Here’s the notice I have prepared to go next to the (currently empty) skeps to educate visitors to Hardy’s Cottage.:
These straw basketty things are beehives of the type Mrs Hardy would have used here at the time young Tommy was a lad. She used some of the honey money to pay for his education, which didn’t come free in them days!
Straw tends to rot if it gets wet so, to keep the skeps dry they were either placed in recesses in walls, known as bee boles, or else provided with a straw hat, shaped like a witch’s hat and known as a hackle. Sometimes a low shelter was built for them.
Come harvest time in olden days the beekeeper would heft the hives. The lightest and the heaviest would be moved to sit on a pit of smouldering sulphur which soon killed the bees enabling the honeycomb to be cut out. The middling ones were left to overwinter as best they could and make swarms next year to re-stock t’others.
Crafty beekeepers learned to drive the bees out of their own skep and into another by upturning it and drumming on the sides. The crop could then be taken and the bees put back alive.
That’s what we might do here.
Chris Slade (Author of the poetry book: ‘Bee People’ and co-author of the Anglo American text book ‘Getting the Best from Your Bees’).