Bee Skeps: A Honey of an Idea

By Jessica Brode, AAG/GCA, 
Garden History and Design Intern 

One unique gardening accessory is the bee skep. Cultures throughout history have treasured honey, and with the advent of the bee skep in medieval times, it became possible to harvest honey instead of hunt for it. The word “skep” is thought to originate from the Old Norse word “skeppe” meaning a basket or hamper. In medieval times, bees were often housed in skeps that resembled overturned baskets, hence their name.  

Constructed from rope, straw or branches, skeps were often waterproofed with a layer of mud or cow dung. A skep is frequently used as a symbol of productivity, a nod to their busy occupants. Utah’s state seal, in fact, features a bee skep under the word “Industry.”  

Though most beekeepers today utilize moveable frame hives to keep their bees, for gardeners with smaller gardens looking to provide a home to bees, traditional skeps may be an option due to their smaller size and aesthetic qualities. A number of states have beekeeping ordinances, however, so one size definitely doesn’t fit all.