How to Paint a Beehive – Beginner’s Guide

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Honeybees do not mind the color of beehives as long as the beehive is structurally sound. Beekeepers, however, often prefer to paint their beehives for various reasons. The major reason is the preservation of the wooden parts that make up the exterior of the beehive. Few types of wood used to make beehives can withstand weathering over time. Those that do are priced higher than most beekeepers want to spend on wood for beehives. Read on for detailed information about how to paint a beehive. In this article, we have also included tips on selecting paint for your beehive, the best colors to paint beehives, and alternatives you can use in place of painting beehives among other useful tips.

Reasons for Painting Beehives

Beekeepers cite various reasons for painting a beehive. In any beekeeping operation, the beekeeper has control over the choice to paint a beehive or not. Typically, beekeepers will paint the external surfaces of beehives and leave the internal surfaces unpainted. This ensures that honeybees do not come into contact with possibly harmful chemical compounds in the paint. It also avoids such compounds contaminating beehive products. Below are the major reasons that beekeepers cite for painting a beehive.

1. Preservation

Nearly all beehives in beekeeping operations are made using wooden material. There are different types of wood that are used to make beehives. Each type of wood stands up differently to weathering elements. Water, bacteria, and fungi are the most important weathering elements when it comes to wood. Beehives are often placed in outdoor locations and have frequent exposure to these weathering elements. To preserve the wood they use to make beehives, beekeepers paint the exterior surfaces of beehives. The paints they use provide waterproofing to the beehive and may contain antimicrobial properties. Dry wood does not rot easily.

2. Bee Navigation

Honeybees use various cues to find their way around. In the open, they combine the use of landmarks and color cues to find foraging fields and their way back to their respective beehives. In a large beekeeping operation where beehives are in close proximity to each other, painting individual beehives in different colors helps bees with navigation. The bees use landmarks to get to the apiary and can then use the color-coding to locate their respective beehives. Other cues can also be employed to help such honeybees with navigation, including directional orientation of the beehive entrance among others. When using beehive painting as a navigational aid to honeybees, keep in mind that honeybees do not see the color red, so you should avoid it.

3. Spotting and identification

Paint a beehive to see it easily when you place it out in the field. Lone beehives can be difficult to spot in large spaces if they do not stand out from the surroundings. A beehive that you paint with a color that is easy to distinguish from the surroundings is easy to spot. This is great for exhibition beehives that you use with children too. Children are stimulated by bright colors, so consider painting your beehive in a suitable color when you use it to teach and inspire children to take up beekeeping.

In addition to helping you spot a beehive, painting a beehive helps you identify it from among others. You may even include a name or code on the beehive during painting for better identification. This comes in handy when you have put your beehives together with beehives from another apiary such as during transportation to farms for pollination services. Beekeepers may use common transportation services to save costs in such scenarios. Once your beehives arrive at their destination, you are able to quickly and easily identify and start managing them.

Another situation where identifying a beehive is helped by painting is when there has been beehive theft. If you are lucky to have the thief apprehended, you will usually be required to prove that the beehive is yours before it can be returned to you. Accurately pointing out the color and any other unique markings will help you to quickly regain possession of the recovered beehive, and minimize the disruption you will undoubtedly experience in your beekeeping operation.

4. Camouflage

Apiaries in out-of-the-way locations present security challenges that are difficult to overcome. Beehives that are not painted may stand out from the environment and be easy to see. Thieves and even wild animals can then steal or attack the beehive respectively. Reduce the chances of this happening by painting your beehive to blend into the surroundings.

Camouflage painting a beehive does not need to employ extreme techniques and patterns such as in the military. A single contiguous color is often enough for the job. Honeybees are excellent navigators and will find the camouflaged beehive if it is their home. They use a combination of many methods including landmarks, the direction the hive entrance faces, color, and beehive odor among others. They, therefore, cannot get lost or fail to find their home beehive even if you camouflage the beehive.

5. Temperature control

Use paint on beehives to help honeybees control beehive temperatures. In hot climates, use light colors to reduce the heating up of the beehive. In cold climates, paint the beehive in dark colors to increase heat retention and warming up the beehive. This practice is used in many regions in the USA and across the world by beekeepers to help their honeybees with energy conservation.

Bees cooling a beehive are a resource that would be used elsewhere such as foraging. Similarly, the activity of honeybees heating up a beehive is energy-intensive and causes a significant reduction in the lifespan of individual honeybees. By helping with temperature regulation, you free up honeybees to expend their energy in other beehive activities that contribute to high yields of beehive products in your beekeeping operation.

Paint Suitable For Beehives

How to Paint a Beehive

Not all paints are suitable for use in beekeeping. Painting your beehive requires you to go for a very specific type of paint that will not harm honeybees. Various characteristics of the paint, especially its composition, determine whether the paint is suitable for use in painting a beehive. Typically, paint only the outer surfaces of beehives. Limit your painting to the areas in which bees do not come into contact. This means that you should not paint the landing board, despite its being outside the beehive and thus an exterior surface.

