July 2, 2015


A view of myself and the bee hut in May, just of the roof nailers were installed.

For several years we've been dreaming up a way to incorporate our bees closer into our primary food forest space in a way that would not put people in this high-traffic area at risk of upsetting the bees.

Seven, Tink and I imagineering the bee hut in February 2015.

This spring we began construction of a "bee hut" - a structure designed to provide shelter for various honey bee hives.

The bee hut is located in a quiet corner of our zone-2 garden, in an area we are developing a pollinator garden intended to provide good sources of nectar and pollen for the honey bees and various other native pollinators which service our expanding agroforestry systems.

Seven Stevens (sevensplace.com) and Sarah Mapelli (SaramMapelliBeeQueen.com/) AKA "Tink" helped us with the design and implementation of the bee hut, the sitting bench and windbreak designs. Both Seven and Tink are passionate about bees, and have lots of experience with natural and conventional building. There thoughts and perspectives really helped to make this whole project come together.

Benjamin Pixie (benjaminpixie.blogspot.com/), a self described "beekeeper, herbalist, traditional foods cook, hide tanner, crafter of and with the wild, magician, teacher and practitioner of ancestral skills" also helped us in the development and implementation of the swarm mother concept, and in understanding how to better work with the bees and swarms, and what plants might be added to the bee garden. Benjamin's knowledge of bee culture and care deepened Windward's understanding of to better work with the unique intelligence of the bees and help give them a good life on this land.

A preliminary sketch of the bee hut and some of the structural components. It is often said that, "if you can't imagine it, you can't create it". I find it interesting to see how close the finished product is to the initial drawings.

Constructing the Bee Hut

a Round-Wood Yurt

The bee hut is a hexagonal round-wood yurt structure made from peeled Ponderosa pine poles.

The poles were harvesting this previous winter as part of Windward's ongoing work of thinning and limbing the native forest for tree stand health and forest fire mitigation.

Six ~7-8 inch diameter vertical posts sit atop individual 10" diameter tubular concrete piers seated 24 inches below grade (below the frost line).

The vertical poles are connected to the concrete via 3 foot lengths of 1/2 inch rebar embedded both into the concrete and through the heart wood of the posts.

Seven and Tink came out to visit and help me installing the metal roofing.
Apprentice Jonah helped me at many steps along the way in the foootings and framing of the structure.

The piers and posts are arranged in a hexagonal pattern to mimic the structure of the comb created by our beloved bees.

5-6 inch diameter round wood beams (I refer to them as lintels in this article) sit on top of the poles. The lintels are connected to the vertical posts via 18 inch length of 1/2 inch rebar that embedded vertically 12 inches into the post with the remaining rebar going through the lintels.

We used pre made tubular forms for the footings.

Jonah and I drilling holes for the rebar pins through the lintels into the verticals.

The span of each lintel is cross braced with the vertical posts, helping to prevent racking while distributing the force from the roof to the posts.

The braces are made from 4-5 inch diameter pine logs, and connected to the posts and lintels with 8 inch length of 1/2 inch rebar.

To make uniform cuts for the bracing I made a simple jig out of scrap lumber. This enabled me to easily cut uniform angles and lengths for the twelve braces.

The central load-bearing roof ring for the yurt is constructed of 6 pieces of 5 inch diameter pine logs cut with opposed 20 degree angles.

To get precise angled cuts for the roof ring on the organic form of the logs, I used a compound miter saw. Almost all of the other cuts for the bee hut were main with a chainsaw.

I laid out the pieces and tacked them together with construction screws, then drilled and pinned each joint with 8 inch lengths of 1/2 re-bar.

The roof is composed of 12 rafters connecting from the center hexagonal roof ring down to the lintels. Rafters align at each vertical post, and at the half way point between the posts. The rafters are connected to the lintel and roof ring with 8 inch lengths of 1/2 inch re-bar.

The roof was sheathed in 3/4 inch by 6 inch "nailer" boards cut on Windward's saw mill, to which the final roofing was applied.

