Beekeeping Supers

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One of the first tasks in keeping honey bees is learning about the types of beekeeping supers you will need. This is made a bit more difficult since the use of the term is done rather loosely in beekeeping circles. Never fear – I will strive to make this easy to understand. By the end, you will know everything you need to know about using supers on your beehives.

Various hive parts and beekeeping supers stacked on hives.

A wise beekeeper strives to learn the proper names of all the parts of a beehive. But, it is not always easy – because we beekeepers often use the same words to mean different things!!

What is a Super for a Beehive?

The word “super” is one of those common beekeeping terms that can be confusing. It is used to refer to a box or “bee box” that is part of a hive (usually a Langstroth stacked hive).

Why super? “Super” is short for superstructure. The word has origins in Latin and generally means “above”.

Historically, the smaller hive boxes (shallows or mediums) were used for the beekeeper’s honey crop. Boxes for honey were stored above or on top of the hive stack. Hence, the term “honey supers”.

Today, you will hear it used to describe hive boxes of any size. Therefore, if you are in doubt, ask. Depending on the region of the country, someone may be referring to deeps, mediums or shallows.

Small apiary with hives using different sized honey supers.

Sizes of Beekeeping Supers

A variety of boxes are part of a standard hive stack. There is no “written in stone” rule that defines the use of each box size. 

Still, beekeepers tend to favor special sizes for certain uses. All of these boxes may be called “beekeeping supers” so don’t let the terminology throw you.

  • Deep or Hive Body
  • Medium
  • Shallow

Deep Hive Body

A deep box is often used for the brood chamber (or brood box). It measures 9 5/8” in height. You will hear this called: a deep, deep super, brood nest or hive body.  

Some beekeepers use 2 deeps to give the bees room to raise young and store food. (Food the honey bees need to survive Winter.) 

Others use 1 deep and a second smaller box for the bees. It might be a medium or a shallow super that is dedicated for bee use.

Deep boxes are not normally used for the beekeeper’s honey harvest. They become very heavy when filled with honey and the weight is more than most beekeepers want to bother with. 

So, in general – a deep is not usually considered a beekeeping super – according to most beekeepers. Rather is it called a “deep box” or a “hive body”.

Medium Supers

Mediums are the same width and length as the other boxes but their height is only 6 5/8”. They are sometimes used as a second box on the hive (for bee use) in climates where the bees need more food.

This is a good option if the beekeeper does not want to use 2 deeps as their standard hive configuration. (A deep and a medium or two would get hives through the Winter in most locations.)

All bee supers hold 8 or 10 frames depending on the preference of the beekeeper. Make sure you order the right size: medium boxes = medium frames & shallow supers = shallow frames.

In fact, some apiarists choose to use medium supers for all the boxes of the hive. In this case, 3 are used together to make up a hive.

Using mediums for brood, bee honey and your honey crop has its advantages. All of the equipment fits together and you need less beekeeping equipment storage over Winter. But, each hive configuration has pros and cons.

Shallow Super Boxes

The shallow beekeeping super measures 5 7/8” tall. This is the favorite size to use for honey harvesting. Their smaller size and weight makes them easier to handle and move. These two come in 10 frame and 8 frame.

But, sometimes beekeepers add special “frame spacers” that allow the frames to be spaced a bit farther apart evenly. This allows the comb to be built our farther and makes honey extraction easier.

In most cases, if you say “honey super”, people will assume you are talking about these shallow sized boxes.

Stack of shallow honey supers with frames of drawn comb.

Number of Supers Needed

During the busy season “usually Spring”, bee supply stores are busy and you may have to wait weeks for delivery.

Any beekeeper wants to have enough boxes on hand. But, hey – those things are not cheap and they take up a lot of room too. So, how many beekeeping supers do you need for your hives?

We must talk in generalities here because each hive, location and beekeeper is different. The population of the colony determines the number of boxes that should be in use at any time. 

Giving the bees too much space is a bad idea. If they can not patrol and depend the hive interior, pests such as wax moths or Small Hive Beetles can take over.

Green hive box with frames.

Starter Colony

If you buy a new bee package, begin with 1 box – usually a deep (unless you plan to use only mediums). When the bees have filled most of this deep (brood box), it is time to add a second box

So your hive may have: 2 deeps, 1 deep and 1 medium, 1 deep and 1 shallow or 2 mediums. It is up to the beekeeper to decide. Beginner beekeepers should not rush adding too many boxes to the colony.

Unless you live in a very warm area, your colony needs at least 2 boxes for their own needs. One box is not enough to raise bee brood and store food for the cold months.

Room for Honey Storage

Now, let’s assume your have your basic hive configuration in place and full or bees. Now, they need a few honey supers to put some honey for you.

We can only speak in generalities because the amount of honey a hive produces can vary greatly-even in the same apiary. And, when considering different climates, forage conditions and more – a solid number is impossible.

Yet, I suggest you have at least 2 shallow (or medium) supers for each hive for the honey flow season. (Personally, I like to have 3-4).

Be sure to have the frames and foundation necessary to complete your hive. Leave no empty spaces inside the boxes.

Extra beekeeping supers (of any size) are nice to have on hand because they can be used temporarily to provide extra hive ventilation. They also function well to help enclose some types of internal mason jar feeders.


What are supers in beekeeping?

Traditionally, supers referred to the “superstructure” of the hive – Latin origin for “above”. It was used to describe the boxes on top of the hive stack used to store honey for the beekeeper (shallows or mediums). Today, you may hear this word used for deeps, mediums or shallows.

How many supers should you have per hive?

Begin the beehive with 1 box (usually a deep), as the colony grows add another box. Continue until you have enough boxes for your beehive to store food for Winter. This depends on your climate and location. Also, plan on having a couple of honey supers to hold the season harvest.

What time of year do you add honey supers?

When to add honey supers depends on climate and condition of the colony. In most cases, honey supers are added to the hive in the Spring before the heavy nectar flow.

Can you put too many supers on a hive?

Yes, you can have to many supers on a beehive. Give the colony as much room as they need to store honey but they must have a large enough bee population to patrol the comb. Otherwise, pests will destroy the comb and honey.

A Final Word

While you can have too much beekeeping equipment and no room to store it – it is more common to find yourself low on beekeeping supers. Keep a few extras on hand because regardless of size, they can be used for multiple purposes in an emergency. It is even possible to gather or catch a swarm using a couple of shallows if that is all you have. Don’t be caught short!

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