28 October 2017

Making a Skep

A skep is a type of traditional beehive. This particular skep is being made from straw but other materials were, and still are, used by bee-keepers to make homes for their honey bees.

In October I was fortunate to attend a most enjoyable workshop at the National Honey Show where Mr. Chris Park of Acorn Education taught a small group of bee-keepers this ancient technique.

Skeps come in various shapes and sizes to suit various beekeeping needs. A smaller skep is handy for catching swarms, for example.

The shape most people are familiar with is this rounded style, illustrated here in a late 14th century book from Italy.


When my skep is completed I will need to consider how it should be kept dry. A well made skep is strong but needs a weatherproof covering, particularly if it's being used to house a colony of bees in the winter months. Having said that, it is well known that a skep may last for many years.

Skeps were given "hackles" like the one at the Breamore House Countryside Museum.
Or kept in wooden or stone sheds of various kinds to keep out the weather.
A grander, more expensive solution would be a specially built "bee bole" of which there is fine example at The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall  

One last solution to weatherproofing my skep is to "cloom" it. I will need to visit the local farmer, taking a large bucket to collect some cow pats! Then I'll need to use these to plaster the outside of my skep. I'm told this is not an unpleasant task - and it is a fact that the result is hygienic and very satisfactory! Sometimes old techniques sound strange to us in the modern era, but a cloomed skep works very well, it's a practical and sustainable product. The photo below shows a finished cloomed skep, made by Chris Park, at the National Honey Show.

And you may like to visit Acorn Education