Non Timber Forest Products 4: Honey Production and Roundwood Construction and Fuels

Written by Doug Crouch

Honey Production

To produce ones own honey and have extra pollinators around is really a bonus for a

honey comb
honey comb

Permaculture site.  Stewarding the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is a very important mission currently and one that we all can embrace individually or cooperatively in say more urban areas. The harvest is quite rewarding with its divine smell, taste, and healing properties.  With this important mission of preserving a hard worker within biodiversity, it really changes ones management style when bees are in your landscapes.  We must aim to feed them so they can help feed us; a truly symbiotic relationship. With that, your bees or local apiculturists benefit greatly from having native forest around and it provides another great reason to steward land for yields beyond timber.  Bees rely on natures plant and time stacking principle and by having this evolved architecture of a layered forest around, your life as a beekeeper will be easier.  The bees will find a diversity of foods at different times and the hives can even be put on the forest edge as to receive protection from sun or winds depending on your climate.  Furthermore, a swarm from your own hives may even find a cavity in a tree on your own land and the loss of these pollinators will not occur.

Thus common honey bee aiding trees and shrubs and edge plants back at the families land in Kentucky or in that local area in general are the following:

  • American Basswood (Tilia americana)
  • Multiflora Rose (non Native but with control one can have small patches here and there) (Rosa multiflora)
  • Box Elder (Acer negundo)
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
  • Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
  • Honey Locust (Gleditisia tricanthos)
  • Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)
  • Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
  • Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.)
  • Sumac (Rhus spp.)
  • Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
  • Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Some of those you may wish to favor by selecting other species out in crowding conditions. Alternatively you may need to plant in some of the in canopy breaks in the forest or one the forest edge.  Its important to manage the forest for your aims and by being active in your management it will bring more value and help with the need to harvest trees for timber ad its economic return.  When other value is created, like having a multitude of species to help feed honey bees, then our forest stay more intact.  For example in this above context of Kentucky, I have selected out smaller red maples that grow incredibly dense around emerging basswoods.  The basswood is in relatively few numbers on the land as it really only grows at the edge of our lake.  However the red maple is everywhere.

happy swarm harvesting crew from our Spring 2015 PDC at Terra Alta
happy swarm harvesting crew from our Spring 2015 PDC at Terra Alta

In the Mediterranean context, where I have worked many years in Portugal in particular at Terra Alta, the Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) provides an important forest food resource for bees.  Some honey is sold just from this flow and is dark and rich in color and flavor as it is easy to isolate because of its quite late spring/ early summer flowering. Another forest tree there is the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), which is also pollinated in part by honey bees and gives another unique time of the year flow.  The much despised acacias there in Portugal grow in the forest to provide nitrogen to regenerate land but also give food to the honey bee.  Another important forest tree that grows on the edge and regenerating forest is the Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.).  They are in the rose family as well as many of the common fruit trees which are found so often in the wild as land has been abandoned and regenerates slowly.  Another unique tree from this climate is the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) that grows often in these contexts and gives a fall flowering which really helps the bees as the weather changes. Oddly enough the whole ecosystem comes back to life after the summer drought and the bees also delight in the plants around the forest edge as the landscape greens again.

In the tropics the African Honey Bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) is the honey bee of choice and benefits from the plethora of food resources that a native forest has to offer as well.  I will not go into exact species as I have not explored them fully there because there is just so much diversity.  Nonetheless I did observe this with the hives on the land in my farming days of Costa Rica (2005-06).  We did also have stingless bees that were native and made a divine quality but low quantity of honey.  A young farmer on the land who was Costa Rican, Harold, had a love affair with these bees and had five hives in the rafters of his small farm-house there.  Watching the Costa Rica/ Germany opener of the World Cup in ’06 will forever be etched in my memory not for the game itself, rather the farm shutting down and watching the game with him and having the honey from these stingless bees laced on popcorn.

