English for beekeepers

Wednesday word file: bee skep

A skep is a traditional round hive made of straw or dried grass. Multiple strands of straw are bundled together to form a thick rope and the rope is then coiled and bound together to make the skep. The skep is generally empty so it provides protection for the bees but little else. There is one opening, usually at the bottom, for the bees to enter.

Bees living in skeps were often killed or driven out so the honey could be collected. Often the entire skep—comb and all—was pressed to remove the honey and new skeps were prepared for the following year.

Bee skeps were kept in boles

Before the widespread use of commercial sugar, it was common for a homeowner, especially in Northern Europe, to keep a hive of bees for both the honey and the wax. Wealthy families often had little indentations built right into the exterior walls so there would be a convenient place to keep the skeps. These platforms were called bee boles and they provided some protection against wind and rain.

Because the bees cement their comb to the inside of the skeps, the combs are not movable and cannot be inspected for brood diseases. For this reason, beekeeping in skeps is illegal in the United States and other countries as well.

A universal symbol popular in the arts

Skeps have always been popular with artists, engravers, painters, and apparently seal designers. A straw skep is a universal symbol of determination and industry that is associated with the honey bee. The state of Utah has a skep in its official seal. And until recently, so did Radford University in Virginia. I’m sure there are many more.

Until recently, the official seal of Radford University

The Utah flag features a bee skep and the word “industry.” The honey bee is the state insect of Utah.


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