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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Miami, Manitoba, Canada

    Default Skep beekeeping in Germany

    found this skep beekeeping series on YouTube the other day.
    Its a gem. Not sure what the time frame is with this operation, but this guy looks after 700 skeps!
    Very interesting look at a beekeeping practice developed around not opening up the hive. I think there are 8 or so installments
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Pocono Mtns., PA

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    great find!

  3. #3

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Actually that family kept 3,000 skeps during summer.

    Right where Georg Klindworth has had his skep apiary with up to 3,000 skep hives in summer (nowadays the young Klindworth doesn't run any hives anymore), I visited a friend in the Luneburg heathland who runs skeps in the heath.

    I took some pictures of him demonstrating skep beekeeping.

    First row of pictures: the applying of cow dung to create a nice and snug cover for the skep.

    Provide a convenient height of the work bench.

    Thinned or worn out patches get refilled with straw, chapped seams get re-sewn or stapled with a wooden staple (sort of).

    The most important ingredient is cow dung. Cow dung. It should be

    absolutely fresh - because if there a small dandruffs of dried patches it'll disturb the applying of the dung onto the skep.
    Best is fresh cow dung in Spring, because no hard fibres means a smooth skep cover that doesn't come off (cracking) when dried.
    Only dung from cows off the yard, no shed. Needs to be grass fed, no soy, no silage.

    The cow dung preserves the skep from moisture and keeps it nice and warm. Also there might be some lactic acid bacteria in the

    dung being beneficial to the bees' health?! Maybe.

    First skep is turned upside down and the bottom ring gets covered. With long strokes.

    The inside of the skep gets a cow dung cover up to the height of one or two rings.

    Work thoroughly, dear "heatherman"!

    The skep is turned back into original position and first the "eye" of the skep, the flight entrace, gets closed with dung.

    Apply the dung onto the cap next.

    It has to be nice and smooth.
    Last edited by Barry; 10-20-2013 at 12:42 PM. Reason: language - warning

  4. #4

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Then the sides get their dung.

    stroke by stroke...

    ...all the way round.

    The seams shall stay visible. That prevents the dung cover from getting to thick (which would crack up the cover later when

    drying). Also the cow dung cover is more flexible when thin.

    Checking the work...

    ...fine tuning.

    ...and then the skep goes into the drying. The skeps stands on two sticks and is rotated continously, so the sun dries the

    skep's sides evenly.

    Pure cow dung is used - no clay. Although some regions do use clay and cow dung as a mixture, or even use clay only, the clay

    would make the cover more likely to draw water or to crack up. Especially when moving the skep it'll make the cover come loose.
    Last edited by Barry; 10-20-2013 at 12:43 PM. Reason: language - warning

  5. #5

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Bees are feeded in skeps with the help of shallow wooden dishes (with floating swimming aids). The dish is put right under the

    skep and refilled daily.

    The wooden dish has small feet - so bees don't get crushed when placing the dish. And it prevents the bees from glueing down the

    dish to the floor. (Dark bees do use more propolis.)

    Alternatively there is an outside feeder that can be stuck to the outside of the skep. It has small nails. The entrance is from

    the back.

    The small case is fixed right under the flight entrance and refilled in the evening. The bees usually use up the food overnight.

    The feeder is refilled through a lid.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    In winter a small wooden board gets pinned to the entrance, so it prevents the sun from shining into the skep and baiting the

    bees out of the hive. Which will then freeze to death. It also prevents the wind a little from blowing into the entrance, and snow from blocking it.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    There are small mini version of skeps that are used as "nucs" or mating hives. Small casts get combined and surplus queens are hold in those mini skeps.

    Those mini skeps are called "Pöttscher".

    They are really mini tiny!

    Pöttscher do get spales as well, since the bees are shaken out when moving into a full size skep or to catch the queen. (No other way than shaking them out to get hold of her Majesty.)

  8. #8

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    There is a first version of a box hive made from straw: the Kanitz hive.

    It has a brood and honey chamber.

    The Kanitz hive comes in two versions: one that is one piece - brood and honey box combined. (But divided.) And another version

    which has two "boxes" for honey and brood. So the honey box can be taken.

    On the left a one piece Kanitz skep, on the right a two-pieces Kanitz skep.

    In the honey chamber there are frames used. The frames have to be handmade and do differ in size, because the skep was made

    handmade, too, thus the measures are all different. No frames can be swapped around between two hives.

    The frames are open to the upside or closed as in a TBH. Both versions are known.

    A queen excluder made from plastic (nowadays) or metall (in the past) between the compartments.

    The brood chamber does not hold frames but spales only.

    The lid has a nice insulation made of straw. A pretty neat construction!

    The gaps between the boxes get filled with cow dung or - as a quick solution - a shirt in stripes wrapped around the gaps. See the skep on the lower right side.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    If the skep was made too small or if the bees need a little more space, the "Högel" is used.

    A högel is a single ring of straw - smeared with cow dung - that extends the height of the skep a little.

    Four metall cramps/staples are used so the straw ring doesn't come off when working the hive.

    Another option for fixing the extension ring to the skep is to use four nails driven up from below right into skep's bottom ring.

    The ring gets some cow dung (of course...) to close down any gaps between skep and högel. The högel often cannot be seen anymore if you don't look very closely.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Once the cow dung is dried, the skep gets starter strips of wax. Small flecks of cow dung that spilled into the inside of the

    skep are loosened and shaken out of the skep.

    The skep then is put out into full sun, so the cap of the skep warms up a little. The wax starter strips get fixed very firmly

    to the ceiling of the skep. Make sure it is firm, because otherwise the bees come down by their own weight. With combs and all!

