How to Paint and Protect Beehives
Once your beehive is full of honey bees it gets pretty tricky to paint it! So painting beehives is something you need to consider before you set up and install them. It’s the kind of thing a new beekeeper can easily overlook, and you need to plan ahead and allow enough preparation time. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the store to buy paint I get totally confused. There are just too many options! So for those of you just as baffled as I was, I decided to put together a few guidelines.
So how do you paint beehives? Begin by choosing a non-toxic, low-VOC exterior paint. You’ll need to apply three coats of paint for good protection. Paint only the outside parts of the hive that are exposed to the elements. Interior surfaces in direct contact with bees should be left unpainted. Choose a color which is appropriate to your situation. Light colors for hot climates, darker colors for cold regions. You can opt for neutral colors if you don’t want your hive to stand out.
If you’re going to invest in a hive then you want it to last as long as possible and provide good shelter for your bees. A lot of hive parts are delivered without any kind of protective treatment and need painting to make them last longer. But what kind of paint should you use, and which parts should you paint to prevent harming your honey bees.
Painting a beehive is a relatively simple process, but there are a few important questions to ask yourself before you run out and buy a few gallons of paint. The following should hopefully make things clearer.
Should I paint my hive?
First things first… Do you actually need to paint your hive? Depending on the type of wood used to construct it, you may not need to.
The most common type of wood for building hives is pine. If this is what yours is made of then you will need to give it a protective coating. Pine isn’t the most durable type of wood and if left untreated will deteriorate over time. If you're lucky enough to have a beehive made from red cedar then it doesn’t need to be painted. This type of wood is inherently durable because it contains natural oils and resists the weather extremely well. (indeed it may be a bad idea to paint red cedar since the natural oils can react adversely to paint).
But red cedar is a higher quality wood and therefore more expensive. Those of us with more modest wooden hives will need to give them a lick of paint. Even taking into account the cost of paint, painting a pine wood hive is still going to be the cheaper option.
Fluctuations in temperature between winter and summer, plus sun, rain, or even snow, will degrade an untreated pinewood hive. A good protective coating of paint will protect your hives from extremes of weather and extend the life of hive boxes.
What color to paint beehives
Honey bees can see color, but they perceive it slightly differently from humans. Color is one of the ways that help pollinating insects identify nectar rich flowers. That’s why blooms aren’t the same color as leaves. Apparently, bees can’t see the color red (but they can see orange and yellow). The colors that seem to attract bees the best are blue and purple.
That being said, I’m not convinced that color actually helps bees to identify their hives. I’ve heard of beekeepers painting their beehives different colors for this reason. When you have a few colonies that are close together beekeepers look for ways to help prevent bees from drifting to the wrong hive.
In his fascinating book about the nature of bees, “The Buzz about Bees”, Jurgen Tautz established that bees have an aptitude to discern between different visual patterns but are less able to differentiate between different colored hives. This suggests that pattern may be a better device for helping bees find their way home! Colored shapes are maybe the way to go!
To be honest, I think that colored hives are of more use to humans than they are to bees… Nevertheless there are some good reasons to choose your paint color carefully.
Firstly, you might want your beekeeping activity to remain discreet. Maybe you don’t want neighbors or passersby to notice, or you want to discourage vandals from targeting your bees. These are excellent reasons to choose muted colors that help the hive box to blend in with its environment. Greens, greys and browns help to merge with surrounding vegetation. Alternatively, you can use a color that matches your house.
The second good reason for choosing your colors with care depends on your local climate. If you live in a hot region then light colors will help you colonies during the hottest months of the year. A light colored paint reflects heat and will help to keep the interior of the hive cool. Similarly if you live in a cold northern climate, darker colors can help absorb the warming rays of the winter sun, thus heating the bees during this difficult season. In short, color can help with temperature control.
Thirdly, colors can be a great way to color code your hive parts and help identify different types of hive boxes more easily. If your apiary grows over time, color coding your deep, medium or shallow supers can come in handy. Using a specific color for each hive also helps you identify which one your inspecting and keep better records.
