On 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.