Battle of the Supers: Mediums vs Deeps

I once heard it called “the old man’s super”.  When I first saw one, I thought it looked to small to hold any significant amount of honey.  You’d have to stack so many of these on top of the hive to give the bees enough room.  Yes, I am speaking of the medium honey super.  Fifteen years ago we decided to start using these smaller boxes in our family bee business and soon discovered why mediums are far superior to using deeps as honey supers.

For most of my early years working in the family bee business all I ever knew was deeps.  We used deeps for the brood boxes as well as the honey supers.  There is one main advantage to this setup and that is all the equipment is uniform.  This is particularly convenient when frames need to be swapped from one box to another or from one hive to another.  The second advantage is fewer supers to extract.

Advantages of Medium Honey Supers

    • Light weight – easier to lift and carry
    • Bees clear out of super much faster when pulling honey
    • More flexibly when adding room to the hive
    • Easier to extract – less ware and tear on equipment

Most beekeepers, me included, will be faced with back problems.  With all the bending and lifting associated with the work, all beekeepers will strain their back at one time or another.  A medium super full of honey may reach 40-50 pounds.  A deep box packed with honey weighs in at around 85 pounds.  I can lift mediums all day long and not hurt my back.  In addition, the lighter weight supers allow your children and other friends to begin helping at an earlier age.  When I go to collect honey I found that a 12 – 14 year old can carry a medium super full of honey while a full deep can’t pick up a loaded until they are 16 or older.

I found another huge advantage is how fast the bees clear out of a medium super once you put the fume board on top; about half the time compared with the full-depth super.  As a sideline beekeeper I will usually collect honey from multiple locations in one day.  Waiting too long for the bees to leave the super will decrease your productivity for the day.  When the conditions are right a fume board will clear all the bees out of a medium super in less than five minutes.

When it is time to start adding supers at the beginning of the summer I like the flexibility that mediums give me.  As I inspect each hive I determine if it needs one, two or three medium supers added.  I don’t like to add more space than the hive can effectively work.  Sometimes when using deeps, one super is too much additional room.

Lastly, extracting mediums is quicker.  Some beekeepers may ask how this could be since you do end up extracting more supers and thus more frames.  First of all many extractors will hold more medium frames than deeps, thus more frames are extracted in each batch (my extractor holds twenty percent more).  Medium frames are uncapped easier than deeps and the honey spins out quicker, shorting the run time of each batch.

In conclusion I have found that most hobby beekeepers use the medium honey super while sideline and commercial beekeepers lean more towards using all deep equipment.  My preference in using mediums is such that I am now investigating converting my brood boxes from two deeps per hive to three mediums.

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