I don’t think there’s anything more confusing to a beginning beekeeper than the names of all the boxes used in a Langstroth hive. Not only do different people use different names, but they use the boxes for different purposes. You can get tangled up in a hurry. Here’s a summary that may clear things up . . . or make it worse. The measurements I give are for the height of the boxes and they are approximate—different manufacturers vary them slightly.
First, a note about supers: The word “super” is short for “superstructure” and it refers to a box that goes on top of the regular colony. It usually refers to the boxes in which honey is stored. However, lots of people use the word “super” for any of the boxes. Although this is technically incorrect, you have to be ready to hear it.
- 9 5/8 inches: These are called hive bodies, deeps, or brood boxes. They make up the “living quarters” of the hive. This is the place where the eggs are laid and the brood is raised. It is common to see 1, 2, or 3 of these permanent boxes making up a hive. However, the living quarters doesn’t have to be made of deeps—it can also be made of mediums, or deeps and mediums combined. If you say “deep,” people will know exactly what you mean.
- 6 5/8 inches: These are called mediums, Illinois supers, or western supers. I’ve read that they originated in Illinois. I suppose if you live in the east, then Illinois is west, but if you live in the west, Illinois is east. Whatever. Call them mediums and save yourself the mental exercise. Mediums are often used as honey supers, but they may also be used as brood boxes. You can call them “medium supers” or “medium brood boxes,” depending on how you use them.
- 5¾ inches: These are called shallows and they are almost always used as honey supers. But don’t be confused! A shallow is deeper than either a section honey super or a Ross Round super.
- 4¾ inches: These are called section supers. They are not so common any more, but you can still buy them. They are used for making comb honey in wooden section boxes. A section super is deeper than a Ross Round super but shallower than a shallow. There will be a quiz.
- 4½ inches: These are called Ross Round supers and they are used for making comb honey in round plastic boxes. They are the shallowest of any of the boxes.
As I said, the manufacturers vary the size of these boxes about a sixteenth of an inch in height, but also sometimes in length and width as well. It is easiest to buy all your equipment from one place but, if you don’t, you can still make them work together—especially if you have some patience and a few tools. And knowing all the terminology for these parts will make communicating with other beekeepers a lot easier.
Honey Bee Suite