    The skeps are covered in propolis on the inside.

    Spales are made from rose wood (or other wood that is available. One side gets a sharp point.

    The spales are driven diagonally through the skep, 90 degrees to the direction of the starter strips. The ends of the spales are

    not allowed to show on the outside and cut off.

    Spales are used in pairs on three levels. As an option the spales of the middle level are set up a diagonally to the other

    levels, which would increase the support of the combs. Especially important when moving the skeps.

    In the pöttscher only one starter strip and fewer spales are used.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    For skeps there are special queen "cages" for keeping queens. Skep beekeepers use self-made cages for this.

    A roundish wood gets drilled and hollowed out. Split into four and all four parts get an indentation - which form the windows

    later. The wood gets re-assembled again and secured with wires.

    One side gets a plug, so there is an entrance to let the queen in. The side with the entrance also has some sort of a thorn.

    That thorn is used to fix the cage to the side of the skep. The other side has a knob, so the cage can be hold comfortly.

    The queen cage gets pinned to the side wall of the skep.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    A demonstration, how the honey harvest gets done.

    The skep gets inspected from below for being ripe for harvesting. Ripe means, that all/most brood has hatched and little brood left. Only bees and honey can be found in the hive. (September/October)

    (The pictures shows a weaker colony that stayed home, while the stronger ones were moved into the heather. Only the strongest hives go into the heather, because the hives do wear out in the heath.)

    With a long knife or hive tool one can reach right into the combs, so you can push the combs apart and see what's going on inside.

    The skep to harvest is put right onto a smaller and flat skep, that will hold the bees shaken out of the skep.

    A rope goes round both skeps and rolled up in the hands, so both skeps are fixed to each other and can be lifted. Very carefull the skeps get shaken or thumped to the ground. This is an art. Too much thumping and bees, combs and all go down. Too little and the bees don't come out. In modern days car tires are used as a bumper to swing and shake out the bees.

    Checking (virtually) if the bees already got down.

    The harvest per hive is relatively small: about 5-10 kg of honey. (Cast swarms and all do not gather that much in their first year.)

    The bees get shaken into new skeps. Several hives are combined to make strong colonies. Bees get some feed and they build a new nest to overwinter on in September/October!

  13. #13

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    At Springtime when swarming the beekeeper is posting in front of the skep stand and awaits the swarms. (between 10 am and 4 pm.)

    While waiting for swarms the beekeeper repairs skeps and materials, making new skeps. Once the bees start running in bunches or circles on the head of the skep, thus indicating a swarm to be thrown soon, the swarm catching bag gets fixed to the skep right under the entrance. Then it gets flipped over the entrances and fixed firmly against the skep.

    For the lower level hive some sort of a hay fork is used to lift up one end of the swarm bag.

    For the upper storey a lath with a nail at it's end is used to lift the swarm catching bag.

    Once the bees slow down on pouring out of the skep, the bag is removed, closed at the lower end and hang into the shade where it remains until the evening.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    The interesting detail on skep stands is, that the feet don't get sinked into the ground but instead sit on stones above the ground. The stands are made from frames with legs/feet as shown in the detail picture below. The frames connected with wooden boards the skeps stand on and the roof beams. (in the picture shown you see the skeps are sealed bee-tight with ropes at the bottom.

    Not in the pictures: behind the skeps in the back, there is a laths on the floor board. It is used to stop the skeps from sliding backwards when tilting the skep to look beneath.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    The bees really do like skeps from what I observe.

    Greetings from Germany,


  16. #16
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Pocono Mtns., PA

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Wow!!..that was quite the lesson!! Thanks Bernhard!!

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Starkville, MS, USA

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    Bernhard, what excellent pictures you have made! They really complement the 8 part Youtube videos on skep beekeeping. I really like the detail on the queen cages as this was not clear to me in the videos. The Kanetz skep is interesting too.

    What are they using as floats in the feeding bowls? I have many drowned bees in my frame feeder, even with the wire "ladders" installed. Seems like the little floats that the skep beekeeper is using would work in a frame feeder too!


  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Miami, Manitoba, Canada

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    >>Actually that family kept 3,000 skeps during summer.<<

    that sounds like too much work for one guy to manage. I watched how they catch swarms, how would one manage 3000 skeps swarming all within a few weeks of eachother? They would need crews of guys, and many many extra skeps to catch them in
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog

  19. #19

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    @Tim: In my experience - I use frame feeders a lot - bees drown only in weaker hives. I do not have any floaters in the frame feeders, still no bees drown. In a weaker hive the bees get cold quickly. In the pictures the skeppist uses expanded clay/hydroton.

    @Ian: Yes, a family business plus workers that helped. They winter 1,000 hives and make from one hive three hives through swarming, building them up for the late flow. (Heather flow.) That sort of management doesn't work in early flow locations. In Spring they fed the hives per apiary to induce swarming, so all hives swarmed within a few days. They also equalized the strength by swapping the skeps. A strong skep was placed on a stand where a weak skep was, and the other way round, so the weaker one received the flight bees of the stronger hive.

    In autumn all hives were shaken down and the skep harvested completely. The bees from three colonies were shook together and fed to draw new comb and store the winter feed. Some shook swarms were sold to beekeepers all over Germany. (Beekeepers in other regions strengthened their bees with those, for better wintering.)

    Those old skeppists were really beekeeper masters and had a deep knowledge about bees. They were known to keep the most healthiest stock.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Miami, Manitoba, Canada

    Default Re: Skep beekeeping in Germany

    how healthy is their stock now a days, with mites?
    Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog

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