African Honey Bee Comb
African Honey Bee Comb


Roundwood Construction

While timber is often extracted from forests for milling, this inherently wasteful process is not needed to obtain building materials necessarily.  We can still get robust building material from the forest without selecting our biggest trees.  Roundwood construction is

Roald Gundersen in his tree bending woodlot
Roald Gundersen in his tree bending woodlot

gaining in popularity and its accessibility within building permits which helps to legitimize it and really spread.  This is saving some of our forests from senseless cutting for timber and calls again for a different management style and also consumer preferences.  One of my favorite builders is doing just this with his company Whole Tree Architecture. Roald Gundersen manages his own woodlot for many of his buildings and was inspired from the natives of his local area and their tree bending tradition.  Theirs was for communication and markers but his is for creating unique pieces for various uses in his popular buildings.  He was the lead architect on a building I once taught in when the Sustainable Living degree program at Maharishi University of Management moved into their new building.  I taught four PDC’s (2009-2011) there and just loved the feeling of almost still being immersed in a forest rather than a strict linear classroom. Another usage of this roundwood technique comes from reciprocal roofs and their unique design of one on top of the other in a spiral all holding each other up to help create a roundhouse. My mentors Robina McCurdy and Huckleberry Leonard has built one of these in New Zealand and had artfully put it together with timbers and delightful cob work and an earthen floor.  The total construction was one of the best representations of pattern application and often mentioned in that chapter here on this online book.

Roundwood construction was more popular when the building technique of timber framing was a more common practice.  This technique allowed for the strength of roundwood to come through and the ingenuity of the craftsman to tie it all together with  joinery (no nails and screws). Roundwood timbers from my families land back in Kentucky for

coppice schematic, new branches appearing from the cut stump. no new seed rather it just keeps growing
coppice schematic, new branches appearing from the cut stump. no new seed rather it just keeps growing

house construction could be Oak (Quercus spp.), Hickory (Carya spp.), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), and black locust.  Black Locust is often used for ground durable posts and a part of roundwood construction is also obtaining fencing material.  It is great for that because it grows so fast and coppices (regrowth after being cut) well. Meaning even after the first cutting of it for a pole for building or fencing you can get several more in just a few years more if managed properly.  At the families land in Kentucky, we used Black Locust harvested from a broad hillside valley for the posts for our main stage at Pollination Fest.  This stage has to be durable and hold lots of weight as it hosts numerous people and lots of equipment. Thus we knew we could support it well with this extremely durable wood and harvest directly from our own woodlot (zone 4).   Another species there for fence posts is Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), which is also a very hard wood and will not rot for years.  Both can be used in animal systems fencing or around plantings for garden or tree protection or even within vineyards.

In Portugal, Eucalyptus is grown in vast monocultures thus wrecking local ecologies. However some Eucalyptus species are great roundwood timber for construction.  They can be tricky for wood working because of their incredibly dense property and tendency to twist.  However when proper curing occurs they are a great choice and very long-lasting which we are doing currently at Terra Alta (late 2015) for an upcoming workshop.  In the tropics it is mainly the Nitrogen Fixers that people go for when looking for durable and easily harvestable but there is a plethora of hardwoods in general.  Teak is a great selection and could be integrated in reforestation projects that have biodiversity aims within this longer term yield.  It is most commonly grown in monocultures today so its better to have it in more integrated systems as monocultures are not forests. Mahogany (Swietenia spp.) is also a great durable wood but also needs conservation and appropriate forest growing conditions to make it a really special grain.

Another application of is a growing trend of making furniture with roundwood.  Whether it’s an old tree stump turned into a coffee table with glass on top or some round legs for a funky stool, there are many applications.  It’s a fun way to blend all of the house into one forest like experience with round poles holding up and protruding from the walls, eclectic furniture, and supportive accessories. In essence funky yet aesthetically pleasing and functional.  Ronald Gundersen, mentioned earlier, does great banisters and railings with these that I really admire and seen in the picture below labeled whole tree architecture.


Many of the same woods that are used for roundwood construction are also used for fuels. Dense rot resistant woods also burn very intensely and usually for a prolonged period making them great choices for heating and cooking.  Also many of them are coppice species so they can be cut often and can be favored if growing on an edge by making sure invasives and other fast growers don’t outcompete them when they are cut.  Of course blow-downs of oak trees for example can be used for firewood as well but I do recommend leaving part of the biomass for decay in the forest.  That can either be the top or trunk and insects and fungus will definitely invade and eventually turn it into soil. All of these facets are small parts of non timber forest products but do indeed help to get people off the grid and living locally.

black locust leaves in front of an oak tree at treasure lake
black locust leaves in front of an oak tree at treasure lake

Written by Doug Crouch

Header Art Maya Mor