Zeidlerei Workshop Details

A General History

In the Middle Ages, Zeidlerei (also Zedlerei) consisted of the commercial collecting of honey from wild or half-wild bee colonies, as performed by a Zeidler. The word derives from the Latin excidere (“to cut out”) and the old German zeideln (“to cut honey”). Cutting was done because, unlike today, entire honeycombs were removed from a hive, with the continued existence of a colony of secondary importance. 

The term Zeidler (also Zeitler) refers to the special profession of a honey collector. Back then Zeidlers did not keep bees in hives. Rather, they cut out “artificial caves” (aka hives) in old trees at a height of approximately six meters, then provided an entrance with a board, through which a flight hole was bored. Whether a hive was occupied by bees or not depended entirely on the natural environment and varied year to year. 

Whereas in the Middle Ages forest beekeeping was popularly practiced in Russia, Poland, and Germany (mainly in the Nuremberg area, as well as in Berlin in the Grunewald and Spreewald forests), by the end of the 19th Century the practice was nearly lost due to the ubiquitous spread of industrialization, the growing number of beehive farms offering cheap, easy-to-harvest honey, and the large-scale felling of forests. Zeidlerei largely disappeared from Germany and Poland, with only distinct pockets surviving in Russia. 

Rediscovered c. 2005 by Polish Zeidlers, who learned the craft from Russians in Shulgan Tash in the Urals, this traditional handicraft is now enjoying a renaissance, first spread to Germany and Switzerland in 2014, and since then, having traveled to Austria, the UK, the US, Turkey, Portugal, and beyond.

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Workshop Logistics

The Zeidlerei workshop can accommodate up to 60 participants, who will be split into smaller groups, comprising no more than 20 individuals. Each group will be supervised by three or four experienced Zeidler instructors. 

The Zeidlers originate from Germany and Poland, and speak a combination of German, Polish, and English. Participants will be split into language-appropriate groups. 

Within these groups, participants will be paired two per log hive. Since only one person can work at a time on a log and because manually excavating interior cavities can be exhausting work, especially for beginners, participants will alternate hollowing out the tree trunks. 

One group will carry out the majority of its Zeidlerei activities in the courtyard of the conference’s main venue, Kühlhaus Berlin, while the remaining groups will be located next door in an open-air site at the Technikmuseum Berlin. Various workstations will be situated at both venues, thus necessitating that the groups rotate from one site to the other. A third location, where tree-climbing techniques will be demonstrated and practiced, is currently being confirmed with the City of Berlin (to be announced). 

Hollowing out of logs
The use of chainsaws to carve initial cuts in tree trucks is a common practice. Due to safety precautions, the use of chainsaws will be limited to instructors only during the workshop.

“Hollowing out of logs” is defined by the physical carving out/excavating of a cavity in the interior of a log, in which bees will hopefully eventually make their home. This activity requires hard physical labor, using hand-made carving tools (see Tools section below), which we will provide for participants. During the workshop, several hours per day will be dedicated to this activity; see the program for more information.

Various types of logs will be provided, ranging from spruce to pine to oak. Depending on the species, hollowing out can be relatively easy or, for hardwoods, exhausting. We will try to make it possible for participants to work on both softwood and hardwood logs to compare and contrast the densities of different species. If necessary, participants will be assigned to a wood type, depending on their physical abilities.

(Note: For those people interested in Zeidlerei but who do not wish to carry out physical activities themselves, they can opt during the conference (on 31 August) to watch an abbreviated 90-minute demonstration of various aspects of the craft by Polish Zeidlers. This will only showcase the basics and will not be audience-participatory.)

Experienced Zeidlers work with a variety of tools: modern chainsaws to initially cut logs as well as traditional tools such as a crowbar, adze, plus smaller, custom-crafted smoothing tools to hollow out cavities. Participants will learn how to use these manual tools to carve out tree trunks in order to create better-insulated living spaces for bees.

We will provide a unique opportunity to witness the manufacturing of some traditional tools, as explained by the Technikmuseum Berlin’s onsite blacksmith, located in the immediate vicinity of where some groups will be situated. During this demonstration, participants will get to know firsthand the different materials used to fabricate Zeidlers’ unique tools.