And finally, probably the best reason for coloring hives is that it’s just more fun! Choose a color that you like, decorate your hive if you want to. “Bee” creative!
Why are beehives painted white?
Some new beekeepers are surprised at the idea of painting hives any color other than white. We’ve all seen the traditional looking white beehives. The reason they are white is simply to help bees stay cooler in the summer, especially if hives are exposed to hot sunlight all day long.
If you want white, that’s absolutely fine. Bees don’t seem to mind white. But it’s not compulsory.
What kind of paint do you use on beehives?
Let’s face it… Most of us are going to consume honey or other bee products from our hives. So wouldn’t you want to know that the interior is healthy and safe for honey consumption.
With that in mind, you’re going to need paint which won’t harm your bees and is non-toxic for honey stores. Over the last decade paint manufacturers have made a lot of improvements towards providing safer, less toxic paint formulas. So today’s paints give off less dangerous fumes than they did previously, but keep in mind, no paint is 100% toxin-free. The best option is to look for paints labeled “low VOC” (volatile organic compounds) or “environmentally friendly”. Some of these low emission paints are labeled “Greenguard”. These kind of paints discharge less hazardous fumes and have a less strong smell. Most brands of low VOC paint have levels lower than 50 grams per litre.
Your paint needs to be suitable for outdoors, which may make your choice slightly narrower. Most low-VOC paints are water based which makes them less longer-lasting than more toxic oil-based paints. But this is perhaps the price to pay for a healthier hive. Finding the most suitable paint for your bees may be quite tricky but your bees will thanks you!
The only paint I was able to find which is said to be specifically for beehives is Bee Safe Hive Paint by the Pure Paint Lab. It has been specially formulated to keep hives healthy and safe for bees, and as a result, us humans too!
How to Paint Beehives
Now that you have your paint, and hopefully a brush, you’re ready to get painting! Set yourself up in a place where you can paint with plenty of room to move and protect any surrounding surfaces from splashes. Ready? As a rule of thumb you’re going to paint the exterior of the hive only. All the parts which are exposed to weather all year long need protection. Below you’ll find a guide on how to paint each part of your beehive.
Should you paint the inside of a beehive?
It’s generally recommended that you only paint the exterior of the hive to protect the parts which are actually exposed to the stresses of weather. Bees prefer a bare wood finish inside the hive. In nature, bees love to build nests inside the cavities of hollow trees, so why not try to simulate that environment? The safest surface you can offer your bees is natural wood. Also, it’s important to be able to control humidity levels inside a hive (bees don’t like to be wet and too much moisture can actually kill them). An untreated wood surface can absorb some moisture and help control humidity inside a hive.
A quick note about painting edges. Water running down the outside of a hive will go into the crack between hive boxes. Any water that sits there will stay wet longer and can encourage rot. This is generally why beekeepers paint these edges (Also if you like things to be neat I think it looks better). But I’ve also heard arguments for not painting the top and bottom edges of boxes. For a start, the cracks between hive parts will get filled up with propolis by the bees. This bee glue essentially adds protection to the box edges, so some beekeepers don’t bother painting them. Also, depending on the climate where you live, painted edges can get sticky and glued together, making hive parts even more difficult to separate. On top of this, boxes are stacked on top of each other and rub against these edges making the paint wear off quickly. This creates extra work and repairs for the beekeeper. I’ll leave you to weigh up the pros and cons!
Make sure the paint is completely dry then apply at least one more coat of paint (I prefer three coats). Now you need to leave your hive alone for a while before installing bees. As mentioned earlier, whichever paint you choose there are probably some chemicals included in the formula. As the paint dries these chemicals continue to be discharged. This is known as the “off-gas” time.
This is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead and paint hives well in advance.
After you’ve admired your handiwork, keep the paint in a easy to reach location. Hive parts get knocked about during inspections so you’ll find yourself having to repaint and repair scratches from time to time.
Painting your hive should be the bare minimum. You’ll have to invest in some decent paint, but It will pay for itself by giving the wood a longer lifetime. And remember, painting beehives can also be fun, so don’t hesitate to get creative!