Paint for beekeeping hives

Paint for Natural Beekeeping Hives

Painted Warre beehive

Warre hive, Natural Beekeeping Trust

‘Eco-friendly’ and ‘preservative’ is virtually an oxymoron.  The very nature of biodegradability is rotting!  So when it comes to beehives how do you get the most out of your wood?

Whether to paint depends on the wood

Hives (in the UK) are generally made from one of two soft woods: Western Red Cedar and Douglas fir.  Red cedar (Thuja plicata) has preservative properties in its oils whereas Douglas fir does not.  This means that Douglas fir, the cheaper of the two woods, requires additional protection from the elements if it is to last for any length of time.

Western red cedar

Red cedar doesn’t need to be painted.  In fact it is inadvisable to try and paint it before it has weathered outdoors for at least a year as the paint can react with the oils.  That would mean weathering it before introducing bees, you’d have to be pretty committed to the decoration.

Petroleum oil

Painted Warre hive

Warre hive, Natural Beekeeping Trust

Paints are generally oil-based and made from by-products of the petroleum industry.  Eco-friendly paints tend to be water-based and therefore less toxic to the environment.  Certainly the bees can do without any more toxins than are already circulating on their environment so we can help them by protecting such hives with a safer paint.  Oil is better at keeping out moisture than water however so water-based paints won’t match the oil-based paints for longevity.  The question is would you rather focus on the longevity of your hive or your bees?!

The bottom line – how much?

The drawback?  Cost.  These paints come in the most gorgeous, subtle colours that modern ‘brassy’ paints rarely achieve but with a potentially prohibitive price tag. Three quarters of a litre can set you back a whopping £27!  But that will provide at least the three coats recommended to keep the hive looking good for years without having to reapply (not something you can attempt once inhabited!).

Natural oils

You may find recommended the use of oil mixed with beeswax which according to a spokesman from eco-paint supplier IEKO, can lead to moulds growing.  Painting a pine beehive will still work out cheaper than a red cedar hive in most cases and if you have a creative bent you can make the hives look stunning.  The bees have an ability to recognize pattern and if you intend to have many hives can help them find their way back to the right home.  Bees see the red part of the colour spectrum poorly whereas blue stands out for them.

Gloss, emulsion, eggshell?

Finding which paint to use from the complex array on offer is surprisingly hard!  If it has to be an exterior paint then that narrows the choice but it isn’t quite so straight forward.  For example IEKO recommend eggshell for beehives yet it is otherwise described as an interior paint.

Eco-paint companies: IEKO, Auro, earthborn

Thank you to the Natural Beekeeping Trust for their fabulous photos