June 3, 2020

Why Is It Called a Super?

With all the terms and jargon that go with beekeeping, knowing the underlying meaning of words may help you remember their uses. Beware of the lazy verbal trap of calling every box a super.

According to the dictionary, a definition of “super” is:

A prefix from Latin, with the basic meaning “above, beyond.” Words formed with super- have the following general senses: “to place or be placed above or over” (superimpose, supersede), “a thing placed over or added to another” (superscript; superstructure; supertax), “situated over” (superficial; superlunary) and, more figuratively, “an individual, thing, or property that exceeds customary norms or levels” (superalloy; superconductivity; superman; superstar).

Thus we can see that the reasons early beekeepers gave the name “super” to those boxes in a Langstroth hive that hold excess honey were not only the location of the boxes on the top of the hive, but also the fact that the honey stored there is honey that exceeds the level needed for the cluster of bees to get through winter. Their honey is stored at the sides and upper areas in the brood chamber.

Hive Bodies - Courtesy of The Honey Exchange in Portland

Hive Bodies – Courtesy of The Honey Exchange in Portland

Interestingly, normal dictionaries don’t have the definition of “super” as a noun (as beekeepers use it), but by now you should realize we aren’t normal.

A deep (box) is the standard box from which everything else is measured. A shallow (box) is half the height of a deep, and a medium (box) is three-quarters the height of a deep. Shallows are used as supers, while mediums can be used as supers and/or brood boxes. A brood box is one of the lower boxes of a colony, in which brood is being raised. The brood nest, or cluster, is inside the brood boxes. Sometimes the whole area containing the brood nest is called the brood chamber. Beekeepers usually use two deep brood boxes for a brood chamber, but some use three mediums for a brood chamber, and this configuration has virtually the same total volume.

Those who raise comb honey use just one deep brood box during a strong nectar flow, to get the bees working better in the comb-honey supers.

Some beekeepers overwinter a colony in a brood chamber made of two deeps and a shallow, or two deeps and a medium. This is a way to really make sure the overwintering bees have enough honey to eat.

Many books use the term “hive body” to refer to any box of any kind. This is the proper term to use when speaking of boxes in a general sense, and it will not cause confusion.

“Hive Body” is the proper phrase to use when speaking of boxes in a general sense.

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