Every beeyard, large or small, starts at the workbench. Beekeepers generally like the whole process of assembling their equipment, and spend a lot of time sourcing well made parts, putting in the extra time and expense it takes to make bee boxes and frames robust and durable. There are few pleasures equal to puttering happily in the garage, hammering together next summer’s equipment, dreaming of the season to come while snowflakes drift past the window…
But painting? Can you hear a collective groan at the thought?
And the topic gets far less respect than it deserves. My first outyard was a small, blackberry choked field tucked in the back of a boarding stable operation. The owners wanted honey to sell at the farm gate, and I needed a secluded spot for bees. The one obstacle to our mutual success was the attitude of the horse owners, who were rightly concerned at the proximity of their beloved mounts to my beloved bees. Aware that we had to do a bit of PR to get the ladies on side, I deliberately chose Easter egg paint colours, bought a few stencils, and made the hives exceptionally pretty. I hewed the blackberries back to the fencelines, and planted a meditation walk in the design of a spoked wheel, a bee hive at every outside spoke intersection and a giant Joe Pye Weed at the centre of all. The beds were filled with flowers, we placed some chairs and a comfy bench, and waited. The ladies loved it. The pastel hives were sweet and inviting, not frightening. The benches and chairs got lots of use. One lady even weeded for me, enjoying the flowers and the retreat-like feel of the beeyard. There were no anxious inquiries about bees stinging horses. The PR worked.
Just cleared and newly planted!
A bit later in the year, and a bit higgeldy-piggeldy! The cleome was over 6’…
I got loud guffaws from fellow beekeepers at the local club, where tradition dictated the thrifty practice of buying mis-tints at a deep discount and painting hives…what-ev-errr.
Usually dull, military greens, muddy orange-browns, and sundry other dirty, dark colours. A quilter, a lover of colour, I found these combinations dispiriting.
Worse, I felt they said something unfortunate: that bees were not deserving of our attention, respect, or engagement.
Paint is expensive, but I had no desire to work in an ugly beeyard.
When a neighbour reacted badly to a midsummer swarm, I decided to paint the home hives over again, leaving the pastels behind and embracing a modern, sophisticated colour scheme that blended nicely into the shrubberies. Camouflage of a different sort! (click on palettes to see enlarged version)
How to hide bees in an urban garden!
And in a local community garden, we reworked that urban palette but included a warm, creamy yellow to remind visitors of the treasure being stored up in the hives: glorious wildflower honey.
Benjamin Moore Honeywheat
I have used Benjamin Moore paints and colour schemes because they have a very user friendly website that suggests colour combinations for you. And their colour range is extremely wide, with something for everyone! Here are a few combinations that work very nicely in the beeyard, from subtle to colourful:
Guilford Green, the Color of the Year for 2015, paired with Shadow Grey and Aloe Vera.
A fresh and elegant palette, Spring Purple paired with Swept Away and White Christmas.
A bolder purple, Mystical Grape with Veranda View and Ice Mist.
Who can resist Bumble Bee Yellow?! With Stampede and Silver Sage.
A little citrusy zing: Oriole with Mascarpone and Pear Green.
A warmer urban palette…Early Morning with Cream Silk and Wilmington Tan.
Honeywheat and a quiet blue, Denim Wash and Gardenia.
Another variation on the Honeywheat theme, here with the greener Montpelier and White Christmas.
So, there is the fun part of painting! Lately I have been using Alpine White (nice, creamy white, easier on the eyes in sunshine than a bright white), Blue Viola (periwinkle blue being my favourite colour) and Gray Horse, with a bit of Honeywheat thrown in.
The finished product.
I make sure that no two hives in a beeyard have the same colour mix of boxes…if one hive has a white lower super, the next one has a blue one, etc., making it less likely the bees will drift. If I get time this winter I will stencil a lighter shade of thick yellow onto the Honeywheat boxes to suggest the cell design in the combs…that idea will go over very nicely in the community garden, both with visitors, honey customers and the school groups we have touring through.
The pleasing colour schemes engage those who are strangers to and afraid of bees: we have found that, as in cookery, presentation makes a real difference to consumer attitude! Anxiety in the beeyard is, I am certain, much reduced when it looks like a great place to “bee”.
And that extra touch gives the beekeeper an extra dimension of pleasure!
Given our chilly Pacific Northwest summers, we site our hives in full sunlight: on the days it actually feels like summer, any dark paints will severely overheat the hive. Mid tones and lights are a better bet…in most hives it is easier for the bees to cluster and stay warm than to ventilate and stay cool.
I put two coats of exterior latex in either satin or semi-gloss onto the boxes, brushing the handle area first then rolling with a 4″ roller the rest of the box surface.
Painting boxes is much, much easier if you set up a 2 x 4 board to hang them on as you paint. I sandwich my board into the jaws of my Workmate bench, hang the boxes off either end (up to 8 at a time) and paint on the grass so that drips don’t matter. You rotate the boxes as you finish each side, and if you don’t have a Workmate setup, you can hang your 2 x 4 between supports.
So much for Art, here comes the Science.
Once the boxes are done and dry, I take a wallpaper stripping tool and rough up the INTERIOR of the boxes.
Recent research from the Beaver Lodge facility indicates that if given a rough lumber interior, bees will propolize the walls of their hives, as they do in nature in hollow trees. This cuts down on disease transference (particularly as in the wild they propolize all around their doorway…a bit hard to do in a Langstroth, but you can smear propolis along the landing board so the bees must walk across it).
To roughen the interior of purchased bee boxes, which alas are made smooth on both sides (stop that!), a wallpaper stripping tool is the bomb:
Idea courtesy of Michael Jaross, Mount Baker Beekeeping Club!
Note the little wheels of teeth; they do a great job of roughing up the interior of your bee boxes. Pay special attention to the areas near to where bees will enter. If you are in high density bee areas, as I am, any edge you can get in lowering your exposure to AFB/EFB and other diseases is welcome. Hoping you will all post colour ideas of your own.