As a born skeptic, I have grown to believe that things are not usually the way they seem. At the beginning of my personal venture into beekeeping, I researched many different kinds of hive construction. There were some types that are very old and some types that are kind of old but nothing really new. There were bee gums, pottery hives, mud hives, skeps, manifold hives, polish hives, Kenyan hives, barrel hives, collateral hives, Langstroth hives and on and on. The inventors of these hives claimed that their hive was the answer to beekeepers needs. I can just hear the bees laughing at those claims. They do laugh, right? Each hive type had a thing or two that made practical sense which endured the test of time. By the time Reverend Langstroth realized that there was an accepted amount of space that bees would tolerate between each internal part of a hive most practical ideas in hive design were already being utilized.
As I read through the historical information on hive construction methods, I became more and more obsessed with the history, making and use of skeps. Was it possible that you can take a bunch of grass and build a durable beehive for free! My skepticism was driving me to read more and more into this archaic form of beekeeping. I had always heard that bees were always killed when honey was harvested from skeps. I learned that there were different types of skeps and the killing of bees was not necessary. The ‘honey super” is an invention that was originated for the skep. The cylindrical skep used several “supers” long before the Langstroth. George Neighbour’s Improved cottage hive (also a skep) had bell glass comb honey jars on top as well as observation windows. Both of these ideas survive today. The Greek bar hive (a skep) simulated the tapered shape of a Top Bar Hive and had removable bars for brood inspection and harvest.
That was enough for me! I HAD TO try my hand at making a skep. Throughout the summer I harvested straw and reed grass and learned to process and store it. Coil weaving was next and I enjoyed every minute of it. I found that building skeps was not only interesting it was therapy for tension! Using lapping cane, a section of cow horn, a turkey leg bone needle and reeds and straw I was able to create several skeps. I feel that I may some day earn the title of Skepist.
While I am making skeps for observation and display only, as they are illegal to use in NYS, I believe they are well suited for swarm catching if built in that way. The simplicity of design lends itself to a myriad of modifications that can be designed to the beekeepers need for purposes other than housing a hive.