Lifestyle of Slovaks – Part 1 – Mini-farmer
Svetozar Ruzicka is a man with a huge variety of skills.
He graduated in veterinary medicine more than 20 years ago.
He once managed business development and sales in large corporations in the past, as well as insurance and brokerage networks.
He was part of the team launching pension reform in Slovakia.
Nowadays, he works mostly as a trainer, teaching his own, sales technique – oriented training program.
And in addition, he is a farmer.
Along with his family, he keeps bees, goats, rabbits and hens, and grows veggies.
He also builds small wood constructions and garden lakes, as well as creating educational boards - and not only about beekeeping.
He is a living example of how to lead a sustainable lifestyle and he loves promoting this kind of life.
His mini-farm is located 40 km away from Bratislava. We visited this place and asked our farmer a few questions:
Q: You are skilled in so many different areas, how did it happen that you managed to have a successful career in corporate companies while developing other, very different skills?
A: I grew up surrounded by socialism and for the first 24 years of my life I lived in the reality of a common Slovak village. Everyone produced something or did some craft and we used to help each other. My father's family was an old farming family. I still remember my grandparents’ vast court, dovecote and sheep. My father knew everything about the house, the farm, and the animals. There was no TV and no internet, thus we would spend most of the time in the garden, in the fields and in the workshop.
I graduated in veterinary medicine just after the velvet revolution in 1989. Times were turbulent and it was impossible for vets to conduct a mandatory practice. Almost all of us who graduated as vets, landed in pharmaceutical companies.
I bought my first goat twenty years ago. It was a gift to my 1-year old son. I wanted to give him something that would last and help him long-term. From breast milk he switched straight over to goat milk. The same approach was chosen, when our daughter was born. Our children are healthy and free from allergies.
In practice, this meant feeding and milking the goats in the morning, after which I would take a shower, put on a suit and go to work. Evening milking was sometimes managed by my wife and later, by our son.
Farming is a very frugal way of life. But it is also an anchor into reality. Goats weren't curious about the business performance of our company, monthly deadlines, reports or meetings.
They didn't care if I got promoted or fired. People sometimes live and breathe for companies which will not be here in years to come. Pursuing a career and a feeling of importance or indispensability at work is heady, but it is a soap bubble…
Out of a number of projects I worked on, pension reform is the one which remained in my heart. We offered citizens a solution to provide for their future without being totally dependent on the state. When I look around and see what kind of people run the state, I would rather be not dependent on them…
You might be surprised, but to become less dependent on the state was one of the main reasons why I kept on with farming.
Today, I am looking for a functional family mini-farm model that can be operated on small, affordable plots, by any family, across the whole country.
After so many years spent in financial business, it is very clear to me that a big number of people will never create a financial reserve for their retirement. The happier ones will keep the reserve for only a few years, but pensioners live longer and longer. If you get out of business after reaching the age of fifty years, you will very probably not be able to find a decently paid new job. What about when being even older…?
Currently, the average pension in Slovakia is around 460€. National statistics shows that between 60% to 70% of Slovak pensioners do not reach this level. Try to provide for a living out of this!
This is also a reason why I am a farmer. I believe that elderly people could find a new purpose of life in farming.
Q: How does farming enrich your life and what do you have to sacrifice?
A: Farming, even mini-farming, is everyday routine and hard work. Nevertheless, if it makes sense to you, you will enjoy it and feel fulfilled seeing all the rewards for your hard work.
Animals and fields teach you about humility, respect and simplicity. No matter how you feel, whether you are tired or not, you do what needs to be done. Everyone should experience this kind of contact with nature.
Q: How does your regular day look?
A: We have six goats, about twenty bee families, some rabbits, chickens and geese.
I walk through the garden every morning, put some hay into the goat house and pick some herbs for my morning tea. I feed a cat. I do a short work-out, drink my cup of tea and walk out. I prepare a bowl of food for every single animal, in accordance with a breeding plan. Altogether, with milking and feeding, the morning routine takes about an hour. Every second day I sweep out the run.
The same process is repeated in the evening. At least once a day we give goats some hay and twigs. In the season, from April to December, I make goat cheese 2-3 times a week. From time to time we need to bring in feed, do some repairs and maintenance.
During the season, bees should be seen to once a week. We prepare and clean hives and frames, harvest honey, and sometimes find medical treatment is necessary. Bees and beekeepers rest in winter.
As we also have other activities, each day has its own pace and ends with enjoying a glass of red wine.
Q: When did you decide to allocate more time to bees?
A: It was my wife who came up with the idea of keeping bees. It made sense to her. And it was another piece to our self-sufficiency puzzle.
Q: We know that you co-founded a bee-colony on a roof of one hotel in Bratislava, would you mind telling us more about it?
A: This is a lovely story. We had been beekeeping for 2 years, when a gentleman from Bratislava approached us. He wanted to keep bees on the terrace of his apartment - turnkey delivery. We gathered together some friends and kicked off the project with a Workshop for Beginning Beekeepers and offered some basic technical and advisory services.
