Honey bees are not picky about the color of their hives. As long as there is no paint on the inside, your bees will be fine. It’s more important to please the beekeeper. Here are some considerations:
In the past, most hives were white. White is especially good in the warmer climates where a light color will reflect a lot of light and a lot of heat. In the cooler climates it’s nice to have a color that will absorb heat, such as green or brown. But if your hives are not in the sun, the outside color won’t have much of an effect on the inside temperature.
A little color can be helpful
I’ve seen hives—especially on college campuses—painted with murals, fraternity insignia, or wild free-form designs. Some beekeepers like to paint different size boxes with different colors, so they can tell them apart. If you have multiple sizes that are hard to tell apart—like mediums and shallows—a little color is a nice thing. The White House bee hive is painted in light pastels. The last time I saw a picture of it, it had two brood boxes—one pink and one blue—topped with green honey supers. It sounds kind of terrible, but I thought it looked good. All the colors were very light with just a hint of pigment.
Suburban beekeepers often like to paint their hives to match their house so it will blend in and be less conspicuous. Some beekeepers like green because it disappears in the foliage and is less likely to be spotted by vandals. And while some folks choose the same brand and color every time to make touch-up a breeze, other folks buy paint that has been returned to the store, colors that have been phased out, or surplus from various projects. These leftovers are typically available at an attractive price.
Sometimes, when hives are stacked closely together or when they are arranged in long rows, the bees can become confused about which one is home. When the hives all look the same and the colony pheromones are intermingled, the bees opt for the ones on the end of the rows. This migration to the outermost hives is called drift. To reduce drift, some beekeepers decorate the front of their hives with distinctive shapes and colors. I’ve also seen the lids painted with big, bold letters that face up—sort of like landing pads for helicopters. Does this help the bees? I have no idea, but the beekeepers seem to enjoy it.
Paint is full of vile things, including fungicides, so always remember to keep the paint on the outside of the hive and let it dry completely before you install the bees. Painted woodenware lasts a whole lot longer than unpainted, so it is well worth coating anything that will be exposed to the weather.
Also see More on Painting Bee Hives.