To finish the roof we went with flat metal roofing because it's flexibility allows it to take the shape of the irregularities created by using round wood. Metal roofing also sheds sparks and resists burning much better than other roofing during forest fires.

The rafters meet at a hexagonal roof ring.
Here is a peek before the rafter were finish cut and the cupola installed.

A note of small diameter pieces for round wood structures:

It is important to use the primary bole of trees for any load-bearing pieces of a structure.

It may be tempting to use the tops of larger trees for small diameter pieces such as bracing and rafters, however the tops of trees are too weak for significant structural applications.

The main bole of a tree, from the base to about 2/3 up the trunk tree is significantly more "woody" than the top 1/3 of a tree. The main bole of trees have more capacity to resist compressive stress perpendicular to the grain, such as in rafters.

So, save the tops for firewood, chips or hugelkultur ;)

Before the roof was installed, we tested it's strength by standing on the center ring and then filling a 55 gallon barrel with water (weighing about 450 LBS) and letting it stand for several hours - looking for how the roof was transferring the weight.

A Note on tools used to make the yurt:

I used several primary tools in this project which some may not be fmiliar. The Shaving Horse was perhaps the most useful, as it allowed me to clamp the many small diameter poles while scraping. Along with the shaving horse was the draw-knife to scrape the bark and shape some joints. The other primary tools used for the project were a chainsaw, mallet and chisels, drill and hammer, ladders, strings and ropes, and a sturdy construction level.

I make note of this both to point people in the direction of the shaving horse article and because I found the process of building this yurt surprisingly straightforward from the stand point of tools. It is remarkable what can be accomplished by eye, and with simple tools.

Design Features of the Bee Hut

A Passive Solar Microclimate

The primary purpose for the bee hut is to provide a sheltered location for various bee hives supported at Windward. We are looking to both protect the hives from rain and snow, as well as from the prevailing winds and the excessive heat of the afternoon summer sun.

Bees like to keep there bodies at about 32-35 degrees Celcius. By creating a moderated microclimate for the bees, they have to expend less energy (AKA honey) to keep themselves at the right temperature - whether this is staying warm in winter or cool in summer. By providing solar access and wind protection in the winter, and sun protection in the summer, the bees are less stressed and ultimately can be more productive.

The Hexagonal yurt structure naturally gives us an open centered building with the potential for up to six wall panels to protect from wind and sun. The roof height and amount of overhang were designed to allow the noonday sun to hit the interior spaces center from the winter solstice to the equinox'.

A shot of the entrance way to the beehut, out of the flight path of the bees.

From the equinox on, the sunlight progressively moves away from the center, providing a front and centrally located bee hives some respite from the intense late spring and summer sun, while still providing the hives most of the early morning sun year-round.

The south-east, south and southeast walls of the bee hut are left open - free to allow the full solar exposure and give the bees a clear flight path out from the bee hut and into the garden spaces below.

The design of buildings to self-regulate with the sun through the seasons is often referred to as passive solar design and is an important feature in energy efficient construction for all climates.

Swarm Mother

At the center of the bee hut, we constructed a permanent "Swarm Mother". The Swarm Mother is a permanently housed colony that is not harvested for honey or wax. It is not quite finished at the moment, but when done it will resemble the common dome shaped bread ovens.

The swarm mother "gives birth" to swarms which can then be enticed into other more easily harvest-able hives.

The swarm mother is given ample but definite internal space (usually less than 15 cubic liters) and a thick thermally buffered space. The unexandable hive encourages the colony to swarm, as they will more quickly fill the hive with comb.

We constructed the swarm mother out of cob, as we believe the thermal mass will help the colony regulate it's temperature.

The Swarm mother was set above the ground on a solid foundation made out of 3ft wide round from a wind-fell ponderosa pine. The foundation was plave front and center in the bee hut - a location where the colony will receive an optimal amount of sun and shade.

The Swarm Mother is an old technique that provides several enduring and resilience building effects.

