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A Bee Hive Green Roof
Several years ago I stumbled on a picture of a bee hive with a gorgeous planted green roof. I thought it was such a great idea and tried to find more information online about making one for my hives. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much out there about making a living roof for a hive, and I guess I just sort of forgot about it.
That picture came to mind again recently, so I decided to make my own bee hive green roof!
I did some reading online about green roofs or living roofs for buildings before I got started, and did my best to assemble a hive top planter box following the suggestions I read about.
In my mind, this planter box was similar to a green roof since I am placing the box on top of the telescoping lid. It should be worth noting that this planter box can’t be stacked on the hive (under the lid) because it has a mesh bottom. So, anytime it rains or the planter is watered, it would just drain into the hive. By placing the planter on top of the telescoping lid, the lid protects the hive from any drainage.
Although this is not a true green roof, the planter is not just pretty but also replaces the cinderblock that I usually have on the top of the hive.
It’s worth noting that the planter box does not offer much for a food source for the bees, nor much for significant insulation. But it’s pretty!
Before You Begin
Before you start your hive top planter, I recommend spending a little time and researching which plants and soil combination work best for your goals and climate. A little research ahead of time will help your planter be more successful.
As you look online for ideas, take a look at articles for “green roofs” or “living roofs”, as this is essentially what we are making.
While I chose sedum, there are a number of other plants that can be grown so feel free to get creative!
Choosing Your Plants
For this hive planter box, I chose sedum (stonecrop). Sedum is a succulent that is easily adapted to many climates.
Here in Southern Colorado, we often have summer highs in the 100s, bright sun, wind, and little rain. Sedum is low maintenance and has some unique characteristics that make it adapted to extreme weather such as ours, as well as temperate climates.
Depending on your climate, you may be able to choose other plants like wildflowers. Here are some other plants that work well for green roofs.
Choosing the correct potting mix is an important step that must not be overlooked. In many cases you will likely need a special blend.
Succulents like sedum won’t do well in wet soil, so if you live in a wet climate you’ll need a quick drying mix. However if you live somewhere that is extremely dry, you may need a soil that does hold water for a short time.
I found a great variety of soil mixes at our local grow supply store. I chose Moonshine Organic Super Soil- a mix of coco coir, perlite, worm castings, and organic fertilizer.
You can also make your own soil mix. There are many resources online for green roof soil.
Here is a list of everything I needed for this project. I had almost all of it (except the plants) from previous projects. You probably don’t need everything listed here, and could use other materials you may have laying around.
- Medium hive box
- 1″x 2″ wood, 4 foot
- Hardware cloth
- Nylon, polyester or fiberglass window screen
- Leca clay/hydroton
- Potting mix
- Sedum plans or trays
- Measuring tape
- Titebond 3 wood glue
- Sheet metal seamer
For this project, I only had to purchase the wood and the sedum. The wood was about $2, and the plants were on sale for Fall clearance and cost less than $20. However if the plants were purchased full price, they would have been $20 per tray and $5 per pot for a total of $50.
I also had the potting soil, leca, window screen and hardware cloth laying around from other projects.
If you were to purchase all materials for the bee hive planter, it would be around $100 and you’d have a LOT left over for future projects.
Putting this planter together is a quick and fun project. One of the great things about the planter is that it doesn’t need to be pretty because you won’t see most of it anyways!
To start, cut the wood into two 19 inch strips. Once cut, glue and nail them into place.
I secured the wood strips on the frame rest (the notch on the top of the hive box where the frames would sit). When the planter box is done, it will technically be upside down. However placing the wood strips here raises the box up about 1/4″, allowing water to drain.
Those with OCD- I apologize. I know the strips are not evenly spaced. I’m sure you are yelling at me through the computer. Blame my husband.
If you wanted to secure the strips on the bottom of the hive box, I would recommend using shims to raise the box slightly or drill drain holes along the bottom. In my opinion, the upside down handles wasn’t a concern, so I placed the strips on the top.
As you may have guessed from previous pictures, the next step is to add the hardware cloth. I used 1/4″ hardware cloth, but anything less than 1/2″ would work.
Cut the hardware cloth about 1-2 inches larger than the hive box. Then, cut a 2″ diagonal slit in the corners (this is optional but will make it easier to shape).
Place the hardware cloth inside of the hive box, on top of the wooden strips. Shape the cloth, and staple in place.
Add the leca clay balls on top of the hardware cloth. In this planter, the leca is about 1 inch deep, but the depth isn’t too important. More or less would be alright, too.
The leca (also called Hydroton) provides root aeration. It holds a small amount of water, but prevents waterlogged plants. It also helps to fill the hive planter box.
Next, cut the window screen about 2-3 inches wider than the box and lay it on top of the leca.
The window screen keeps the soil from settling into the spaces between the leca.
To make things easier, I stapled the screen to keep it from falling in on itself. If you decide to staple the screen, make sure there is extra material on the bottom. If the screen is pulled tight, adding the dirt may rip holes in the screen.
Trim or fold any excess material that sticks out above the box.
It is now time to fill the box with your planting mix. I wanted a coco coir mix since I am planting sedum and live in a very hot climate. This mix is very lightweight, but will also hold water for a short time, allowing the plants to hydrate without becoming waterlogged. It is also mixed with worm castings and organic fertilizers.
Now the fun part! It’s time to add the plants.
I found these big green sedum on sale, so I bought two of them. The remaining sedum is from a mixed flat. The flat can be trimmed to fit in the box.
Now that the box is planted, it’s time to water it to settle the plants and soil. I thought it would be best to put it on the hive before watering it.
Since the wooden strips raise the planter box slightly, the water can drain and run off the hive. I am not worried about the hive lid rusting, since it’s made of aluminum and the occasional waterings are no different than a rainstorm.
And here is the finished planter box! The colors are much more vibrant outside in the sunlight.
I hope you enjoy this project. If you decide to make your own hive planter, please share pictures in the comments below.
It is late October here and Fall is in full swing. I’ll update the project this coming Summer to let know know how it’s doing and if any adjustments needs to be made.
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