Painting the inside of beehives

Oops, I painted the inside of 2 out of 5 bee boxes. What is the reason for not painting the inside?

First off, don’t worry about the ones that are already done. Chances are good that everything will be fine. But for future reference, I can think of several good reasons for leaving the insides unpainted:

  • Most paints, even the low VOC types, contain all kinds of nasty things that you don’t want your bees to eat. As you can see in the photo below, I painted some entrance reducers (not good) and the bees chewed both paint and wood when they tried to make a larger opening.
  • Even the low VOC paints off-gas for a long time. The smell, even if not harmful to the bees, may drive them away or interfere with pheromone signals within the hive. The smell of wood is something they evolved with—the smell of paint is not.
  • Unpainted wood can absorb moisture whereas painted wood cannot—which is precisely why you paint (or otherwise seal) the wood on the outside of the hive. Unpainted wood adds some amount of moisture control within the hive, although the effect is not huge. If you have good ventilation in your hive it won’t make too much difference.
  • In nature, bees live inside hollow logs which, of course, are unpainted. So unpainted interior surfaces simulate their natural living conditions more closely. How important is that? I really don’t know, but refraining from paint seems like a reasonable thing to do.
  • Most wood seems to have natural antimicrobial properties, particularly antifungal ones. By sealing the wood with paint those properties are lost to the hive. However, nearly all paint comes with fungicides added to it. These are chemical pesticides not suitable for bee décor. Far better to let the natural fungicides do their job, than to add commercially produced ones.

For now, just air out the painted boxes as much as possible before you use them and don’t be too hard on yourself. Believe me, I’ve made far worse beekeeping mistakes.

Rusty

HoneyBeeSuite

Munched away, paint and all.
Munched away, paint and all.

Comments

Cathi
Reply

Rusty – Have you ever used anything like Thompson’s Water Seal on the outside of the hive boxes? If so, how did it fair compared to painting?

Thanks!

Cathi

Rusty
Reply

Cathi,

I haven’t, but I know others have. Can anyone comment?

Toby
Reply

There are few transparent finishes that can hold up to being outside year round, even the best ones should be re-applied yearly. There are outdoor oil finishes that have pigments in them that aid in uv resistance but none are as effective as paint. For outdoor furniture I use Penofin and it does reasonably well but I wouldn’t want to re-apply it to an in-use hive. Penofin has a finish called Verde that is very low voc but I haven’t found that is holds up very well.

Jeff
Reply

The president of one of the beekeeper associations we are members of swears by painting the inside of his boxes. From what I can gather, his main reason for doing it is because he can scorch the inside of the box a few more times with the layer of paint. I think one of the directors of the club also does this. I’ll pass.

RRaymond
Reply

Can’t comment on painting inside boxes, nor can I imagine why one would want to, but when we started our first hive, we read that they home in to certain colors. Having some hobby/craft paint around, I painted the hand hold on the front of the hive with fluorescent yellow/green paint. There, they should be able to find the hive with no trouble (he foolishly thought).

The bees spent the entire first year scrubbing it off! I mean, they chewed, worried, worked and had paint scrubbing parties day after day until it was gone. After they erased this offense, they stopped hanging out on the front of the hive box and behaved entirely bee-like.

Anyone ever look at why they hate some colors? They most certainly hated this one.

Zoe
Reply

Rusty, your final comment on the main post begs the question: Such as…? How about doing a write-up on the worst beekeeping mistakes you’ve ever made? It might prevent some of us from making the same mistakes. Besides, it would be a fun read.

Rusty
Reply

Ha! You are very funny. Actually, I’ve mentioned most of them at one time or another in various posts. But instead of making you go back through some 700 entries, I suppose I could line them up, front and center, for God and everyone to smirk at. I might have to go through the posts myself in order to find the very best. I mean, you wouldn’t want the list to be too looooong.

Blaine
Reply

Over the years since I started keeping bees about 50 years ago, I have always seen and heard the advise to never paint the interior of a beehive. I have passed that advice on to those I’ve mentored and taught. But, the great beekeeping pioneer, Lorenzo Langstroth said, “For this reason, the hive should be made of sound lumber, entirely free from cracks, and thoroughly painted on the inside as well as outside.” So, I want to know whether the no-interior-paint advice is really sound advice or an old wives’ tale perpetuated by well-meaning beekeepers.

The no-interior-paint advice generally includes the statement that the bees apply their own “varnish” to the wood. But, has scientific research been done to show that the bees’ own “varnish” really better than modern paint at protecting the wood and keeping the bees happy and healthy?

One argument against painting the interior is that un-painted wood absorbs condensation. Doesn’t bee “varnish” also reduce or eliminate absorption of condensation? What does absorption of condensation do to the longevity of the wood?

Is the no-interior-paint advice rooted in the fact that, decades ago, paint had lead-based pigments and the intent of the advice was simply to keep lead out of the hive and out of our honey? If so, why continue the no-interior-paint practice with modern no-lead paint?

Is that advice based on the fact that, decades ago, we used oil-based paint and the intent of the advice was to keep the oil out of the hive and out of our honey? If so, why continue the no-interior-paint practice with modern latex paint?

Has anyone approached paint companies for their advice on whether paint on both sides of the wood is best? Yeah, they have a financial interest in selling more paint, but they also should have the research.

I’ve seen many hives that were painted inside and out and the bees seemed to do just fine. Has anyone done a scientific comparison to see whether it really matters to the health and happiness of the bees?

Has anyone done a scientific comparison of the longevity of the wood to see whether painted interiors lengthen or shorten the usability of the equipment?

Rusty
Reply

Blaine,

It is true that modern latex paints are, by themselves, much less toxic than paints of yore. The lead is out and some of the new low-VOC paints are quite environmentally friendly. However, these essentially “un-poison” paints become food for all sorts of organisms, especially fungi. As a result, virtually all modern latex paints are laced with fungicide.

Several years ago I went around to local paint stores saying I wanted to purchase paint with no fungicides, and I was told they don’t exist because the paint won’t hold up without them. At the same time, research has shown that fungicides, although they don’t kill bees outright in most cases, can cause sub-lethal damage to bees and can work in combination with other pesticides (including in-hive acaricides) to produce toxic synergistic effects.

Bee bodies merely rubbing on the dried paint can spread molecules of the fungicides throughout the hive, and these molecules can migrate into water-based solutions such as honey.

Why take the risk of exposing your bees to fungicide or eating it in your honey when it is so simple to avoid painting the inside of your hive?

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