This gentleman turned out to be a shareholder of a congress hotel in Bratislava and wanted us to build a demonstration apiary on the roof of this hotel. So, we did.
In 2018, his “honey from the roof” was awarded a gold medal at an Apimondia competition in Moscow. This is how we got to “city beekeeping”, and to the promotion of beekeeping and related environmental topics.
Q: How does a yearly beekeeping cycle look?
A: The season usually starts in March. We need to manage spring expansion of the colony and preparation for laying. In our conditions, bee production starts with visiting rape flowers, followed by acacia and lime tree flowers. It is great, if there are sunflower fields somewhere around. We need to keep the colonies strong, but then not too strong, otherwise they would fly away. We want to keep the bees healthy and harvest some honey 2-3 times per season. We face fighting bee parasites very often. August is dedicated to feeding and preparing for winter. If necessary, we do medical treatment and off season we build frames and hives.
Q: We hear about incidents of massive deaths of bees in Slovakia. What is your opinion about why this is happening and how might this turn out ?
A: Firstly, I do not think that apiculture in Slovakia is at risk, however it becomes more and more difficult. Many negative factors are becoming increasingly common - climate change, nature of agriculture, drought, monocultures, diseases and especially chemicals. There are poisons in every corner. Altogether, this creates a burden, which is too difficult for bees – as well as for humans.
Q: Do you think that bees as a species could die out? What would help to reverse the situation?
A: If it goes on like this, the question is who and what will survive…
But besides bees, which are the main pollinators, there are also bumble bees and many kinds of solitary bees… And, about 20% of plants are pollinated by wind. Nature would be able to cope, but humans are more vulnerable. Humans´ way of life becomes more and more reckless with a negative impact on the overall environment.
Q: What are you most worried about?
A: Well, it is something that I can´t influence at all – the weather. Weather is the main gamechanger in beekeeping, along with ubiquitous bee parasites, which results in long periods without honey lay. Not enough honey and low prices are worrying as well… but, maybe I'm exaggerating now a bit. Maybe it would be better to say what I like most about beekeeping. I am very pleased if I can assess the situation in the colony, based on the behaviour of bees on the flyer and their activities, ideally before opening the hive. I like long discussions about bees while drinking coffee with a group of beekeeper fans. And yet the smell of bees, after I open the hive…
Q: Is it possible for a person, who doesn't have a garden or other plot of land, to keep bees? Does it make any sense to keep hives somewhere on the terrace or in the yard?
A: Bees can be kept wherever a bee pasture is available. This means trees, shrubs, flowers and farmyard crops, ideally throughout the whole season. If this is not possible, enough food for bees should be around, so that they can make at least 2-3 strong lays per season. Otherwise it is wretched for everyone. It is quite important that grazing areas contain no pesticides or heavy metals.
We have proven that apiaries can also be effective in the city, but only if your neighbors are tolerant.
Bees are not just for fun. It is a challenging hobby that requires care and time. You had better let short-term euphoria fade out.
I wouldn't advise anyone to start with one hive, that is gambling. You need at least 2 hives. Beekeeping with 3-6 families can become a family hobby. Ideally, it would be if 2 people start together - spouses, father and son etc. We support this family teamwork very much as beekeepers can´t sustain the long-term without being supported by close family. It is clever to ask an experienced beekeeper to help you in the first year.
Before you make any decision, get a proper insight about beekeeping. You are welcome to attend one of our Weekend Beekeeping Seminars.
Q: What projects are ahead of you?
A: In the Bratislava Gate One Hotel, where a demonstration roof apiary is located, we are preparing a series of experiential courses for managers and work-teams called: "Flight Through the Bees World". It is intended to be a short insight into the world of bees, as well as relaxation and inspiration for executive management. We will continue organizing our regular workshops for beekeepers, and launch training on how to medically treat bee larvae by applying a heat therapy.
Q: What would you recommend to the people who care about a sustainable way of life?
A: Strive for more discipline and responsibility, simplicity and moderation at home. Many want to save whales, but their own rubbish bins are full of unsorted waste.
Eat less, choose food of the highest possible quality.
Grow your own food!
Thank you very much for giving us an opportunity to talk to you and we wish you and your bee families continuing well-being!
If you would like to visit this mini-farm, buy some honey, organize a discussion about bees or attend a workshop for beekeepers, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some interesting facts:
- In Slovakia, there are about 280 thousand bee colonies kept by around 14 thousand beekeepers, which produce around 3,6 tons of honey per year.
- One bee trip in spring can be of 300 to 500 meters long, in summer up to 2-3 kilometers.
- A bee visits 50-60 flowers in one trip and about 1200 flowers per day.
- One average colony has about 20,000 bees, which visit about 20 million flowers a day.
- To produce one kilogram of honey, a bee must visit 10-50 million flowers.