We have a small group of straw hive enthusiasts in our club. Looking for better ways to keep bees, we looked back in time to when bees were traditionally kept in straw hives called “skeps.” Used for hundreds of years, these hives fell out of fashion with the advent of frame hives, but we “skeppers” are taking a second look at this style of hive and finding that it fits right in with our goals to keep bees in as “wild” and natural a setting as possible. You can read about an active, working skep apiary HERE. (If you poke around, you can see where you can translate the site to English, and its worth the read).
Here are some of the advantages of straw hives:
- Superior insulation qualities (1-inch of straw is equal to the thermal equivalent of 6-inches of wood!)
- Smaller colonies (Smaller colonies that swarm often have much better survival rates)
- The ability to work with and see the entirety of the colony, rather than looking at a comb or a box of bees. Tipping the skep upside down, you view the full superorganism.
- Light weight and long lasting (These hives have been known to be serviceable for a hundred years or more).
Here are some of the perceived disadvantages put to rest:
- You can’t treat your bees for illnesses (We don’t advocate treatment, but if you must, you can upend the hive and insert treatments).
- Bees must be killed to get at the honey (No! There are many ways to access honey: Bees can be shaken/drummed out of the hive if necessary into empty skeps. Honey can be removed gently from combs on the outer edges of the cluster of bees. Small boxes, jars, or woven baskets can be attached to the top of the skeps for honey gathering. When hives perish, often much honey remains for gathering. Yes, these hives are not for commercial honey production in this country, but are more than adequate for a family’s needs.) Here is a really fun video of how bees are actually drummed out of hives into a new hive. It isn’t in English, but you’ll get the idea: It takes about 5 minutes for the bees to start marching, but it is an impressive sight!:
- You can’t remove and inspect combs (The versatility of these hives is limited only by the creativity of the weaver. Skeps can be crafted to accommodate wooden, removable bars. And you can easily peek between combs when the skep is up-ended).
Our straw hive group is new and still learning, and we are reaching friendly hands across the ocean to learn from our beekeeping friends in England, Denmark, Holland, and Germany who still keep skep apiaries. We hope to have enough weaving grasses available next summer to begin teaching classes on making straw hives, and growing small, backyard skep apiaries. Keep your eye on our blog for new articles. You can search for them under “straw hives.”
Oh–and if you’d like to grow some organic rye grass for us, we’d love it! The sooner we have stores of grass, the sooner we can hold classes!