the fence. You are not allowed to set up a hive within 100 m of an administrative building, a school or kindergarten or a hospital. Neither can you set up a hive within 10 km regions with registered pedigree bees or for the production of elite queen bees and reserve apiaries. You cannot set up your hive within 5 km of regions with registered reproductive apiaries for the production of pedigree queen bees or on any site connected with the security and defence of the country. To protect your bees, you cannot locate your hive within 500 m of a chemical plant, thermal electric power plant and various other factories where toxic substances are used like animal glue or leather factories.

Don’t be perturbed by the legislation, the government is actively encouraging bee keepers and if you think you would like to try, then start off with Ted Hooper’s Bee Bible, "Guide to Bees and Honey"