The Boxes on a Langstroth Hive Explained
Brood boxes, supers, deeps, mediums, shallows – these are all names for the three different types of boxes you can have on your Langstroth beehive. It makes buying beekeeping equipment flat out confusing. The good news is that it's actually very simple. In short, there are three different heights for the boxes you can put on your beehive. They are deep, medium and shallow. There are additional names for these boxes, but what's most important is that you know the dimensions when purchasing the equipment. although dimensions vary by country the deep is usually 9-5/8", the medium is 6-5/8", and the shallow is 5-3/4".
Let's break them down one-by-one.
The Deep Box
The deep box is sometimes called the brood box or the hive body. It is the deepest box you can put on a Langstroth hive. It measures approximately 9 5/8" deep.
This box is often used when first starting your beehive. You would purchase bees and put them into a single brood/deep box. Once this box gets full, the beekeeper will then add another box on top. this second box can be either another deep or a medium or a shallow.
Most beekeepers start their hive with two deep boxes because these boxes are mostly brood and so not as heavy. They will then use mediums or shallows for the rest of the hive because that is where the honey is stored and honey is heavy! You do not usually want to use just deep boxes on your hive or it will get very heavy. However, the Flow Hive honey box is a deep. When full it is about 70lb, but sometimes more.
The Medium Box
The medium box is sometimes referred to as the Western. It's 6-5/8" tall, making it taller than a shallow and shorter than a deep. The best way to look at it is that it's a hybrid between a deep and a shallow. If you want to fit a little extra honey into your box, you could use mediums instead of shallows and your box would be roughly 55lb instead of 40lb. Still a manageable weight, and gives you more space for honey.
What some beekeepers do is ditch the shallows and the deeps and just use mediums. This is a great way to go and something I wish I had done when I was starting out. It makes splitting hives and swapping frames much easier.
The medium box isn't a box you'll find on every beekeeping supply website. It's not as common as the other two boxes.
The Honey Super
The honey super is just 1" shorter than the medium box. When full it's about 15lb lighter than the medium. Either the beekeeper will use honey supers OR they will use mediums. There is no need to use both.
If you want to save your back, go with supers. This box is sometimes called the shallow box because it is 5 3/4" tall.
Your hive set up options
How the Langstroth hive works is that you start with one box, and put bees inside it. Once that box is at least 2/3 full, you add another box on top. Once that second box is at least 2/3 full, you add another box on top. You keep doing this until you're ready to harvest honey or the bees stop bringing in honey and don't any more space.
The Most Common Set Up
Usually, beekeepers start with the deep box as the first box. Then they add a second deep box which will usually be half brood and half honey. After the second deep box, they will add honey supers on top. When buying equipment for this set up, you would want to purchase 2 deep boxes, 2 honey supers and 40 deep frames and 40 honey super frames.
If you're OK with the extra 15lb of weight, some people use 2 mediums instead of honey supers.
The Easiest Way to Get Started
You can make things easy and just buy the hive kit that most beekeeping supply companies sell. It comes with 2 deep boxes with frames and 2 honey supers with frames.
If you want to keep things as simple as possible and make splitting hives and preventing swarming easier, then you can buy all medium boxes. I would purchase 4-5. Most hives will need 4 boxes, but if your bees are strong or there's a lot of honey for them to gather, you'll need 5.
The downside to using all mediums is that if you purchase a nuc (a starter beehive) it will come on deep frames and they will not fit inside your medium box. You will have to buy a package of bees.
The other downside is that the boxes are 15lb heavier than the honey super, so not the lightest option and 2 deep boxes is equivalent to 3 medium supers. This means you may need to buy extra equipment.
The Lightest Option
What I do is I have one deep box on every hive. This is the first box or the lowest box in the stack. Then I put shallows/honey supers up above. If you go this route, you'll need 1 deep and 3 supers for every hive. If the hive is strong and there's enough food for the bees to gather, you may need 1 extra super.
The benefit to this option is that this is the least amount of weight you'll have to lift. The downside is that you may need an extra box.
The Cheapest Option
If you want the least amount of boxes and frames to harvest, you can use all deep boxes.
This may can save you money and time. There's less assembly and fewer frames to harvest, but keep in mind that this will be very heavy. This is what the Flow Hive does. The box, when full, will be over 70lb, but you'll need just one deep box for your honey instead of 2 mediums or 2-3 shallows.
The equipment names are links to purchase them at dadant.com. There are many other beekeeping supply websites. This is the one I use because I've found that their equipment is a high quality and it is close to our farm. I once had a helmet strap crack in half the third time I put it on my head and a hive tool snap in two! I now fork over the extra money and buy from Dadant. I do not receive any compensation from Dadant for recommending their equipment and there are numerous other supply companies that are much smaller all over the world that you may want to check out. You can save quite a bit if you purchase the equipment unassembled and unpainted, but there are also options for starter kits that come with all the parts assembled and ready to go!
Some Additional Things to Keep In Mind
If you're concerned about not being able to lift 40+lb boxes, you can opt for the 8 frame boxes. The standard size for all the boxes I described above is 10 frames. This simply means that 10 frames fit into the box. however, you can purchase an 8 frame box. This will make the box weigh a lot less. Just keep in mind that you may need to buy an extra box to make up for the loss of space for frames.
Very important! Whatever size box you choose - 8 fame vs/ 10 frame - you have to make every box an 8 or 10 frame. You cannot mix and match 8 and 10 frames boxes.
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