New Montgomery College course creates a buzz -- Gazette.Net


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Gregg Gochnour offered an unusual warning Tuesday to his students as they set out for a greenhouse on Montgomery College’s Germantown campus.

“You guys are gonna get sticky,” he said.

Gochnour was leading the 15 or so students in their first lesson for a course that might appeal to those interested in insects or harboring a sweet tooth: beekeeping.

This summer marks the first time the college has offered the course that Gochnour said should help students learn about topics including the life cycles and functions of different kinds of honeybees, how to manage bee colonies, and identifying parasites and pathogens that can hurt the bees.

The two-credit class meets twice a week at the Germantown campus until early August.

The new course was created in response to concerns about colony collapse disorder, said Steve Dubik, a professor and program coordinator for the Landscape Technology Program at the Germantown campus.

Scientists say a number of factors may be causing the disorder, in which worker bees abandon a hive and the other bees therefore die off, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

Dubik said a major concern related to colony collapse has been a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which can weaken bees so they’re susceptible to other threats such as mites and cold weather.

The beekeeping students will work with two hives that have a queen bee and several hundred worker bees, Dubik said.

He said the hope is to offer the class in next year’s spring semester and to possibly expand it to the college’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus.

On Tuesday, the students — mostly older individuals with a few younger participants — helped Gochnour extract honey from panels of honeycomb from his personal hives using several tools. Some of the students used a hot knife that cut off strips of honey and a hand-cranked machine that spun out the golden, sweet-smelling goo from the hexagonal cells.

Gochnour has an evident passion for the busy buzzing creatures he has worked with since 1974 and the honey they produce.

“I eat it on my cereal in the morning,” said the Rockville High School science teacher, who also inspects beehives for the Maryland Department of Agriculture and enters his honey in contests around the state.

Gochnour told the students he gets a different yield of honey each year, depending on factors such as weather.

“It’s like any other kind of agriculture thing — it’s a gamble,” he said.

Patricia Neame, a master gardener for Montgomery County, said she decided to take the course to earn educational hours for her job, be able to provide information to her clients about beekeeping, and just learn more about bees, which her daughter studied for a master’s degree.

She is starting the class with “zero” beekeeping experience, she said, but thinks it might turn into a personal hobby.

“We may have bees in the future,” Neame said.

Paul Wolfe — an arborist from Rockville who “couldn’t get enough” of the freshly cut honey — said he finds beekeeping “fascinating” and that bees fit into his other interests related to trees and their pollination.

Wolfe said that, especially in light of the current threats to honeybees, his hope is to have his own hives and take part in the honey-making process he described as an adventure.

“I think the more people who are involved in honeybee production, it’s going to be good for all of us,” he said.

lpowers@gazette.net