Modern beekeeping is an amazing hobby and a great way to produce fresh honey that brings a sense of accomplishment with every harvest. The art of beekeeping, however, is an ancient one, and though the outcome is the same, ancient beekeeping was very different from its modern counterpart. While modern beekeeping offers a variety of popular beehive designs, beekeepers up to the 19th century could rely only on the skep.  

Skep Beehives

Skep beehives are oval shaped hives made from braided rope. They were the primary beehive style up until the 19th century when Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth created the Langstroth hive. The Langstroth hive skyrocketed into popularity thanks to its easy-to-use format and its reusability. Skep hives do not offer comb frames to offer any guidance for the bees. In consequence, the bees are free to attach their comb to the entirety of the hive. In order to harvest the honey from the tightly packed hives, beekeepers have to destroy the hive itself.      

Skep Hives and Cold Weather

Skep hives feature an open bottom, which creates obvious risks for the hive when winter hits, or when being used in cold climates. Most Skep hives were placed on wood platforms or rush mats to help with insulation. They were also often placed in carved wall recesses called “bee boles.” These boles were often stuffed with straw in the winter, and fancier ones even had wooden doors that could be shut when the weather turned particularly bad.

Humans weren't the only ones worried about hive insulation, though. The bees in the skep hive would also coat the inside of the hive with Propolis, a mixture of natural gums and saliva that offers waterproof insulation and even antimicrobial properties.


Skep Hive Honey Harvest

We’ve already touched on the complicated nature of harvesting honey from Skep hives, but the destruction of the skep hive itself, was the least of the beekeeper’s worries. You have probably already been thinking about the hardships taking a woven beehive apart without enduring the wrath of a full colony of bees. Considering the lack of protective wear for early beekeepers, one can only imagine the unease taking on a bee colony would cause. Early beekeepers avoided this danger by eliminating the bees altogether. They would either plunge the skep and hive into water to drown them or burn a mix of poisonous plants, the smoke of which would place the bees in a daze. This process was repeated for the heaviest and the lightest of the hives at the end of the season. The heavier the hive, the more honey there was to harvest. However, the smaller hives were unlikely to survive the winter and were also eliminated and harvested. Advances which allowed beekeepers to save their bees were made as centuries passed, however, and the process of driving bees became popular. This process would force a bee colony to vacate a full skep and enter and empty one. This process revolved around fixing a full and empty skep together with skewers called driving irons. This was then covered with cloth and the sides of the full hive drummed on. The vibrations would then force the bees into the empty skep, allowing the beekeeper to harvest all or some of the honey. If the beekeeper only harvested some of the honey, the bees could then be returned to their original skep and would have very good chances of surviving the winter.    

Paying Homage to Ancient Beekeeping

While Skep beekeeping isn’t as popular now due to the rise of wooden beehives, it was the staple of beekeeping for hundreds of years, and is still practiced today. The advancements in skep technology and theory has made it a viable option for beekeepers who are happy to work with hives that require a lot of special attention. This ancient form of beekeeping is steeped in tradition, and is a fascinating practice.If you are a beekeeper who wants to pay homage to hundreds of years of tradition, Sailor Plastic Bottles offers a line of honey bottles that are designed to look like traditional skep hives. These bottles live up to our high standards for quality, and are sure to serve you and your honey perfectly. At Sailor Plastic Bottles, we truly want you to succeed. And while we make a wide assortment of plastic bottles, we know that sometimes you don’t know what type of bottle is best for your product. If that’s the case, call us. We have a ton of experience matching products to the right packaging container, and now we have an easy label program that lets you get your own custom labels printed without any setup fees or die charges!   Let us help you find your ideal packaging solution. We’re proud to provide businesses in the food and beverage industry with high-grade BPA-free plastic packaging solutions with customization options. Whether round, square, honey bear, oval or other shapes of plastic bottles, Sailor Plastic Bottles has you covered. And we always deliver what we promise. About the Author: Jessica Welch is a student at Minnesota State University- Mankato who is working towards an MFA in creative writing. She has helped work on business related blogs and product descriptions as an intern with Sailor Plastic Bottles.