Gifted and Talented resource teacher abuzz over bees

During the school year, the hallways at Mount View Middle School are buzzing with students. During the summer, Gifted and Talented resource teacher Shelley Stout deals with a different kind of buzzing.

Tucked into a far corner of Stout's Ellicott City property are two hives, each swarming with 20,000-30,000 honey bees.

"It's been fascinating," Stout said. "I was a science teacher before I was G/T, and I've always been fascinated by bees. I don't know why. I don't know what's taken me to this point, really."

Stout began her hives earlier this year, after a six-week course with the Howard County Beekeepers Association. She had first learned of the group in January, during a Green Day — an environmentally centered field day — for Mount View and Marriotts Ridge High School students where the association had an information booth. Stout's interest was piqued, she said, and she flew headfirst into her new endeavor.

"That's just how I am," she said. "I want a pond in the backyard, I'll grab a shovel. We want trees, we plant trees. The hives, those are all mine."

She ordered two starter hives — complete with bees — and set them up in mid-June. The two hives sit on tree stumps, and are named Baltimore and Belfast, the latter the name of the town in Maine where Stout's family often vacations. In the Baltimore hive, the queen is named Hon; in the Belfast hive, the queen was named Blueberry. However, Belfast is currently without a queen, Stout said, and she has to order a new one from her supplier before the hive completely dies.

Stout said she checks on the hives about once every two weeks. Dressed in full beekeeper regalia, Stout pulls out different frames to check for anything amiss, and to see how much honey the bees have made.

"It's so neat, so fascinating to watch the bees work," she said. "They don't even pay attention to you. They're so into what they're doing."

If the bees have filled all the frames in a box with honey, Stout has to add another box to the top of the hive, or the bees will leave.

As she checks on the hives, Stout is surrounded by bees.

"I've never been afraid of them," she said, as they buzz around her head. "Besides, I love honey."

Stout hasn't harvested much honey yet, because it's unwise to take the bees' honey in the first year of the hive. Eventually, she said, she may sell the honey, but that's not the reason she started the hives.

"It's just pretty fun," she said. "And the biggest reason I'm doing it is because it's an environmentally friendly thing.

"Bees are in decline. Most bees are managed (by beekeepers). There's mites and beetles and pesticides that are destroying the honeybee population. So, this is a good thing to do for the bee population. We need bees. Bees are pollinators, and there a huge benefit to us and to the environment."

Stout said she might include what's she's learned about bees in lesson plans for her students. Bees' lives are a good teaching tool for how communities and organizations work, and there's always the environmental aspect, she said. Stout herself is still learning about the bees — how they work, where they go and how they live.

"I like spending time out here with them," Stout said. "It's the science teacher still in me."

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