One thing at the top of our spring to-do list was a beehive overhaul.
My dad raised bees when I was young, so we were lucky to inherit a lot of his old equipment, including some hive boxes that needed a lot of attention. For the past 15+ years, these hive boxes had been stored in various places around my parent’s property… in the garage, in the barn, and even outside in the backyard as a tabletop grill stand!
They were full of old comb, an occasional mouse nest, spider webs, cocoons, bug remains, dirt, dust and a lot of “bee gunk.”
We spent this past weekend cleaning, repairing, and painting the hive boxes. It was gorgeous outside and it felt so good to get a whole day’s worth of fresh air! Fixing up the hives was the perfect first-weekend-of-spring activity.
Plus, it needed to be done because our new bees will be arriving in just three short weeks. Eek!
First, A Note About Foulbrood:
It is a highly contagious bee disease that will result in the death of your hives, possibly all of them. The spores that cause this disease can live in wax, honey and on wood for 40+ years.
If you are buying used equipment, the reality is that the person selling it may knowingly or unknowingly sell you contaminated equipment. If you have gotten hives from a person you do not know, or don’t fully trust their judgement or beekeeping prowess, you will want to follow the recommendations for cleaning and killing Foulbrood spores.
Also know that even if you disinfect, there is still risk that you might miss one of the microscopic spores.
My dad was an experience beekeeper who knew what Foulbrood looked like and how to watch for it. His hives didn’t have this disease, and we trust him, so we did not do any extra steps to clean for it.
Wondering how to clean and repair old beehive boxes?
This is how we did it!
We pulled all of our equipment out from the depths of the garage and set it out in the driveway so we could take proper inventory. We had been hauling home a carload of bee equipment everytime we visited my parent’s house, and were not sure exactly what we all had. Then we set up our cleaning stations and got to work!
Step 1: Cleaning the Insides of the Hive Boxes
The biggest pain was removing the 15+ year old, hardened dried bee propolis. They don’t call it “bee cement” for no reason.
That, and all the dead bug and spider remains. Bugs really creep me out. I can handle rodents just fine, but bugs- blech. Probably something I will need to get used to, living out here in the country…
My brand new hive tool was indespensible for the task of cleaning the inside of the boxes (affiliate). Afterall, that is partly what it was designed for. The flat end is a cross between a pry bar and a razor blade and it zipped most of the old propolis right off. It was an oddly satisfying task.
Some of the boxes took me five minutes, and a couple of them took closer to twenty!
Step 2: Preparing the Outside of the Boxes for Sanding
After the insides were finished, I scanned the exterior for hardware- mostly a few stapes here and there, and the occasional nail or screw.
A hammer, vicegrips, and Phillips and flat head screw driver took care of everything I encountered.
Step 3: Sanding
Karl did most of the sanding. We used a random orbital sander with 40 grit sandpaper to remove the paint from the outside of the boxes. Each box took between 10-20 minutes, depending on how many coats of paint it had and how deteriorated it was. One sandpaper pad lasted for about three hive boxes.
Next, I got ahold of the boxes again and used 100 grit sandpaper sheets to sand the top and bottom edges. They each had a few splinters that I wanted to smooth out. Not necessary unless you are some sort of perfectionist…
Next, I wiped down each box (the outside) with a damp rag to remove dust and get the surface ready for puttying and eventually painting. Then I stacked the boxes up on our walkway to dry in the sunshine.
Step 4: Wood Repair
Some of the hive boxes were missing chunks of wood or had big holes in them that needed repair. Some of the top and bottom edges were eaten away, which meant the hive boxes wouldn’t sit flush with each other when stacked- which I wanted to remedy. I used Elmer’s Indoor/Outdoor Wood Filler Max and a plastic butter knife to patch the boxes.
Once it was dry (a good 24 hours for some of the deep repairs), I sanded it smooth with fine sand paper.
I only used wood filler on the outside or top and bottom edges of the boxes. Bees are known to chew wood if it is in their way, and I didn’t want them to chew any wood filler. I really have no idea what it is made of, or if it is bee-safe, which is why I kept it on the outside.
Step 5: Paint
The fun part!
Wondering what parts of your hives and equipment to paint and what not to? I used this great explanation from one of my favorite beekeeping sites: Beverly Bess How to Paint a Beehive.
Type of Paint & Color
We used Behr Premium Plus Ultra Paint and Primer in One: Exterior Satin Enamel. We’ve used this line of interior paint in our house and have been really happy with it, so we thought it would work for the hives too. We bought a gallon, the reason being that we would need more than a quart and the price for two quarts was almost as much as a gallon. Plus, no harm having a little extra paint around.
The color is Behr’s “Cool Ashes.” Initially after I bought the paint I had buyer’s remorse for a couple days, worrying that it was too dark and would absorb too much sun and make the bees too hot.
But once I started putting it on the hive boxes, I knew it would be great. And I couldn’t be more thrilled with it! It is a light grey with a touch a blue, and almost a touch of purple in the right light. It is perfect- exactly what I was picturing in my mind. I love it when that happens…
Karl says the beehives are “classy.”
It is still too cold here to paint outside, so we set up a painting station on the upper floor of our house (please ignore our unfinished floors). We were prepared to open all the windows upstairs if the paint got too smelly. And actually it didn’t at all! I could barely smell it.
I had three staging areas:
-a waiting area for boxes that needed to be painted
-two saw horses with two 2X4’s across them as a painting station
-a drying area
The Painting Process
I used a small 4” roller with 3/8” nap and a short-handled angled brush (affiliates). This little brush is one of the best $5 I’ve ever spent. The roller was for the hive box sides and the brush was for getting inside the handles.
For you detail-lovers, this was my painting routine:
1. paint long side #1 with roller
2. paint long side #1 inside the handle with angled brush
3. walk around saw-horse to the othe side
4. paint long side #2 inside the handle with the angled brush then put angled brush down
5. paint long side #2 with roller
6. turn the box 90 degrees
7. paint short side #1 with roller
8. walk around saw-horse to the other side
9. paint short side #2 with roller
10. move the hive box to the drying area
11. bring the angled brush over and paint short side #1 and #2 inside the handles
See what I did there? Waited until after I moved the box to it’s drying spot to paint the handles, so that I could use the handles to move the box.
I also liked having a set painting routine so that I didn’t really have to think too much, I didn’t miss a side, and I made myself efficient.
I did two coats, 24 hours apart, although the paint label said a second coat could be applied after two hours.
To Paint the Top and Bottom Edges, or Not?
I chose not…well, sort of. It seems that people don’t paint the top and bottom edges because they have a tendency to stick together more on hot, humid days. And many people do paint them and don’t seem to have a problem. Since these edges are protected from the elements by being stacked on each other, I didn’t feel it necessary to paint them.
When I was rolling the sides of the box, near the top edge I put a little more pressure on the roller so that the paint went just up and over the top edge. This will insure that if the hive is stacked slightly off kilter, the edge will have at least a little protection.
The Drying Rack
This worked really well. I set wo 1X2s parallel to each other on the floor on top of newspaper. As the hive boxes were painted they were placed on the 1X2s. Once the first row was full, another set of 1X2s was placed on top of the hive boxes so that I could stack more on top of those. (the color of the hives is much lighter in this picture than it is in real life)
That’s it! We let them dry for 24 hours and then moved them back to the garage, filled them with brand new frames, and there they sit, awaiting their new residents.
And in true Extreme Home Makeover fashion, just imagine Ty Pennington with a megaphone shouting: “bus driver! move that bus!”
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