There’s a growing movement afoot that advocates leaving wooden hives unpainted. The reason given for this is that the wood can breathe better without a coat of paint and, because it can breathe better, it will wick condensation from the hive and provide a drier environment for the bees.
I don’t support this idea and here are my reasons:
- Although wood can absorb water, it does so very slowly—much more slowly than a healthy colony of bees can produce it. You will need to supply adequate ventilation whether your hives are painted or not.
- Unpainted wood will absorb moisture not only from the inside, but the outside. So if you live in a very wet environment, it would be nearly impossible for the wood to conduct moisture from the inside of the hive to the outside. In fact, it could move the other way.
- Although the life of milled lumber will vary depending on the species, the grade, and the climate, you may be able to double—or even triple—the life of a hive if it is kept painted.
Wood may be a renewable resource, but in order to get that hive to you, fossil fuels were used to grow the timber (if fertilizer and/or pesticides were used), cut the timber, haul the timber to the mill, mill the lumber, haul the lumber to the manufacturer, manufacture the hive, and ship the hive to you. In other words, the carbon released to the atmosphere to get a manufactured hive from forest to you is huge, so why buy them more often than necessary?
Yes, there are carbon costs to paint as well, but even the bare-wood advocates are painting the joints and the end pieces to prevent rot. The extra amount of paint necessary to cover the entire thing is minimal.
So do the planet a favor and paint your hives.