Mythbusting: Bee Skeps in Georgia

DalgarvenBeeSkepOn February 22, my son Cordell and I attended the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association’s Fundamentals of Beekeeping seminar on Oatland Island near downtown Savannah, GA. One of the speakers giving advanced level presentations was David Arnal, an experienced beekeeper from Hilton Head, S.C.

One of the presentations given by David that I attended was called Reintroducing the Skep. In all honesty, I almost skipped the class and went to a different one because my first reaction to the title was something like this:

“What!? Skeps? Who would want to keep bees in a skep? They’re illegal anyway!”

But, my curiosity got the better of me so I made my way to the class to hear what Mr. Arnal had to say. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Now, just for those who may be wondering, a “skep” is a woven basket that contains bees like you see in the photo above. Bees were kept in skeps for centuries. In fact, the modern wooden box (Langstroth) hives used predominately today are very recent development by comparison. Though hardly seen in use in the U.S. today, skeps are still depicted in bee related art and also on the State Seal of Utah.

From my earliest days exploring learning about keeping bees, I have read and heard that keeping bees in skeps is illegal because it is a hard to inspect them for disease because they do not have removable frames like modern Langstroth hives. So when I went into Mr. Arnal’s class, I expected him to reaffirm what I thought I knew. Boy, I was wrong! Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Arnal stated that skeps were not illegal everywhere; his home State of South Carolina had no law against them! Moreover, he also noted that he could not find anything mentioning this in the beekeeping laws of Georgia either. That got my attention.

Yesterday I decided to investigate further on the legality of skeps in Georgia. Scripture says where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:15), so if there is no law or regulation specifically banning skeps, then they cannot be illegal, no matter how many beekeepers, books, or bee supply companies say otherwise!

I decided I’d ask someone who would know, so I emailed David Williams who heads up the apiary inspection section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture Plant Protection Division. I figured he would be able to point me to where it is written that skeps are not allowed if such a ban existed.

Here is his reply:

It is not against the law to own or possess a skep hive.  It would not be eligible for an inspection because it probably would not go back together very well.

It’s not often I get to expose an urban legend, but there you have it! Myth busted! There is no law preventing beekeepers from using skeps in this State. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed.

I think it’s safe to say that skep beekeeping may never be economically feasible for most beekeepers and they probably won’t make a comeback, but as a matter of historical preservation they do have value because this was the method bees have been kept for centuries. Personally, I have no immediate plans to start using skeps, but I don’t want anyone prevented from doing so because of urban legends.

I invite you to watch the first in a series of videos I have been watching on Youtube that follows a skep apiary in Germany. It’s quite fascinating to me really. One thing I learned is that the idea a skep cannot be inspected because they lack removable frames is actually a canard as well. The skep beekeepers are in their hives working more often than most of us, and they have ways to check the health of the colonies and inspect them.

Here is the first video:

 

I’d like to say a special “thank you” to David Arnal for his presentations and getting me interested in the legality of skep hives in Georgia.

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8 thoughts on “Mythbusting: Bee Skeps in Georgia

  1. Ya know, I sort of like the idea of skeps. They are round, like the inside of a tree. I didn’t see the beekeeper pulling out frames to inspect them, not this time anyway. But I did see a lot of bending over…something that would get tiresome when you only have so many bends allotted to you every day. 🙂

    • Right. Well, in some of the later videos, you’ll see they don’t inspect the skeps by other methods than “pulling frames” like we do. They use their skep knife to cut out comb to check for eggs to indicate if they have a queen or not. You can also see if larvae are healthy too. I have most of my bees on pallets now, so I get my fair share of bending over too. I don’t foresee us getting into skep beekeeping.

    • Evidently your expert is mistaken because in Alabama (right next door) it is illegal to keep bees in a skep hive. Also to harvest honey the bees and brood must be sacrificed. Also remember that the outer part of the skep is traditionally covered with fresh cow dung.
      Yum-Yum.

      If you look for it there is a BBC documentary on line supposedly of the last beekeeper in Germany who housed his bees in skeps. This was sometime in the 60s

      • You are mistaken…

        It matters not what Alabama law is regarding skeps. They are NOT illegal to use in Georgia. My “expert” is none other than the man who was in charge of apiary inspection for this State, NOT ALABAMA.

        I won’t debate the merits of skep beekeeping either way, but the fact is, it’s a MYTH that keeping bees in skeps is illegal in Georgia.

  2. While I appreciate the idea expressed in Scripture you quote, the laws enacted by man work differently. My city said if there are no laws regulating something, such as beekeeping, then it is against the law. Likewise, if there is no “open season” for a particular specie in my state, Washington, hunting or fishing it is illegal, in other words, no law=not allowed. As for skeps, specifically, I understand they are legal in more places than most believe.

    • I would challenge my county if they told me something like that. That’s completely backwards from how things are here. In fact, I have called the law here to report something I didn’t like only to be told, “sir, there’s no law against that, so there’s nothing we can do. Have a nice day.” (Again, here no law = no transgression = no crime!) It’s just like when I started my business, I called the county about a business license and they said I didn’t need one as there was no law preventing me from having a home based business. (In the city, it would be different)

      The whole idea behind regulations and licensing is that the government is granting a person the privilege of doing something that is otherwise illegal: Making liquor, selling tobacco, killing wildlife, owning a machine gun, etc, etc.. Either way, there must be laws and regulations. In this State, killing wildlife is generally prohibited by hunting regulations unless an open season is declared or there is a specified season: Again, this is all codified and a citizen has access to the regulations.

      I realize you don’t make the rules where you live, but the idea that everything is presumed to be illegal unless it is regulated by the city is about as draconian as it gets and it leaves the door open for all manner of injustice. I would hate to live in a place where I had to assume everything is illegal unless my city has some law or regulation for it. Sheez!

      In regard to skeps, I also suspect they’re legal in more places myself because I have found at least 5 state beekeeping laws that have “skep” specifically listed as one of the devices defined by the law as a “hive.” Apart from that, I saw no other mention of skeps in any context.

    • “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to THE PEOPLE.”- 10th Amendment, Us constitution.
      if there isn’t a law making it illegal, its legal under the 10th amendment.
      if they tried to enforce a non-statute, I’d legally resist and hope my lawyers can win the case in the SCOTUS.

  3. Another myth the YouTube video busted was the frequently mentioned idea that all the skep bees were killed to harvest the honey and the wax. The German beekeepers did gas (ew!) the skeps they were harvesting to kill the brood, but the live bees were valuable!

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