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Eat right: How to ‘bee’ informed

The Bee Care Center on the Bayer Crop Science campus near Raleigh, North Carolina, is open to the public certain days each month and they also welcome group tours.

The bright and airy building is Silver LEED certified and houses clever and engaging displays and photographs of various types of bees (did you know there are 4,000 species of bees in the United States?). There are also examples of bee hives and jars of honey of varying hues from barely golden to a rich amber color according to the trees/flowers the bees frequented to gather pollen.

I was fascinated by a collection representing the wide variety and sizes of bees that have been caught on the property. Some of the bees were so tiny I could barely see them and others were large and ferocious looking and still others sported iridescent green wings. The large windows at the Bee Care Center look out onto a patio area with rockers and beyond that to a well-tended, flower-filled garden.

The day I visited I saw some teenagers walking through the garden, one flailing a net wildly in the air. My guides laughed and explained that they were high school students who hadn’t quite got their net techniques down.

Some of the interesting things I learned about bees at Bayer’s Bee Care Center:

1. Immigrant Status: Honey bees (apis mellifera) are not native to the United States and were brought here by early settlers to pollinate plants and provide honey

2. Hard workers: The life span of the worker bee that goes out to gather pollen is quite short, only four to six weeks. Meanwhile queen bees live at least a year or longer. Worker bees forage for pollen within a one to five mile radius of their hive.

3. Migrant labor: Bees are “the most traveled livestock in the U.S.” Bee hives are transported by trucks around the country to pollinate crops like melons, cherries and almonds.

4. Neonicotinoids, a class of synthetic pesticides that have been linked to issues with bee health, are also used for dog, cat and livestock flea treatments. (Source:

5. Honey bees are not the only kind of bees that act as a pollinator.

(Source: “The Facts about Honey Bees and Pesticides” – Bayer Bee Care – Bayer CropScience

For the past few years the topic of the health of bees, and specifically honey bees and their hives, has been in the news. You can find people and sources that are convinced that honey bee hives are in decline and others who will dispute that. You can also find those who want to place blame for the decline squarely on the shoulders of a class of synthetic pesticides (neonicotinoids) and the companies that make and distribute them, as well as farmers that utilize them. Much like the discussion of cause of obesity in the U.S., it seems clear to me that there is not one culprit when it comes to the health of bees. As I learned at the Bee Care Center and have seen online ( there can be many factors that can affect the health of the hive.

1. Pests and Diseases

  • Diseases — Fungus and viruses can affect the hive, often transmitted by the varroa mite.
  • Parasites — Varroa mites are a parasite that resembles a tick and can weaken the bee and transmit disease to the hive.

2. Exposure to Pesticides

Pesticides (insectides and herbicides) – Whether used by homeowners, farmers, golf courses or even beekeepers (to control varroa mites in the hive), exposure to pesticides can harm bees. While the goal may be to kill targeted insects or control weeds, overuse or improper use may affect bees.

3. Lack of Forage and Nutrition

Inadequate source of food (pollen)/forage within radius of the hive caused by development, lack of wild spaces and monocropping.

Extreme weather or swings in temperature and drought can affect the ability to forage and the availability of nutrition for the bees.

4. Bee Keeping practices

Breeding of bees with a lack of genetic diversity can result in genetic weakness causing issues like wing deformity and more susceptibility to disease.

What’s the bottom line and how can the typical consumer help bees and other pollinators and continue to enjoy the fruits and vegetables that they pollinate and the honey they provide?

1. Pesticides – When using pesticides/herbicides/insecticides around your home, garden or on your pets or livestock make sure to read and follow application instructions carefully. Apply pesticides (herbicides or insecticides) in the evening when pollinators are less active and so less apt to be affected.

2. Nutrition – Plant flowering plants that will attract bees and that they can use as a source of pollen. Native flowering plants and trees and even clover and dandelions are feed for honey bees and other pollinators.

Special thanks for their time and information to:

Becky Langer, PhD, project manager - NA Bee Health & Broad Acre Food Chain, Bayer CropScience

Casey Allen, Corporate Communications, Bayer CropScience

Phyllis Stiles of Bee City USA

Thanks to Bayer CropScience for sponsoring in part my visit.

Talk to Leah

Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at, 800-334-4936 or at