The Dictionary describes a Skep as “A straw or wicker beehive”.
Quote from Wikipedia “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”
Above: Old Straw Skep at the Gold Coast
In 2016 I read social media post about an old Skep on the Gold Coast being used to house Native Bees. It was around 60 – 80 years old and recently I had the opportunity to visit that property and see it in person. It’s amazing that something made from straw has lasted so long. Since i first heard about it I wondered how it’d be possible to create my own version of it, i didn’t have any skills with straw so thought i’d use wood as an internal structure and cover it to disguise it so it looked like a skep but would be a little more hardcore, maybe it didn’t really need to be hardcore as the straw ones lasted 60 years anyway?
So after the visit, I threw some ideas around and came up with a plan!
- 10 metres of 20mm Sisal Rope
- 10 metres of 6mm Sisal Rope
- Sisal Twine
- Glue (hot glue gun works well)
- Plant Pot – for the shape only
- Timber base
- 1 rusty bent nail and tape
Below: I thought i’d start at the top, twirl it around and tie it with twine as I went. This turned out to be a very time consuming process…
Below: Once I did a few twirls I placed it on the plant pot to follow the shape…
I got a little impatient at this point as it’s really fiddly work using the twine to tie each layer together at every quarter turn so I wrapped all the rope around the pot and put a small single dot of glue in between each layer purely to hold it in place neatly. When the glue is dry I can remove the pot and then spend some hours working the twine in and hopefully make it a little neater
Below: After the glue spots dried I removed the pot, time to start with the twine…
Below: I continued to tie two levels of rope together with twine. Alternating side to side downwards. It’s not the neatest looking thing but will get better. The twine is just firm but not tight, a little play in the twine will help when I thread the 6mm rope through
Below: I used a rusty bent nail as a needle, taped 6mm Sisal rope to it and threaded it all the way back through my twine on the inside. This fills the gap between the 20mm rope and also tightens the twine
Below: After I’ve threaded the 6mm rope all the way to the top.. chaos!
Below: Using a hot glue gun, I started at the top of the Skep and fixed the 6mm rope in place all the way along to the end so it all sits neatly in between the 20mm rope
Below: Closer view
Below: Time to make the base, 35mm Cypress
Below: Cut and shaped to a rough circle. The base will be sanded and coated with oil
- I’m not sure if I should coat it with something to try make it last longer and stop mould
- The bees will coat the inside with Propolis so any gaps will be filled, I might even spread some Propolis around to help the bees get started.
- The Skep will be kept under cover so wont be exposed to rain.
- I’ll put a sample piece of Sisal rope out to be exposed to the weather to test how it holds up over a year
- Insulation concerns? Bees have lived in that old Straw Skep for many years and have done ok. I live on the coast so I don’t have extreme highs or lows so I feel it should be ok but will monitor it anyway.
To be continued…..
To do list:
- Finish the base – sand and oil
- Create or shape an entrance hole
- Figure out how i’ll get bees in to it
Disclaimer: This is my version and possibly not the best way to do it. Everything with Native Bees is experimental. Bee keepers should research and form their own opinions about how to manage their bees.