I’ve mentioned before that I am no woodworker and because hands off beekeeping is so much about creating a good home will the bees it has been a little disempowering. In the garden at work is a fair amount of willow and running the place on a shoestring means looking to maximize every resource available. So I started looking into willow uses, went on a basket-making course and was absolutely blown away by the ability to turn some sticks into strong, attractive baskets and more. Much more. No nails, no wooden bases necessary. All is done using the willow. Every time I bring logs into the house now I wonder at the strength of that basket. How do the handles hold?
Unfortunately our willow is too large and irregular to be able to use it solely but bundles can be brought relatively cheaply (although the postage, if you have it sent, is prohibitive). Green willow (meaning it has been newly cut, not the colour, though it may well be green!) is available over the winter months, just when a gardener needs an excuse to be inside (the greenhouse) and has some time on her hands. I have added trugs, dragonflies and flowers to my repertoire (all very rustic) and now I’ve got it into my head to make a willow skep or ‘alveary’.
What has put me off skeps before now is that they need to be protected from the weather i.e. woodwork! Also I had come to the conclusion that larger hives would be better for bees as they wouldn’t have to swarm and can to keep a large stores but maybe I fell into the ‘bigger is better’ trap. Given the choice honey bees prefer homes with a capacity of around 45 litres. They avoid sites of less than 10 litres or more than 100 litres. So downsizing their accommodation might not be a bad thing.
Why willow when the straw that skeps are made from is such an excellent insulator? Only because I can! I am going on a straw skep making course in April so hopefully I can have some of each and will be able to compare them. Straw skeps also need protection from the elements but willow needs an extra layer of clay or cow muck to close the gaps.