More on painting bee hives

When I first wrote about painting bee hives, I filed it under “infrequently asked questions,” but it has turned out to be one of my most popular posts. Because of that, I decided to add several details that I didn’t mention before.

New beekeepers want to know if they should paint the ends (or edges)—the part of the hive that is stacked on another part. The first time I painted hives I did not paint that part, I just painted the outside surfaces. However, after painting them a dark green and stacking them in the field, I noticed a rim of unpainted wood where each piece of equipment met (or didn’t quite meet) the next. I suppose it depends how picky you are, but this made me crazy. I have painted those surfaces ever since.

The downsides of this practice are many. First of all it’s a lot of extra work. Secondly, latex paint loves to stick to itself, especially if you happen to strap the hive together with a ratcheting tie-down. Combined with the propolis the bees stick in there, these become extremely difficult to separate. And once you ding the edges with the hive tool, you’ve knocked the paint off again.

So, if you’re not picky consider yourself lucky and don’t bother painting them. If you don’t like the unpainted ring, try just painting over the edge about one-quarter inch. If your boxes are pretty square, a quarter-inch should do it. It’s hard to line all the boxes up perfectly, however, so don’t expect your perfectly-squared boxes to eliminate the problem by itself.

Another frequent question concerns the type of paint. I use low-VOC latex paint because it’s better for the environment than oil-based paints. I’ve tried to get it without added fungicide, but I’ve been told that virtually all paint sold today comes with factory-supplied fungicide. So just make sure you don’t paint inside the hive, and make sure the paint is dry before installing bees.

A third issue is priming. I started out by priming and gave up on it. I find that the primer shows through once the wood becomes scratched, chipped, or weathered which (see above) irritates me. If you don’t prime, the knots eventually bleed through, but for some reason this does not bother me. Like I say, these aesthetic decisions are important for the beekeeper—not the bees—so do what makes you happy.

One last thing: keep some paint on hand. As a beekeeper, you are never done painting. There is always a new piece of equipment,  a repair, or just general maintenance that includes paint. Whenever I take a piece of woodenware to the shop for mending, cleaning, or modifying I make a habit of re-painting it as well.

Rusty

University of Connecticut Apiary. New York Times photo. 2008.
University of Connecticut Apiary. New York Times photo. 2008.

Comments

Sarah
Reply

I’m glad you use low VOC. What brand do you like?

Bee
Reply

We have decided to utilize latex paint on the hive exteriors. Hive keepers – thru your experience, please share with us your preference for gloss, semi-gloss, satin, flat, etc. Thank you!

Jaele
Reply

Gloss was my preference… Not “high gloss” but just normal “gloss”… Exterior Latex Paint from Sherwin Williams… We primed with Zinser 123 for exterior use (Lowes) ….

Connie
Reply

Oops, I painted the inside of 2 out of 5 bee boxes:( What is the reasoning of not painting the inside?

Uwie
Reply

Lexington should support the urban farming movement by allowing chickens and honey bees within city limits. It would be reasonable to restrict urban chicken ownership to only hens, no roosters. Individual homeowners associations can place further restrictions about number of birds, size or location of coop, etc. so there is no need for Lexington to mess with that. Urban chickens make great pets, provide eggs and keep tick and other bug populations down. They are also a great source of natural manure for the urban farmer. There is no reason not to allow chickens in the city!

Rusty
Reply

Nick,

As long as it’s thoroughly dry, there is no minimum, especially if you don’t paint the inside. I usually paint on one day and install the next.

Nicholas
Reply

Hello Rusty,

Great article. I recently painted mine and came to this site to confirm the outter edges issue. I figure that I’ll do more damage with the hive tool if they are good and stuck together as well. I purchased valspar flat exterior, ultra paint and primer mixed in and the dry time is 100% faster doing this. I’ll be able to post photos on my blog here in about a day. http://kybeeco.com Oh, and the Valspar paint was <50 VOC levels. Thanks for your advice!

Sarah
Reply

Oh man, we painted primer all over the outside AND inside of our hives. We were not planning to paint the inside but thought a coat of primer would be a good idea to help protect it. Is this terrible? Are bees don’t arrive for another 3 weeks. What should we do?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

I wouldn’t worry about it this time around. As long as it is good and dry it shouldn’t hurt the bees, but don’t do it in the future. Not only should fungicides be avoided, but wood inside the hive helps to absorb hive moisture, something painted wood can’t do. There’s a give-and-take between the life of the wood and the life of the colony, so you can’t do it all perfectly.

Sarah
Reply

Thank you so much for the explanation and reassurance. Wish I had not been so anxious to get them painted before I researched further. Lesson learned.

kim
Reply

Hi, we can’t decide if we should wax dip our boxes or just paint them. If we just paint them how often does this need doing. Can you please advise us on which method would be better.
Thankyou regards
Kim

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

I think it’s up to the individual. In my opinion, painting is less work. I have boxes that I painted ten years ago that still look pretty good. On the other hand, most of my hives are covered so they don’t get hit with lots of rain.

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