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.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tip #3

It has been a while since I posted a beginning beekeeping tip. I have been busy with my other business. This tip comes not from something I did right. Rather, it’s something I should have done when I first decided to get into keeping bees.

Tip #3: Subscribe to one or both of the main bee journals and also e-newsletters!

  1. American Bee Journal – Has been published since 1861 except for a brief period during the War for Southern Independence.
  2. Bee Culture– The magazine of American Beekeeping.
  3. E-newsletters- normally free and many bee sites have sign-up forms.

Considering the fact my first tip is to study, you would think I would have subscribed to all of these long ago, but I’m ashamed to say that I just recently began a subscription to Bee Culture. I plan to get the American Bee Journal sometime soon as I find the available funds.

The main reason I didn’t get the magazines is because I’m not much of a magazine reader.  I love books, but the magazines I dobee culture receive each month are mostly from the life memberships I hold in a couple of organizations. I find I seldom open them up and they end up being tossed in the trash.  If you’re not a magazine reader, both journals do have an online version you can get that’s cheaper.

The first time I got my hands on one of the main journals was a few months ago, and after flipping through it for a few minutes, I realized I had really been missing out on lots of valuable information. Because beekeeping is becoming a larger part of my life (and hopefully future income as well) it will be essential that I don’t allow my bee subscriptions to sit unread.

As for the e-newsletters, you’ll find most well established bee organizations and suppliers have them. You normally sign up right on their front page or if you order something. While normally just advertisements, there are some with some great advice and tips. Sometimes you’ll find a product you’ve been needing, so it can even save you a few dollars here and there.

Looking back, getting subscriptions to the journals should have been something I did back while I was waiting on my first package bees to arrive. Hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t be like me, go ahead and get your subscriptions even if you’re still waiting on your first packages of bees.

 

Kelley’s Meet the Congressman

John Barrow

Rhett and Cordell with Congressman John Barrow

On Saturday, Cordell and I attended Congressman John Barrow‘s “Congress on the Corner” meeting in Metter. There were a number of other topics discussed, but as the meeting wrapped up I was able to speak one on one with the Congressman about a few issues that are of concern to many of us in the beekeeping community. He was open to learning more and said he would like for us to send information to his office on those things which are of concern so that he may be better informed.

My grandmother once said “you catch more flies with honey than you do with salt,” so we gave Congressman Barrow a bottle of our wildflower honey. I wasn’t sure he could accept it, but he did so eagerly and said that he was allowed to receive the gift as it was in promotion of a product from his District.

If you look at a map of Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, you’ll find it is home to 3 of the larger apiaries in the State. With such a large apicultural presence in the District, it would behoove those of us who live here to make sure Congressman Barrow is informed on issues that are important to beekeepers.

Reading in prep for 2014

25 hivesFall is upon us! Though the bees are slowing down, I’m already plotting and scheming for Spring 2014. We have equipment that needs painting, frames that need foundation, and still awaiting a half dozen or so more colonies that we’re obtaining soon. This will put our apiary at or above 30 colonies for this Winter.

If we don’t have too many Winter losses and start more colonies in the Spring, we will be managing over 4 times as many hives as we did this past Fall. That’s a big difference! I want to be ready to make the most of next season. I want 2014 to be bigger and better, in hopes that we will actually have enough honey to meet our demand and have some to sell throughout the year.

Part of my preparation for Spring 2014 is that I’m currently reading a book called Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: From Passion to Profits, by Grant F.C. Gillard. The book is the 2nd title I own from this author, and was a gift from a friend. It is, in my opinion, one of the most helpful books on beekeeping in my small library thus far.

What I like about it is that’s not written as a bland how-to manual. In it Grant shares with you his experience growing his apiary. You read of his highs and lows and ups and downs. He shared mistakes he’s made and points out things you need to consider when growing from a hobbyist to a side-line beekeeper. It’s rather “pastoral,” which makes sense because the writer’s vocation is pastoral ministry.

At 472 pages, there’s quite a bit of information to digest. I’m nearing the half way point now. By now, it’s almost as if Mr. Gillard is a 2nd mentor to me. I’m very happy that he’s taken the time to write this and I heartily commend it to all beekeepers who desire to grow their apiaries to the size of 25 colonies or more.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #1

In my interactions with people, I meet many who are intrigued by honeybees and say that they’d like to start a colony.

Getting into beekeeping was something I wanted to do for at least 15 years before I started. Back when I first became interested, I didn’t have a computer. Youtube, Blogger, WordPress, and Facebook didn’t exist, so even if I did have a computer, learning what I needed to do just to get started and networking with people in the bee business was much more difficult than it is today.

I’ve decided to write a series of articles for our customers and friends who may be interested in starting hives of their own. I want to share some incite and some observations that may be helpful. Some things will be simply my opinion, which you may or may not find useful. Whatever you do, please pay careful attention to this first tip because I think it is most essential:

Tip #1: STUDY. STUDY. STUDY!

I cannot emphasis this enough! I read at least 3 books on beekeeping before I ever placed my first order for a package of bees. Additionally, I watched hours of beekeeping videos on Youtube. I encourage you to do the same. If you’re going to keep bees, you need to have some basic knowledge of bee biology and bee behavior burned into your brain.

If you don’t invest time here, your experience keeping bees will be short lived and not very enjoyable. Learn the information so well that the first time you open your hive of installed bees, you can automatically spot worker bees, drones, and the queen. Know what brood, pollen, and honey looks like stored in honeycomb. Learn to tell the difference between worker brood, drone brood, and queen cells. Be familiar with all the common bee pests and ailments, and various treatment options as well. Learn what triggers the swarming impulse and symptoms of queen failure. That’s just a start. There’s much, much more.

It’s just like they used to say on the G.I. Joe cartoon: “Knowing is half the battle.”

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear about eager, would-be beekeepers who skip this first, most important step and then end up in a mess when they get their bees and have no clue what to do, or what the bees are doing. I’ve even heard of people ordering queens from queen dealers, expecting that the lone queen is enough to start a new colony all by herself. That tells me somebody didn’t pick up the first book on beekeeping! Beekeeping isn’t a cheap hobby to get into, so learn all you can so you’re investment isn’t in vain.

As far as beginning resources go, I always point people to the book Beekeeping For Dummies. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and I have recommended it to others more times than I can count. It’s chock full of good information and I think ever new beek should have a copy.

A must have for new Beeks!

A must have for new Beeks!

From there, I would suggest the following titles. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some books I’ve found helpful. Some are beginner level, some more advanced:

I always say that if you ask 5 beekeepers a question, you’ll end up with at least 6 opinions. This is true when it comes to all the resources above. You’ll find general agreement on some topics and some strong differences of opinions too. I like to take all the viewpoints into consideration and do what works best for me.

One other resource I want to mention is the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Youtube Channel. I have benefited greatly from their webinars and I think anyone interested in beekeeping would do well to spend some time watching their videos. These are free and very informative.

That’s it for my first tip. I hope this is useful. I am writing this on July 1st, 2013. Package bees won’t be available again until Spring 2014, so if you’re interested in keeping bees, I encourage you to spend the rest of the Summer, Fall, and Winter learning all you can.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest other resources, please feel free to leave a comment.