Willow basket making is known for its therapeutic value but I’m not sure the same can be said of straw! I wasn’t the only one to be flat-out exhausted at the end of our day. It didn’t help that my skep grew and grew like Jack’s bean stalk and as I looked around I could see only neat, pretty domes. Mine is more like a laundry basket having a bad hair day. BUT. I am truly heartened by the encouraging ‘The bees won’t mind’.
Prep: clean straw by pulling the tufty bits downwards to remove. This bit is easy.
place in a bucket of water
soak cane (for binding)
Take a handful of straw and push it through a ‘girth’. A girth was traditionally a piece of bone, like a serviette ring, but can be made from a plastic bottle top.
Bind with cane, twisting and turning the straw as you go. For visuals and more detailed instructions click here I was too busy to take pictures!
After the first tight ring the layers have to be sewn in place. For this we used a hollow piece of copper pipe but I’ve since discovered the essential tent peg. You’d think it was made for the job.
As the straw gets loose inside the girth you stuff more in.
And so it goes on. And on.
To finish, the straw is allowed to run out as you continue to sew around the base.
There are variations that can be made to the basic theme depending on what you want to use the skep for. Mostly they are used to catch swarms but because of the straw’s superb insulation properties it makes sense that people may consider returning to them as a main hive. Swarm-capture skeps require no letterbox entry/exit hole whereas permanent residences do. For the main home skep, a larger hole can be left in the top so that an ‘eke’ or extra area can be added for extra honey stores. I’m trying an empty jar in the top of mine – just swap it for a new one when full, how convenient! We’ll see.
The next stage is clooming – adding a layer of cow muck to give further protection. Such fun I’m going to blog separately on the subject.
Then there’s the issue of shelter. So far I haven’t thought of an attractive answer so my poor laundry basket is hiding in a plastic compost bin that was useless because of a missing door. Grand plans of bee boles are floating through my head but I haven’t hit on a version that I could build myself or won the lottery.
Despite the effort involved I’m am excited about starting to keep bees in a skep. I’m hoping a swarm will choose to live there. Watch this space!