Most beekeepers use deep boxes (9 5/8") for their brood chambers. So it’s almost universal when you see nucs offered or ‘single story’ hives for sale that they are using deep frames. But the deep is not the only size useable for brood chambers. In fact, when hobbyist and sideliners were asked if there was anything they would do different if they could go back and start again they often answer that they wished they had started with all medium (6 5/8") boxes. Why?
- Weight. A deep box full of honey can weigh 90-100 pounds or more when full of honey. This may not be a big deal for the young bodybuilder. But most of us don’t fit that description and boxes seem to get heavier the more you have to move. Plus we all are getting older and our ability to lift dozens of 100 pound boxes in the summer heat won’t be getting better. It also may help prevent or delay back problems and may allow younger beekeepers to help out.
- Interchangeability. (or One Size Fits All). There is nothing better to start a swarm or package on than drawn comb. But unless you have a dead out, who has spare drawn deep comb when you need it. When you are running all medium boxes you simply need to grab a honey super and call it a brood chamber. There is only once size you need to buy, assemble and carry around with you regardless of what you need to do with the hive. When it comes to harvest time, if there is a frame of brood in the honey super because the queen got past the excluder (or you don’t use one), then just swap the frame with a frame of honey from below. You can’t do that with a mix of medium and deep boxes.
- Cost. Foundation and the frames themselves often slightly cheaper. Plus if you build your own boxes, 1×8 boards are far more available and cheaper for building medium (6 5/8") boxes than the 1×12 boards required for deep boxes (9 5/8").
- Extracting. Medium frames are simply easier to handle when uncapping. Plus, many extractors will handle more medium frames than they will deep frames. My extractor will only handle 10 deeps, but it will handle 20 mediums.
Of course it’s not all roses. You will need 3 medium boxes to have the equivalent space of 2 deep boxes. So this means you will need more frames and boxes and it will likely cost you a bit more in total (at least for the frames). It’s also more frames to look though when trying to find the queen, though there are tricks like placing queen excluders between the boxes 4 days in advance that will actually make it easier.
(Note: The picture shows medium and deep frames and is from Mann Lake’s catalog, I didn’t have any new deeps handy for a picture).