beekeeping equipment infrequently asked questions

Painting beehives: things you need to know about color

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 warmer climates where a light color will reflect a lot of light and heat. In 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 houses so they 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.

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.

Reducing drift

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.

Honey Bee Suite


  • I have a old hive, and decided to paint it before winter. The brood box and one super were painted with the bees in it (a white latex.) Please say this is not a problem. I live in North Carolina still 60 and 70’s

  • Not sure what the heck I was thinking but I painted the bottom board surface the bees will be using. Can I still use the bottom board with no ill effect on the bees? Or will the bees hate the paint?

  • Not painting the inside of a wood hive seems to be the common practice these days, however, it turns out Reverend L.L. Langstroth recommended painting the inside of his hives or coating them with a resin/wax mixture.

    This quote is from his book…
    “ My hives are so constructed, that if made of wood, they may be thoroughly painted inside and outside, without being so smooth as to annoy the bees; for they travel over the frames to which the combs are attached; and thus whether the inside surface is glass or wood, it is not liable to crack, or warp, or absorb moisture, after the hive is occupied by the bees. If the hives are painted inside, it should be done sometime before they are used. If the interior of the wooden hive is brushed with a very hot mixture of the rosin and bees-wax, the hives may be used immediately.”

    • What did he mean by rosin?

      I’ve often thought we should coat the inside with an alcohol tincture of propolis, but it’s not really practical to make enough of that.

      • I’m guessing he meant bee rosin (propolis) and bee wax, melted together and painted on the inside surface. No proportions, but likely mostly wax.

  • I just searched the document for all mention of rosin and based on what I found, he may have been referring to pine rosin.

    He talks about mixing three parts rosin to one part beeswax and says to use rosin because it is much less expensive than wax. I’m assuming that propolis was more valuable than wax like it is today and based on that have Eli instead it in my mind.

    He does not specifically describe what he means by rosin or its source but other searches generally refer to it being sourced from pine resin.

  • Elsewhere in the book he refers to 3:1 rosin to wax and to use rosin because it’s much less expensive than wax. Today propolis is more expensive than wax; I assume the same was true back then. Other searches for rosin at that time refer to pine resin being the source. This makes sense to me.

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