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.

Help us grow. Help the bees!

I would like to share with you our indiegogoHelp us grow. Help the Bees!” Campaign.

Honeybees today face more threats than ever. Every year beekeepers face an average loss of 30% of their colonies. We lost 25% of our colonies this year, some have lost a much larger percentage.

We often meet people who are concerned and would like to make a difference, but don’t know what to do. Perhaps they cannot keep bees themselves due to their location or just don’t have the time for a new hobby.

Kelley Honeybee Farm was founded by Rhett Kelley in 2010 with the goal of becoming a multi-generational family operated apiary. We started with just 4 colonies in our backyard and have now grown to 38. We were recently featured in a local newspaper article and met with Congressman John Barrow to discuss the issues facing us as well.

Your contributions will enable us to expand our apiary debt free and have resources available for when times come that swarms or colonies need to be rescued.

How we will use the funds if we meet the goal:

  • Establish and maintain 10 brand new colonies in 2014.
  • Enable us to purchase colonies from beekeepers who decide to downsize or need to reduce their number of colonies.
  • Provide funding for supporting swarm and feral colony rescues.
  • Purchase a portable observation hive and educational materials for use in community education projects.
  • Purchase and/or refurbish equipment to support expansion and the 2014 honey harvest.
  • Covered storage area for our equipment.
  • Website upgrade.
  • Upgrade our locally adapted queen bee rearing program.

The Impact

Your contributions will help us expand our apiary debt free instead of going to a bank or the government farm programs for funding. Your contributions will help to produce healthy bees that produce honey of the highest quality and purity as you will see when you receive the honey we send you at harvest time (U.S. donors only, but possibly other nations if regulations do not prevent the importation of our honey).

Perhaps you are one of those bee friendly people who have severe allergies to bee stings or cannot keep bees yourself for various other reasons? This is one option for you to be able to help the bee population directly. We will put your generous contribution to work for the bees in your stead.

Because we have managed to avoid debt and expand thus far in a very cost conscious manner, we will be able to make your contributions to have a bigger impact for less.

Those who sponsor us will have their name or their business/organization name posted on our sponsor page on our website.

More about Kelley Honeybee Farm

Our philosophy in beekeeping is to avoid using chemical pesticide treatments for common apiary pests. We rely upon integrated pest management techniques and organic treatments to keep problems to a minimum.

The secret is out that much of the honey sold in U.S. supermarkets is illegally sourced honey from China where many chemicals and antibiotic treatments are used that are illegal in the United States. Our honey is as natural as it gets; never adulterated or cut with corn syrup, pasteurized, or filtered like the honey you find often in grocery stores.

Associations and Affiliations:

Other ways to help:

Even if you cannot contribute, sharing our campaign with others would be a great way to help us find people who may be able to contribute.We’d even appreciate prayers for our family, this funding campaign, and for the success of our apiary.