If you have pine boxes we think the answer is “yes…paint your hives.”
Your beehives are exposed to the elements year round. The primary reason to paint the hive box exteriors is to protect them. You’ve invested a fair amount of money and time into these hives so you’ll want them to last as long as possible.
If you went for cedar boxes, which are more expensive, the I would not paint them. Cedar stands up to the elements much better than pine. Applying tung oil (available here on Amazon) will give cedar boxes a beautiful natural look while providing water resistance to preserve the wood.
Why Paint Your Beehive?
Painting your hives has the primary benefit of protecting your equipment from the elements and extending their useful life. It makes sense to protect that investment.
There are other reasons you might want to paint them.
- If you live in the south, white and other light colors help reflect the heat from the sun, keeping the hives a little cooler for your bees. By contrast, in the north, darker colors help the hives absorb heat. Even though we are in the north, we tend toward lighter colors to help cooling in the summer. We cover our hives in a darker color for the winter.
- Colors can be an identifying feature. We keep each stack of boxes more or less uniform in color. Thus, we have the “green” bees or the “yellow” bees and so on. (Okay, maybe that’s a little nutty but we like it.)
- You can paint different size boxes different colors to make them easily identifiable. (Or take our advice and opt for all medium boxes.)
- Boxes can be colored to blend into your surroundings. This may be especially desirable in areas where you don’t want to attract too much attention from close neighbors or possible vandals.
- Bees are excellent navigators and color differences can help orient them to the correct home hive.
- You can paint your beehives for the simple reason that you like the way it looks.
Whatever size bee yard you eventually end up with, your hives will be one of your largest investments. It makes sense to protect them and get them to last as long as possible.
What To Paint
Only paint the exterior of the hives exposed to the elements. The one exterior item we don’t paint is the entrance reducer. Even a small layer of paint could make the reducer more difficult to put in and remove. It’s also only used part time.
Leave the inside of the hives plain for breathability and to absorb moisture. Paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can release into the air. There is no need to expose the bees to them within the enclosed space of the hive.
The inside includes the frames and the covers. The one exception to this is a solid bottom board. The bottom board will catch moisture, dead bees and whatever else falls out of the hive. Painting it can add a layer of protection.
We don’t paint the edges of our hives. We found that in the heat of summer painted edges tended to stick together and the paint usually just peels away.
What Kind Of Paint
You can find a variety of opinions on this topic.
If you’re concerned about VOCs, look for paints especially manufactured to be low-VOC.
Some beekeepers like to use oil-based paints as they provide maximum protection from the elements. Latex paints are less likely to bubble from moisture coming through the hive.
We use exterior latex paint and it seems to do a good job of keeping the hives in shape. We usually don’t bother with a primer first as it generally takes 2 coats anyway for good coverage.
When To Paint
Paint your hives before the bees are in them. This will limit the bees’ exposure to chemicals. You don’t need bees flying around you while to try to paint. You also don’t want bees landing on wet paint and getting stuck or covered in wet paint.
We paint our hives a good distance from the apiary at least a few days before we plan to use them. That way they have plenty of time to dry before we install them. We always have a few painted boxes on hand in case we need to add one on short notice.
If choice of color is less of a concern than saving money, check out the “oops” paint section in your local stores. When an error is made coloring the paint, it is often put back on the shelf at a discounted price. It’s still perfectly fine to use and you might even find some odd color you like.
Choosing Beehive Colors
Colors are clearly a matter of your personal choice.
Some beekeepers choose colors that help their hives blend into the surroundings. You may want to consider this if you don’t want to draw too much attention to your hives because of neighbors or to avoiding attracting vandals.
We light to pick bright colors that complement the surroundings as neighbors and vandals are not a particular concern.
How Bees See Colors
If you are taking into account that the different colors can help the bees orient themselves to the proper hive, consider how bees see colors.
The spectrum of colors visible to bees is slightly different from what humans see. For example, red is outside the wavelength range for bees so bees see it as black. On the opposite end of the range, bees see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to the human eye.
This chart shows the range of colors visible to honey bees and humans:
If you’re going to paint your hives, red may not be the best choice for the bees.
Check out Bee Culture’s article How Bees See And Why It Matters for more information on this topic.
If you bought assemble, pre-painted (white) hives, you may not want to do anymore. Painting the hives beyond that initial coat becomes a personal decision based on your available budget for both money and time along with your personal tastes.
There’s no need to be limited to solid colors. Surfing around the internet you’ll find plenty of interesting designs decorating beehives. Feel free to express yourself.
Here’s a great video from Cutting Edge Stencils with a fun way to decorate your hives: