“What color should we paint our hive?” I asked Greg over breakfast yesterday.
Sounds like a simple enough question right? A dilemma no more difficult than choosing a color when you buy a new car or you paint an old chair. But like everything else regarding our bees, we had a lot to learn even in the simple matter of painting our hive.
It turns out the first question is really, Do you paint the hive? The folks at Betterbee suggest that our hive can be painted, but don’t say that it should or must be painted. And the advice, if that’s what you want to call it, stopped there. So we turned to our copy of Starting Right With Bees and then of course to the internet where we found that opinions on painting a hive varied as widely as the paint colors on a Benjamin Moore color deck. At last we decided, yes, we would paint the hive.
So we were back to our original question, what color? I thought back to Grandpap Peters’ hives; they were all white. Come to think of it I couldn’t remember seeing a hive of our type that wasn’t white. I wasn’t exactly opposed to white myself, but with the matter of how our neighbors would react to the hives still an unknown, I favored something more subtle. Neighbors aside, I wondered if hive color mattered to the bees. To some this might seem like a sophisticated notion, but we’re talking about a society that can kill and create their own queen and “dances” to communicate food source information. So yes, I thought it was absolutely plausible that they would have a preference when it came to paint color.
Alas, I couldn’t find any data regarding the effects of hive color on honey production or swarming rates. We were back to square one. I suggested we camouflage the hive and paint it the color of our house, which could be described as a cross between olive green and mud brown, a dark color. Greg worried that the dark color would cause the hive to overheat when exposed to direct sunlight.
“It won’t get much sun if we put it on the south side of the deck under the maple tree,” I argued. “Besides, the roof is galvanized metal, which will reflect the sun.”
The debate continued complete with a discussion of albedo effects and passive cooling in the way it only could between two engineers.
Turns out white is the color of choice for most beekeepers because it makes the hives easy to spot. That left one final, but perhaps most important consideration: can the type of paint used affect, or more specifically, harm the bees? Painting the hive had become a thesis project in and of itself. With each step, each question, we were humbled by how much we didn’t know. Could we really pull this off? Had we been too naïve about this urban beekeeping adventure, somehow drunk on honey and notions of saving the planet one bee at a time?
I tried to calm myself with a few deep breaths, but I was still atwitter. It was time to call my bee mentor cum bee therapist, Bob Kress of Kress Apiary in Burns Harbor, Indiana. I needed some reassurance that we weren’t crazy or ill-suited for raising bees.
Bob’s gentle voice provided all the soothing I needed. As for the paint, well, it was starting to seem like an easy question again.
Water-based exterior paint.
Color doesn’t matter.
Greg spent the remainder of the afternoon painting the hive. He surprised me by painting the top cover the same red color as the gables of our house. I swooned over the resemblance of our bees’ new home to our own home. Soon enough the pretty hive would be full of bees. And I was back to believing that yes, we could really do this.