One way that the swarm mother facilitates a resilient honey bee population is that having at least one strong and healthy hive (one which is not harvested from) ensures that the critical function of pollination can be achieved even if other more intensively managed hives fail.

Usually a colony swarms only as there is an surplus food supply that is capable of supporting both the swarming and the remnant colony through the transition and expansion. You can generally assume a colony is healthy if you are getting a swarm out of it every spring.

Another way that the swarm mother improves resiliency is that swarming increases genetic diversity in the bee population. Before the queen leaves to swarm, the she sexually reproduces with drone bees (the only males in the colony) and then lays eggs of several new potential new queens.

This is the only time the queen sexually reproduces. All of the worker bees are female and are the result of a-sexual reporduction. New queens represent a novel combination of genetics, allowing hives to adapt to the conditions of their home landscape.

Allowing hives to swarm is a good way to encourage a "land race" of honey bees to develop - thus enabling a more resilient all around honey bee population that will be able to better fend for itself in a given location.

Shelf for Top-Bar Hive

A top-bar hive (or in our case a Kenyan style horizontal top-bar hive) is a single story hive that does not have frames and wires like the more common langstroth hive.

Instead of frame, notched wooden slats rest on the walls of the hive. The bees build their own comb from the wooden slats just they way they like it.

The hanging frame can still be removed, and the interior of the space partitioned much in the same way that a langstroth hive.

On the eastern (morning sun) side of the bee hut, a 2 inch by 18 inch slab of pine but on Windward's sawmill was installed to provide a shelf for a horizontal top-bar hive to sit on.

The shelf is situated so that the top of the top-bar hive will be at about waste height (3 ft) to make it easy and comfortable to work with.

The hive will open out into the exterior of the bee hut, and receive ample morning sun in all seasons, as well as some afternoon and evening sun during the colder months of the year.

Sitting Bench and Windbreak

A view of the completed bench and windbreak along the west and northwest sections of the bee hut.

Seven repairing a split in one of the benches caused by the tight fit around the poles.

Part of our desire for the bee hut is to bring the honey bees closer into our lives, and give us a chance to get to know them better, while giving them a low stress environment within which to live.

We were able to accomplish aspects of both of these goals by integrating a sitting/observing bench and a windbreak walls into the bee hut.

The benches were made of 2 inch slabs cut from pine on Windward's sawmill, but to fit snuggly around the round wood vertical supports.

The slabs sit on 2x6 inch boards that both sit on the concrete piers and are bolted to verticals posts.

To finish and seal the benches we mixed up a batch of "linwax", made from equal parts linseed oil and melted beeswax thinned with turpentine. It was applied warm with a trowel to fill in tiny gaps in the pine, and then buffed with a rag.

We have already spent a lot of time hanging out in the bee hut, and look forward to when we are able to catch swarms from out langstroth hives and entice them into the top bar and swarm mother.

The Pollinator Garden around the Bee Hut

The south side of the bee hut around the summer with the wrap-around hugelkultur bed to capture roof water and provide immediate bee forage.

The bee hut is nestled in the north-west corner of our zone 1-2 garden, surrounded by various growing systems intended to provide year-round bee forage as well as support for native pollinators such as bumble bees, mason bees, hover flies, beetles and wasps.

The Pollinator Garden is being designed much like any of our other systems. Contour swales and hugelkultur beds are being integrated to provide passive water harvesting as well as walking access throughout the space.

This spring we installed a contour swale and some road hardware to capture runoff at the highest practical point in the garden to collect, pacify and put to use the water which would otherwise be eroding the road surface. The swale mound was made similarly to a hugelkultur bed, however it has a lower profile than is typical. The swale has been planted with hardy perennial herbs and small bushes.

The swale was planted with some of the hardier pollinator plants we have, such as: comfrey, joe-pye weed, alfalfa, asters, hollyhock, and echinacea.

