A Skep is a traditional straw or reed bee-hive, like this example above made by Paul Johnson (TBKA).
There are many types available worldwide using traditional methods, usually involving straw, rattan or willow. A lot of traditional Skeps were a seasonal way of keeping Bees for harvesting honey, at the end of the process the bees usually were destroyed by sulphur smoke to get at the crop of honey. This older method of hosting bee colonies was replaced by the modern method of movable frames; however it s still favoured by some “Natural” Bee keepers.
There are some super reference sites for information on how to make a traditional skeps and traditional bee keeping equipment.
“These days very few people keep bees in skeps because it is far easier to inspect and care for bees on movable frames in standardised boxes, and because removing honey can be so destructive. There are even a few places (parts of USA for example) where it is illegal to keep bees on fixed combs because of the difficulty of disease monitoring and control.”
Martins Beekeeping pages contain some very good examples of Skeps and other beekeeping related items, he also does talks and demonstrations if you contact him directly. Martins pages can be found HERE ( http://www.martinatnewton.com/page9.htm )
Above, a swarm of bees has been put in a skep and instead of tipping them into a modern
hive, they have been put on a stand to live in the skep.
A hackle, which is a straw roof, has been added. The straw diverts the rain off the skep,
just like the thatched roof of a house. The entrance of the skep is formed by a groove cut in the stand. You can just see one or two bees coming out.
“Bees and honey have featured extensively in culture and mythology throughout history. Cave drawings found in Spain dated around 6000 BC depict honey gatherers climbing trees to harvest honey from wild bees. These are thought to be some of the earliest illustrations of humans risking life and limb to obtain honey. Similar drawings have also been found in India, Africa, Asia and Australia.”
An interesting site with links to histrorical beekeeping websites HERE
More info HERE
Here is an interesting bee-source blog entry with some good pictures of how German Skeps were waterproofed with cow dung, apparently the cow dung must be fresh and of a superior standard to ensure the correct consistency. HERE