What is the Difference Between a Brood Box and a Super?

The wonderful thing about beekeeping is the precision used to name various beekeeping implements. A hive tool is a tool you use in a hive. A smoker is a tool you use to produce smoke. In this article, we will help you understand two components whose names don’t immediately advertise what they are about, but it’s not complicated. Whether you intend to keep bees for honey or leisure, the brood box and super will be part of your beekeeping experience.

The Key Differences Between Brood Boxes and Supers

A brood box, also known as a hive body, is the home of the queen bee and her brood. It sits at the bottom of the hive and forms the base of the structure. The queen lays her eggs in the cells within the brood box, where the young bees grow and develop. The brood box also contains cells for pollen and nectar storage, which the workers consume to feed the brood.

On the other hand, a super, often referred to as a honey super, is the hive box used primarily for honey storage. Unlike the brood box, the super usually contains only honey in the cells, rather than brood or pollen. It is positioned above the brood box and may be separated using a queen excluder, which prevents the queen from laying eggs in the super.

There are three standard sizes of boxes used in beekeeping, deep, medium-deep, and shallow. Deep boxes, also called hive bodies or brood boxes, are primarily intended for raising brood and storing pollen. Shallow boxes, often labeled as supers or honey supers, are designed for honey production. Medium deeps can be used as a brood box or a honey super. 

Deep brood boxes measure approximately 9.5 inches in height, while medium and shallow boxes measure 6.25 and 5.75 inches, respectively. While deeper supers can hold more honey, they also become significantly heavier to lift and transport when full. They would be a nuisance as honey supers. Beekeepers need to consider the trade-off between honey storage capacity and ease of handling when choosing super sizes.

When it comes to beehive management and maintenance, brood boxes and supers serve different purposes. During regular hive inspections, beekeepers will primarily focus on the brood box to locate the queen and assess the colony’s health. The brood box is a permanent fixture in the hive. In contrast, supers are frequently added during nectar flows and removed for honey extraction.

Both brood boxes and honey supers are designed to work together, creating an optimal environment for honey production and colony growth. By understanding the distinct roles of these components within the beehive, beekeepers can better manage their hives and provide essential support for their bees.

Deciding on the Right Setup for Your Hive

While structurally similar, the function of these two boxes is the key to deciding on the right setup for your hive. A common hive arrangement involves using two full-depth supers as brood boxes located at the bottom of the hive, with several medium supers for honey storage above them.

Adding a new super involves carefully considering the current state of the colony. As a rule, you should only add a super when the bees have covered 7 of the 10 frames in the existing box. Some factors to consider when deciding on the right setup for your hive:

  • Climate: Colder climates may require additional brood boxes to allow a larger bee population to keep the colony warm.
  • Honey production goals: If honey production is a priority, adding more supers can help increase storage capacity.
  • Weight and handling: Full supers can become heavy and challenging to lift, especially for beginners or those with physical limitations like back problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the function of a brood box?

The primary function of a brood box, also known as a brood chamber, is to provide a space for the queen bee to lay her eggs, called brood. This is the area where new bees are raised and nurtured.

What is the purpose of a super in a beehive?

A super is the hive box that sits above the brood box. It’s where worker bees store honey, pollen, and other food resources for the colony. Supers are removed to harvest honey or reduce the hive’s size during winter.

Are brood boxes and supers interchangeable in a beehive?

If the boxes are empty and the same size, you can use them interchangeably. For instance, if you have an empty medium-deep super from which you previously harvested honey, and you need to split a colony, you can use that medium-deep honey super as a brood box and place other medium or shallow boxes above as the colony expands. Do not place larger boxes on top of smaller ones because that can affect the equilibrium of the hive, causing it to tip over.

When should a beekeeper add a super to their hive?

A new super should be added once the existing brood box and supers are well-populated and the bees have built up a substantial amount of honeycomb. This ensures that there are enough resources and bees to warrant the addition of another compartment for honey storage.


In summary, the main difference between a brood box and a super lies in their respective functions within a beehive. The brood box serves as the home for the queen bee and a space for her to lay eggs, ultimately nurturing the growth of new bees1. On the other hand, a super is designed to store surplus honey produced by the worker bees2.

Proper care and maintenance are necessary for successful beekeeping. This includes regularly inspecting brood boxes and supers, as well as addressing any potential issues that may arise.

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