Skep Hives

Around the world, skeps are made using various techniques and materials. The “Utah beehive” is most commonly a woven, straw skep. Skep makers, or skeppers, take stalks of straw and bundle them together with strips of briar to form a rope, usually two inches in diameter. This rope is then coiled around, and on top of itself, the coils secured in place with more briar, to form the skep’s domed shape. Weaving continues, and additional ropes are incorporated as needed until the skep is complete. Near the end of the weaving process, skeppers either leave or cut a small gap in a coil, allowing the bees to enter or exit the hive.

Skeps in Bee Boles

Skeps in Bee Boles. Andrew Curtis, 2017.

The finished skep is turned over on top of a mat and placed in or on the following:

  • bee alcove: a large opening within a wall
  • bee-bole: a specially built cavity in a wall big enough for one skep
  • bee shelter: a structure covered by a roof and open on one or more sides
  • skep stand: a low bench (this is usually how the Utah beehive is depicted)

Bees use skeps as a foundation to build their hive and honeycombs, attaching it directly to the skep walls. To remove the honeycombs, beekeepers first kill the bees, then pull the hive out, and break it apart. This method of skep-keeping continued through the mid-1800s.

Skip the Skeps: Even though it is the state symbol, it is illegal for Utah beekeepers to use skeps. Under Utah law "a person may not house or keep bees in a hive unless the hive is equipped with movable frames to all the hive's parts so that access to the hive can be had without difficulty" (Utah Code 4-11-106). Similar laws exist in almost every state. 

Skep with "No" Symbol