Restoring an old tradition... skep making

Imogen with Mick Male, skep maker

The skep workshop led by Mick Male last month was a great success this year. Twelve people attended and all enjoyed the two days. Several finished their skeps by the end of the second day and they were very impressive. Mick is a very good teacher and very experienced skep maker.

To make one of these ancient bee hives you need plenty of thatching straw, a turkey bone, a cow horn and rattan or bramble stem. If you can’t come by a cow horn or a turkey bone, a Lucozade bottle and a sailmaker's fid (a tool used in sail making and leather work to force rope strands through rope coils).  Don't worry if you don't have one to hand, we were shown how to make one by Mike with a piece of copper pipe.  Oh you also need a fair amount of strength and a lot of patience!

The start is most difficult in my opinion as you have to weave the straw and rattan very tight. It does involve a lot of strength and dexterity to manipulate the straw into shape and keep the skep firm and without holes.

Until the 19th century skeps were the main form of beehive in this country  and were either kept in bee boles (special alcoves made in walls of gardens) or people made covers out of woven willow covered in daub to stop the rain getting in.  Beekeepers would often just destroy the colony to extract the honey or some would tap the bees into another empty skep and get the honey that way. A much kinder way to deal with it I think.

We hope to run another workshop if there is enough interest next winter/spring , so if you are interested, please look out for information nearer the time on our website or send an email and I'll add your name down on the next course.

Imogen Hallam,
Swarm Collection Co-Ordinator