Low Technology Institute

Introducing den Bienenstall

Last year I profiled a bienenhaus (“bee house”) at the New Glarus Swiss Historical Village & Museum in two blog posts (part I and part II). This is a purpose-made building that holds bee colonies in cabinets with frames attached to the sides of the cabinet. The bees enter and exit through small doors in a south-facing wall, and the beekeeper accesses the hives from the interior of the house.

When we moved to the institute grounds, I noticed that our shed was in the shape that could be used as a bienenhaus, but because it’s just a shed, it I didn’t want to call it a house. It’s better described as a shed or hutch, which is der Stall in German. This results in what I’m going to call our bienenstall, or “bee hutch.” Today, I’ll give you a tour of this American–European hybrid. I’ve used typical Langstroth hive bodies instead of cabinets, but keep them in a European-type bee building.

The Entrances

Bees come and go through three entrances cut in the south-facing side of the shed. They land on 6-x-10-in boards painted with contrasting designs. These boards are on hinges and can be raised in the winter to keep out the wind.

Even when raised, the bees can get in and out through a gap between the lapboards behind the folded-up landing board. The entrances also have a reducer, which allows the beekeeper to regulate the size of the doorway. Weak hives can only defend a small door, while strong hives need lots of space to let the field bees in and out.

The Interior

Inside of bee shed with one colony out of three installed.

Inside the bienenstall is a hive stand built into the structure’s framework. It consists of 2-x-6-in lumber with legs. Additional support comes from 2-x-2-in boards attached to the exterior wall just below the entrance. Together, this makes a stable and strong platform upon which beehives can be placed. Each hive can weigh over 300 lb when fully loaded with honey, so this stand must hold about 1,000 lb! You don’t want a bee stand to collapse, so overbuild when in doubt.

On top of the stand are three bottom boards. Unsurprisingly, these form the bottom of the hive. Because these hives will be inside, I do not need to weatherize them like I need to for hives that live in the elements. To give the bees plenty of fresh air and to help them vent moisture out of the hive, each bottom has a detachable board under a screen. When removed, the bees have plenty of air flow.

The hives are placed on the boards with the frames running left to right, which is different than most Americans orient their boxes (usually running front to back). This is called the “warm way” as the frames are perpendicular to air flow from the entrance and act as baffles against gusts in the winter. The bodies are placed flush against the exterior wall, sealing the bees’ hive so the only way in or out is through the doorway (i.e., not into the interior of the shed).


Because the hives are inside, I do not need a weatherized cover. I simply put what’s called an inner cover on top of the hive and then feed or manage the hive as needed. If I wanted to, I could make some screened tops to let out extra heat, but this probably isn’t necessary in Wisconsin.

Finally, to keep the bees inside their hive and to let me use the rest of the shed, even if the bees are in a bad mood, I’ve installed tracks on the floor and ceiling to accept large screens, just to help keep the bees relegated to their area.


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