Make a Clay Bee Skep for a Cottage-Style Garden

10 Materials
$25
5 Hours
Medium

I like to tempt winged visitors to my garden with this homespun clay hive that resembles an antique straw bee skep. I had no experience working with clay before this project, but I was able to make this easily. If I can do it, you can too!

I recommend Hearty brand air-drying clay if you want to avoid cracks while this dries. But don't worry too much about gaps or cracks in this design if you use a cheaper medium, because the clay will be sealed with thin-set tile cement which will give it a nice durable finish.

Here's what I used to make this decoration:

1) air drying clay (about five pounds);

2) thin-set cement (I used super white glass tile cement);

3) acrylic paint in aqua, yellow, golden brown, dark brown, and white (or, use your favorite garden colors);

AND THESE TOOLS:

4) brushes: one-inch chip brush and half-inch nylon paint brush;

5) masking tape; 

6) scissors or craft knife to cut clay;

7) waterproof board on which to work;

AND TO FINISH:

8) Exterior varnish, outdoor ModPodge, or liquid wax like Waverly Inspirations


You'll also need some recycled objects to build a support on which the clay will sit.

I used a light-weight plastic flower pot and a rigid plastic bowl, both turned upside–down and stacked … topped with a metal teakettle lid to form a roof, all held together with masking tape. I attached a plastic lid from a spice jar taped to the side as a spacer for the opening. My measurements in the diagram are approximate. Build your skep this size, or try a miniature version … whatever suits your display area.

Set aside 1/3 cup of clay, plastic wrapped, to allow for repairs as clay shrinks and dries. Roll the remainder of clay into coils about half an inch in diameter. Apply one coil at a time. Wrap a coil around the opening and add coils horizontally around it as shown. Keep stacking coils to the top.

Where ever you want to connect coils, I would recommend making diagonal cuts as shown. Diagonal joins like this will add strength. You can also see that I wetted and smoothed the coils, but did not worry too much about unevenness or gaps. You can use a baby-wipe or a brush dipped in water to smooth your coils.

I stopped adding coils just under the edge of the teapot top leaving a metal roof and handle. I made a one-inch thick coil and wrapped the bottom edge. I added a second coil around the front opening so that it stood out well from the surface. Smooth, smooth, smooth … with water.

Let clay dry overnight. I used a craft knife to cut around the red lid and blue tape, right through the plastic pot so that I could remove them to make a good sized opening. I repaired cracks with more clay (remember it will shrink). When all clay was nearly dry, I mixed thin-set tile cement with water to applesauce consistency. I used one cup of thin-set to 1/3 cup of water, adding a teaspoon of water now and then as the mixture thickened. I brushed thin-set over the coils with a chip brush to texturize and seal. Allow thin-set to dry for 24 hours. 

This is a little tip I can pass along as a professional artist … use secondary colors for a rich finish. I painted my hive blue-green first, blending random patches using a one inch brush. I painted between the coils with a half inch brush. Finally I added the gold browns and yellow, blending all colors with both brushes for an antiqued effect.

Here's a good view of the finished paint. The green blue peeks through for a weathered effect. You can just as well paint this one-color, but why not experiment with a varied surface. When dry, finish with a varnish or wax of your choice. I like wax.

I bring my skep inside in the winter and place it outdoors in sheltered areas in warmer seasons. If you'd like to see more of my craft ideas and professional artist tips, plus the progress on my 200-year old house renovation, the link to my web archives is here. All my best, Stephie

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Stephie McCarthy
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Frequently asked questions

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  3 questions
  • Teresa Teresa on Mar 15, 2019

    This is really cool and so important for bees! I am wondering if you need to do anything to the interior or are the bees happy with the plastic pot? I don’t know if their little feet will stick.

    • Stephie McCarthy Stephie McCarthy on Mar 15, 2019

      It would probably be a good idea to put a large stick inside for bees to land on. We don't have nearly as many bees as we once did in the Blue Ridge. But the ones that will come around this year are super-curious and check out everything … but then spiders will have to check it out too. We'll see what many-legged thing finally moves in this summer. I'm not betting it will be bees

    • Teresa Teresa on Mar 15, 2019

      Thank you! Good luck with the bees! There are way too many bees disappearing!

    • Kauai Breeze Kauai Breeze on Apr 02, 2019

      Did you cut the bottom out of the flower pot before attaching the bowl, or just let the drainage holes and pot bottom form a separate "room"?

  • Karen Karlen Karen Karlen on Mar 19, 2019

    Do you get yellow jackets or hornets ever? (allergic to both) What keeps the bees from stinging if you are working close to the pot? I want to try this near my vegetable garden. Thank you.

    • Stephie McCarthy Stephie McCarthy on Mar 19, 2019

      This will sound a bit odd, but I learned from a book by Tom Brown that insects are super intelligent. They can sense immediately whether you are afraid, threatened, or dangerous. Since reading that, I put aside my fear of insects of all kinds and always make an effort to be very friendly to them. I'll even talk out loud to them to let them know they are welcome and won't be harmed. You'll be amazed at how quickly they understand you. On the other hand, if they try to nest in the wrong place, I would spray the area with garlic oil (yellow jackets or hornets can't stand garlic).

    • Annie Annie on Mar 20, 2019

      Hahaha! I am so happy you said that about talking to bees and insects.

      I have talked to bees for years and my kids think I'm silly. I just ask them to leave me alone and go home which they most often do. I have only been stung once in my life when I was very young and I am now 68. Most animals and insects respond to a calm voice. I even have an agreement with spiders, if I go into their house they can kill me and if they come into mine...well you get the picture. The garage is neutral ground. Thanks for the post, I will be making this soon!!!


  • Jill Ron Pike Jill Ron Pike on Apr 03, 2019

    It looks like this is simply a decoration piece, is that right? Did you cut a hole in the "opening" to actually let bees, spiders, etc. to get inside, or is that just the black color of the flower pot that I'm seeing?

    • Stephie McCarthy Stephie McCarthy on Apr 03, 2019

      That's a real hole in the plastic flower pot underneath … easy to cut with a craft knife. Plus the bottom is open too. I use it for a summer decoration on an iron-work table, so bugs can go in the front hole or up through the bottom. I bring it in for winter. I'm not sure how freezing temperatures would treat it.

    • Jill Ron Pike Jill Ron Pike on Apr 03, 2019

      Thank you so much for responding so soon! It's SO cute!!

    • Stephie McCarthy Stephie McCarthy on Apr 03, 2019

      Thank you so much, Jill!

    • Karen Karen on Jan 25, 2020

      That is adorable...but for those of us less talented, it could be covered with thick rope for a similar effect.. just hot glue the rope all around and maybe seal with a spray sealer or outdoor mod podge.

Comments

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3 of 15 comments
  • Victoria Victoria on Jun 22, 2020

    It looks beautiful as an outside decor. Can you seal with varnish and leave outdoors?

    • Stephie McCarthy Stephie McCarthy on Jun 22, 2020

      Yes, I believe it could be sealed and used outdoors. I would varnish it, and then top that with bees or other wax to make it extra waterproof. -- Stephie

  • Sewtime Sewtime on Mar 08, 2021

    I love the look of this! Very pretty, but both hubby and I are very allergic to bee stings, like go to the hospital allergic. But I think I will try this and paint the hole black, beautiful and safe! 😃👍

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