Avoid painting the interior or internal surfaces of the beehive to prevent honeybees from coming into contact with the paint. Honeybees polish the interior surfaces by themselves. They use propolis and resins where necessary on the interior surfaces to make the surfaces smooth and suitable for the use honeybees intend.

Painting the internal surfaces of beehives would be wasteful because these surfaces rarely come into contact with weathering elements. The internal surfaces of wooden beehives are exposed to a controlled environment. This environment does not cause any deterioration of integrity or damage to the wood.

What is VOC in Paint for Beehives?

VOC in the paint for beehives refers to the Volatile Organic Compounds that are found in paint. They can be in both water-based and oil-based paints. Manufacturers indicate VOCs in grams per liter of paint. When choosing paint for your beehive, go for the paint with the lowest number of VOCs. The levels are indicated on the paint’s container, so you only need to look and read. VOC levels are an indicator of the amount of chemicals that evaporate out of the paint as it dries. They contribute to the smell of new paint. VOCs evaporating from paint do so in a process called off-gassing. Most paints have an off-gassing period of 1 week. It is advisable that you allow more time for off-gassing after painting your beehives.

Best Paint for Beehives

The best paint for beehives has a VOC level of fifty (50) and below. If you are able to get some that has a VOC level of zero (0), then it is better. Natural paints such as milk paint are the best for painting a beehive. You should also prefer to use water-based latex paints instead of oil-based paint. Another type of paint you can use is chalk paint.

Water-based latex paints are suitable for painting beehives because they have low VOC levels and waterproof the wood of the beehive. They last for long on the beehive. Such paints are easy to acquire in the market. They are easy to use too. If you notice your water-based latex paint coming off the beehive, you may retouch it. You can also protect the coating of latex paint you apply onto a beehive using a clear coating of varnish for increased durability.

Milk paint is a type of paint that is eco-friendly and has no volatile organic compounds. It is mineral-based. In this type of paint, milk proteins are included and thus the paint’s name. Manufacturers make this paint in powder form. You will have to mix the powder with some water to turn the powder into paint. Stir the mixture well for the proper constitution and to get the best consistency with the paint. Poor constitution causes the paint to be lumpy. Upon use, milk paint gives you a matte finish.

Chalk paint is mineral-based. It often comes pre-constituted and ready to use. It has a chalky finish once it dries. The paint is odorless and dries very fast. Unfortunately, it does not render much waterproofing to wood. You, therefore, need to apply fresh coats of chalk paint to the wood of your beehives periodically.

Considerations When Choosing Paint Suitable for Beehives

Base – Paint comes in two popular types: water-based and oil-based. Generally, wood preservation is often best when you use oil-based paint. It waterproofs the wood and does not wash off easily. However, recent advances in paint technology have given us high-quality water-based paints that have the same level of waterproofing as oil-based paints upon drying. These water-based paints also last for long and do not flake off the wood as oil-based paints do in time.

Main components – Manufacturers of paints use varying components to make their paint products. Some chemical elements and compounds present in paint are not very good for use in beekeeping. They may harm honeybees, get easily into beehive products, or affect the beekeeper upon long-term exposure. Paints with such chemical components are not good for your use in your apiary. Go for paints that are safe and which will not cause you any harm or harm your honeybee colonies.

Durability – Use paints that last for a long time to paint your beehive. Some low-quality paint comes off the surfaces onto which you apply it too quickly. Exposure to the sun often causes paint to flake and then the flakes fall off the painted surface. Go for the best quality paint you can get without straining your apiary’s finances. High-quality paint has the best longevity than lower-quality paints. It is, however, usually priced higher than low-quality paint, so some beekeepers may not go for the higher quality to save money.

Light Reflectance Value – The amount of light reflected from paint affects bees and temperatures in the beehive. Paints with a high reflectance value confuse the senses of bees. Check the paint sample card for the LRV before settling on the final paint for your beehive.

Oil Based Paint for Beehives

Oil-based paint for beehives is popular in many uses. Even in beekeeping, it beats water-based paint in popularity. The main reason you might want to avoid using water-based paint and go for an oil-based paint is durability. Water-based paint tends to run off when the beehive is rained on. It also gives off a bad odor when exposed to the heat of the sun. The water paint also goes bad and gives off a very bad smell if you do not use it up within a set period of time. Oil-based paint does not have these challenges and thus sees more use in beekeeping. The major advantages and disadvantages of oil-based paint in beekeeping are:

Pros

  • Oil-based paint on beehives lasts for long before you need to paint the beehive again. It is resistant to water and the heat of the sun.
  • It is easy to apply oil-based paint onto wood.
  • There are many colors of oil-based paint available for purchase. Mixing options give you even more color options so you get the exact color you want for your beehive.
  • Oil-based paint often contains anti-microbial compounds that act against bacteria and fungi that would damage the exterior surface of the woof used to make your beehive.
  • Leftover oil paint does not go bad. You can use it to retouch your beehive even after many years in storage.
  • Oil-based paint is waterproof. It is therefore easy to clean. Gloss and semi-gloss finishes of oil paint make cleaning the beehive a simple task for you. Even with the use of some water to help with cleaning, the paint does not come off the wood or get affected in durability.

