The skep preceded the modern hive. For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years man has been keeping bees in containers. Sometimes a hollow log or a clay pot but often they were made from reeds or vines. They look much like a piled coil of rope.

This is a series of videos, which I think were taken some time ago, featuring an operation in lower Saxony. It’s fascinating to see them mixing swarm, queens and all, then selecting a queen for the mass ‘vat’ of bees, adding a few scoops of bees the the new skep.

This type of hive had a number of disadvantages. The beekeeper would catch swarms which came from his own hives and so increase the total number of hives. At the end of the summer it was necessary to kill the bees to harvest the honey, so half of the colonies would be killed and half left for next year.

This had the effect that by a similar process to natural selection the propensity of the bees to swarm was increase which was a desirable trait if you want to increase the number of colonies you have.

When the removable frame hive was invented it made both the inspection for disease and the harvesting of honey possible without killing the colonies. This propensity to swarm is now undesirable since when swarms are not captured the loss to the parent colony is significant, and the likelihood of a good honey crop is less. The efforts of the work force can now go towards collecting nectar and storing more honey which is more likely to produce a surplus, which the beekeeper can harvest.