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.