Cons

  • Oil-based paint requires significantly more time to dry than water-based paint. After you have painted the beehive, it takes longer before you can use it in your beekeeping operation.
  • Anti-microbial agents in oil-based paint can affect bees and make them susceptible to disease.
  • Chemical components of oil-based paint easily enter beehive products such as honey even when you have not painted the interior surfaces of the beehive. This lowers the quality of your beehive products and can even make them unsuitable for consumption.
  • Oil-based paint is not eco-friendly.

What Color to Paint Beehives

White paint is common on beehives. It helps with temperature regulation, especially in warm climates. The white color works for the beehive in summer by reflecting more light away than darker colors. It causes less heat to be absorbed and thus contributes to keeping the beehive comfortable for honeybees.

In colder regions of the USA, paint your beehive a dark color but not black. Dark shades of green and blue are great. The dark color helps the beehive stay warmer by causing heat absorption. This is important in the months of winter. Even with a little sunlight per day, the beehive gets warmer than it would if it were painted in color white or other light colors. It saves your honeybee colony some of the energy it would use up in heating the beehive.

Painting a beehive to help it blend into the surroundings also determines the color of paint you use. In most such cases, a dark shade of green works. This is because such beehives are often outdoors among shrubbery.

Despite these norms and advantages, you are free to paint your beehive in any color you want. This is especially true when you have many beehives in one place and are using color to help bees find their respective beehives. In such cases, use any color you want as long as it has no adverse effects on the performance of bees in the beehive. You may avoid black and bright red colors; black due to its tendency to cause overheating of the beehive and red because bees do not see the color well.

Alternatives to Painting a Beehive

Painting a beehive to protect its wood is not the only available way to increase the life of the wood. There are alternatives you can explore if you have the time and resources. Some of the alternatives are even cheaper and appropriate for use on beehives than painting the beehive. The best alternatives are:

1. Wax

Use wax on the wood of your beehive to preserve it and extend its life for 15-20 years.  Wax is a great alternative to painting beehives because it is a natural substance that bees use. It drives moisture from the wood and does not need repeated treatments. Dip the wood in hot wax for it to soak up the wax. After drying off excess wax, the beehive part is ready for use. Take care not to cause a fire when using hot wax for dipping beehive wood and parts. Very hot wax ignites, so take all safety precautions as needed.

Wax is arguably the best material to use to preserve your beehive. It lasts for a long time and is natural. This makes it friendly to bees. Additionally, wax deters the growth of fungi and bacteria. It makes the wood waterproof, so the microbes cannot easily grow on the wood. Even with exposure of the wooden surface to rainwater and the sun’s heat, wax keeps up its protective properties in the wood for many years.

One downside of using wax to preserve wood used to make beehives is its cost. Acquiring sufficient amounts of wax and the equipment required for wax treatments of beehive wood is not easy for small beekeeping operations. Even then, both beginner and experienced beekeepers can successfully use this method for beehive wood protection.

2. Tung oil

Applying tung oil on the outer surfaces of beehives is also an alternative to painting. The oil is clear and does not smell. It has no volatile elements or compounds that harm bees. The oil smells nice so it does not deter or drive away honeybees from the beehive. Tung oil is great for use on beehives because you can use it alone or as a topcoat for milk paint. Another advantage of using tung oil to protect beehive wood is that it is clear and does not hide the natural grain of the wood. This gives your beehive a beautiful natural look.

3. Varnish

Clear coats and varnish are a waterproof alternative to painting your beehive. They protect the wood and allow you to see its grain. Varnish adds color to the wood and makes it beautiful to look at. It is great for exhibition beehives. Other types of clear coats you apply on your wooden beehive also have this effect and increase the life of your beehive. Unfortunately, some varnishes and clear coats contain volatile organic compounds. They, therefore, need long drying periods and have the potential to contaminate your beehive products.

Conclusion

Painting beehives is important to preserve the wood and help bees find their respective beehives. In addition to these functional purposes of painting beehives, the paint helps with the easy identification of your beehives. Camouflage painting helps beehives blend into their surroundings when you do not want the beehives to be highly visible. The activity of painting a beehive is fun and you can use it to inspire non-beekeepers to take up beekeeping. Use the information in this article to get the best paint for your beehive and to paint it to the best results possible. You are also able to maintain apiary safety when you know how to paint a beehive following the tips we have shared with you in the article.

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Charles Grasser
Charles Grasser
1 month ago

I might suggest metal letter & number stamp sets that are available at a lot of big box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowes, Menards,etc. These will leave an almost unremovable form of identification

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