I found this really great video of the style of bee hive that is referred to as the “Skep” hive. This is really interesting because it shows how far beekeeping has improved over the years. This design did not allow for inspection of the individual combs for disease, parasites or to make sure the queen was present either by sight or through evidence of her eggs. I will post a later article on the current design used by most beekeepers that allows for the inspection of individual frames and doesn’t require the destruction of the comb for honey production. It will be quite clear why it’s done the way it is now!
Enjoy this video and the article!
Beekeeping 1925 Video
“Skeps, baskets placed open-end-down, have been used to house bees for some 2000 years. Initially they were made from wicker plastered with mud and dung but from the Middle Ages they were made of straw. In northern and western Europe, skeps were made of coils of grass or straw. In its simplest form, there is a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. Again, there is no internal structure provided for the bees and the colony must produce its own honeycomb, which is attached to the inside of the skep. Skeps have two disadvantages; beekeepers cannot inspect the comb for diseases and pests, and honey removal is difficult and often results in the destruction of the entire colony. To get the honey beekeepers either drove the bees out of the skep or, by the use of a bottom extension called an eke or a top extension called a cap, sought to create comb with just honey in it. Quite often the bees were just killed, sometimes using lighted sulfur, to allow the honeycomb to be removed. Skeps could also be squeezed in a vise to extract the honey. As of 1998, most US states prohibited the use of skeps because they cannot be inspected for disease and parasites.
Later skep designs included a smaller woven basket (cap) on top over a small hole in the main skep. This cap acted as a crude super, allowing the harvesting of some honey with less destruction of brood and bees. In England such an extension piece consisting of a ring of about 4 or 5 coils of straw placed below a straw beehive to give extra room for brood rearing was called an eke, imp or nadir. An eke was used to give just a bit of extra room, or to “eke” some more space, a nadir is a larger extension used when a full story was needed beneath.
A person who made such woven beehives was called a “skepper”, a surname that still exists in western countries. In England the thickness of the coil of straw was controlled using a ring of leather or piece of cows horn called a “girth” and the coils of straw could be sewn together using strips of briar. Likenesses of skeps can be found in paintings, carvings and old manuscripts. The skep is often used on signs as an indication of industry (“the busy bee”).
In the late 18th century, more complex skeps appeared with wooden tops with holes in them over which glass jars were placed. The comb was built in the glass jars, making the designs commercially attractive.”