The bee hut is wrapped by a large hugelkultur bed which will trap and store the water coming off of the roof. This bed will be right in front of the hives, and will get a lot of traffic from the bees. We planted it with many long-flowering plants in the Mint family such as bee balm, lemon balm, thyme and peppermint.

Not only do to mints provide a lot of good nectar for the bees, they are also loaded with Menthol , a compound with many interesting effects, including being an effective natural pesticide against the parasitic mites.

In effect, the bees will be routinely fumigating themselves from a common parasite!

The north and north-east quadrants of the bee garden will have a relatively dense planting of black locust that grow to shelter the bee hut, the pollinator garden, and the rest of the system from the prevailing winds - particularly the hot summer winds - while also creating a "sun scoop" type structure to retain and reflect the early morning light.

There are also numerous other plantings which have either been done, or are planning on being done in the pollinator garden. Below is a list of the plants that will be planted in the pollinator garden.

Pollinator Garden - Plant List
Names, Conservation Status and Flowering Times
Taxonomy Common Name Status April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov.

Amaranthus cruentus Amaranth introduced

x x


Allium schoenoprasum Chives introduced

x x x

Allium sativum Garlic introduced

x x

Allium ampeloprasum Elephant Garlic introduced

x x x


Rhus typhina Staghorn Sumac


Echinacea purpurea Echinacea introduced

x x

Artimisia vulgaris Mugwort, common naturalized

x x x x
Eutrochium purpureum Joe-Pye weed, sweet Native

x x x

Helianthus annuus Sunflower, common naturalized

x x x x x
Helianthus petiolaris Sunflower, prairie Native

x x x x x
Helianthus tuberosa Sunchoke naturalized

x x x x
Tagetes spp. Marygold's introduced

x x x x

Solidago Canadensis goldenrod, meadow Native

x x x

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion naturalized x x x

Cichorium intybus Chicory naturalized

x x x x

Balsamorhiza sagittata Balsamroot, Arrowleaf Native
x x x

Matricaria chamomilla Chamomile, German naturalized

x x x x

Leucanthemum Daisy's introduced

x x x

Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan introduced

x x x

Calendula officinalis Calendula introduced

x x x x


Levisticum officinale Lovage introduced
x x x

Foeniculum vulgare Fennel introduced
x x x

Lomatium spp. Desert Parsleys Native x x x

Taxonomy Common Name Status April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov.

Symphitum x uplandicum Comfrey introduced
x x x

Borago officinalis Borage introduced

x x x x

Valeriana officinalis Velarian introduced

x x x


Hylotelephium telephium Sedum, “Autumn joy” introduced

x x


Medicago sativa Alfalfa naturalized

x x x

Trifolium repens Clover, white naturalized
x x x x x x x
Lupinus spp. Lupines Native
x x

Lathyis latifolius Everlasting pea Naturalized

x x

Robinia psuedoacacia Black Locust Naturalized
x x x

Caragana arborescens Siberian Pea Shrub introduced x x x


Monarda fistulosa Bee balm, Burgamont introduced

x x x x

Mellisa officinalus Lemon Balm introduced

x x x x

Mentha spicata Spermint introduced

x x x x

Lavendula angustifolia Lavender introduced

x x x x
Thymus vulgaris Thyme, common introduced

x x

Mentha piperita Pepermint introduced

x x x x

Perovskia atriplicifolia Sage, russian introduced

x x x

Salvia officianlis Sage, White introduced

x x x

Verbena hastata Verbena, blue introduced
x x

Lamium amplexicaule Hen-bit Dead-nettle naturalized x x x


Alcea rosea Hollyhock introduced

x x x

Malva neglecta Mallow, common naturalized

x x x x


Amelanchier alnifolia Saskatoon, Serviceberry Native
x x

Crataegus douglasii Black Hawthorn Native x x

Rosa rugosa Rugosa Rose naturalized
x x


Eriogonum elatum Tall Buckwheat Native

x x x

Eriogonum compositum Heart-leaf Buckwheat Native

x x x

Rumex crispus Dock, curly naturalized x x x