Safety precautions and protective gear
To minimize risk of injury, safety precautions will be pointed out in detail at the beginning of the workshop. 

Because the hollowing out of logs will span several hours, gloves to prevent against abrasion of the hands and fingers are highly recommended, as are protective goggles against the probability of flying woodchips.

During the practical parts of the workshop, saw cuts with chainsaws will periodically be made by instructors, which can be very loud. As such, it is recommended to also bring protective ear gear.

Although the logs will be secured against rolling away, sturdy, hard-toed shoes are recommended.

Tree-climbing techniques
Polish Zeidlers practice different climbing techniques than Russian Zeidlers, both of which have been passed down throughout the ages. The Poles use a traditional hemp rope (leziwo), while Russians use rope made of linden bast. These different climbing techniques will be explained during the workshop and the Polish technique demonstrated, as well as modern climbing techniques using synthetic ropes, which are common nowadays. Following these demonstrations, participants will have an opportunity to try some of these tree-climbing techniques themselves, as taught and guided by the experts.

The location of the tree-climbing demonstrations and exercises will probably be within walking distance of both Kühlhaus Berlin and Technikmuseum Berlin (to be confirmed). 

Lectures about bees in trees and log hives
During the workshop’s four scheduled lectures, different aspects of tree beekeeping will be explained: Forest conditions for tree beekeeping; Why Zeidlerei and biodynamic beekeeping, and the construction of natural homes; How to operate a log hive; and the History of Zeidlerei.

Beyond the Zeidlerei workshop, participants who also register for the conference will be treated to another glimpse of the world of tree beekeeping during a 90-minute panel discussion on Saturday between three expert German Zeidlers, who run different Zeidler centers throughout the country.

Citizen-Science Project (Friday evening optional work session)
Attendees of the Zeidlerei workshop are invited to participate in an optional work session on Friday evening, immediately following the “History of Zeidlerei” lecture. Workshop participants, Zeidler instructors, speakers from the conference, as well as other invited guests will come together with the focused assignment of brainstorming ways to form an international coalition to collect scientific data on rewilded bees via a citizen-science protocol, expressly developed by Prof. Thomas D. Seeley for this project.

The majority of log hives completed during the Zeidlerei workshop will eventually be distributed to partner institutions throughout Europe — universities with sustainability and Nature conservation programs, bee research laboratories, forest preserves, and other appropriate locations — under the condition that these hives be installed on their premises, monitored periodically, and then their data entered into a scientific study measuring the health of wild honey bees. 

We believe that these data, if collected over the course of several years, will produce rich research results that will prove invaluable to the natural beekeeping movement, in particular to bee-centric, natural beekeepers, who envision less-intensive practices and more bee-conducive habitats. In Spring 2020 and throughout the first year, a dozen or more European institutions will participate in a “soft launch” to test the protocol, database, system, etc. In the subsequent year, this will roll out more widely to possibly encompass hundreds of tree-based sites in Europe, the US, Turkey, Russia, and elsewhere.

(Note: Any log hives from the Zeidlerei workshop that remain unclaimed may be purchased at a reduced price by workshop participants.)

Research programs like this are called "citizen-science projects" because ordinary citizens — in this case beekeepers and Zeidlers — can help to collect the data needed to address real scientific problems and situations.

Already we are in contact with the Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development, Germany’s leading green institution. They have been invited to send a selection of students and professors to both the Zeidlerei workshop and conference.

Only a light breakfast will be offered in the mornings because we assume that many participants will enjoy breakfast in their hotels. The price of the workshop also includes lunch and dinner, which we will have together. Refreshments, coffee, and tea will be available during coffee breaks and wood-working activities.

We have reserved blocks of rooms with discounted rates at three hotels within walking distance of Learning from the Bees Berlin 2019: Mercure Hotel Berlin Mitte, Grimm’s Potsdamer Platz, and Flottwell Berlin Hotel. To make a reservation, click the “Berlin” page, scroll down, and then download, fill out, and send in one of the Reservation PDF forms. Our blocks of reserved rooms will be released back to the hotels starting on 29 July. 

Note: This is a partial description of the Zeidlerei workshop as of 1 July 2019. Program and other details may be subject to change.