Before the advent of box-type hives, other artificial hives were used. One in particular, the skep, was popular among beekeepers. A large bell-shaped basket made of coils of grass or straw, the skep was relatively light and easy to move and handle. While largely replaced by more efficient hive designs that can be inspected and harvested without disturbing the bees, straw skeps are still produced in some areas, particularly in Europe. With a few simple tools, including a large needle called a bodkin, a sewing palm used for stitching leather, and the right materials, you can make your own skep.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Straw in 3 foot lengths or longer
- Bee's wax
- Sewing palm
Clean the straw stems of any remaining leaves. Soak the straw in warm water for one hour. Remove the straw and wrap it in a wet burlap sheet to keep it damp while working.
Select a length of string that is easy for you to work with. Run the string along the bee's wax to coat it thoroughly. This both lubricates the string and protects it.
Select a small bundle of thinner, more pliable straw stems to begin the skep. Wrap the end of the bundle with the end of the length of waxed string. Thread the other end of the string through the bodkin.
Roll the end of the wrapped straw to begin forming a coil. Pass the bodkin and string through the wrapped straw, using the sewing palm to push it through, then around the unwrapped bundle of straw. Pull the string tight to secure the coil.
Press more of the straw bundle against the coil to enlarge it. Pass the bodkin through the middle of the wrapped coil. Wrap the string around the loose straw bundle tightly to secure it to the coil. Continue this action to form the top of the skep.
Position the bundle of straw slightly lower on the coil at each stitch to form a gently bell-shaped curve in the sewn straw bundles. Work the curve of the skep to the desired dimension, usually 1 1/2 to 2 feet wide.
Pull each stitch tight to ensure the skep will hold together well. As you work, when the bundle begins to thin toward the end, add more straws to form a continuous bundle. When the length of string runs out, tie another length to the end and continue stitching.
Add more straw to form a thicker bundle as you reach the point where the sides of the skep form. Continue to pass the bodkin through the previous bundle in the coil, then around the working portion of the straw bundle.
Continue to coil and stitch the straw bundle, adding more straw as needed. As you reach the mid point in constructing the side of the skep, leave a 4-inch space in the stitching to allow for an entrance to be cut after the skep is finished.
Work until the skep reaches the desired dimension, usually between 2 and 3 feet tall. Allow the bundle of straw to thin out as you reach the final ring in the skep. Thread the bodkin through the remaining coil and around the last few straws several times to lash the end of the bundle in place.
Locate the 4-inch section without stitching in the centre of the side of the skep. With the scissors, cut a 2-inch portion from the middle of that section. Be careful not to cut the string that holds the skep together. This hole forms the entrance to the skep hive.
Tips and warnings
- To create a more traditional skep, use strips of weaving cane, instead of string.
- If you plan to use your skeps to keep bees, learn all you can about bee behaviour and care before starting.
- In some individuals, a bee sting can cause a severe allergic response that can result in a life threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock. In the event that a bee sting causes severe swelling, particularly around the face or mouth, difficulty breathing or other severe reactions, seek emergency help immediately.
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