Pine, cedar, poplar and cypress are common woods used for bee hives. All woods have positives and negatives, especially when used for beekeeping equipment. In Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, cypress and pine are both popular woods.
Pine is popular because it is inexpensive, grows quickly and is easy to cut. Cypress is popular as it grows slowly in wet areas, creating a denser wood with tight growth rings. The tight rings and naturally present preservative cypressene minimizes decay, allowing cypress bee hives to last longer than any beekeeper does.
Cypress wood compared to pine wood for bee hives
Standard beekeeping equipment in the US is made from 3/4-inch thick pine wood. The pine used for bee hives and 2x4's is naturally a porous wood. When alive, trees use channels in the trunk to move water and sap up and down. When cut for lumber, these channels dry out and hold air instead of water/sap. This makes the wood light and easy to work with, but the channels are porous and hold water, making them rot quicker. Alternatively, cypress naturally has tighter growth rings and less channels between growth rings.
When buying bee boxes, if reducing upfront expenses is important, pine is an ideal wood for bee hives. Pine requires several coats of paint and maintenance to prevent rot, but can serve you and your bees well for many years. Cypress on the other hand, can cost more upfront but will hold up well under use and last a century, easily. Proving a better investment in the long term and a more beautiful wood to use. It can actually be left unpainted because of cypress natural resistance to decay.
Isn't cypress not as good as it used to be?
Cypress wood isn't the same as when first harvested (in early 1900's). The "old growth" cypress from large trees is hard to find in the wild. If harvested, the wood is so valuable it wouldn't be turned into bee boxes. Modern cypress is called "new growth or second growth" cypress, but "old growth" and "new growth" come from the same tree, Bald Cypress. The "new growth" cypress doesn't have the same dense core as the giant trees from the 1900's, but because cypress grows in or near water, it is a very dense piece of wood. The water actually stalls the growth of the trees, creating tight growth rings and reducing the air pockets that develop during drying.
The resistance to rot and pest infestation that cypress claims, mostly belongs to the "old growth" trees from the 1900's. Today's cypress wood does contain the same rot and weather resistant properties from the natural preservative cypressene, just not in the same density as the old trees. The USDA still classifies "new growth" cypress to be moderately decay resistant; as well as moderately heavy, moderately strong and moderately hard. Sounds like a good, affordable, long lasting wood for bee hives. Compared side by side with pine, cypress is always much denser and stronger then pine.
All of our langstroth equipment is made from cypress wood. For the reasons listed above, but also because we use cypress wood for our own bees. We love using our 7/8-inch cypress bee hives because they work so well for us. The strength, eye appeal and durability of our equipment is incredible. Neither our bees or us are dissapointed with cypress and you won't be either.