Midtown Raleigh News

Honeybees: vital to our agriculture

Many years ago, I had an unpleasant bee experience.

I was about 10 years old. My cousin Sharon and I sat down on a boulder in a wooded area, and the next thing I knew, bees were stinging me all over my body.

Seven bees stung me that day; Sharon was not stung even once. Every since, I have been concerned that bees had it out for me. And who could blame me?

In an effort to educate myself on the scary little buggers, I spoke with local beekeeper Sara Pleasants Myers, who explained how vital bees are to agriculture.

“One third of the produce in the United States is pollinated by honeybees,” Myers said.

Other insects, such as butterflies and bumblebees, also pollinate, but honeybees are the most productive. And beekeepers can move honeybees across the state or across the country to pollinate where they are needed. No other pollinating insect is that cooperative.

Myers also said that because of pesticides and mites, there aren’t nearly enough wild honeybees to pollinate our crops. That’s where beekeepers come in; they monitor their bee populations and are able to help the colonies thrive by intervening when necessary.

In return, the bees provide honey to their keepers. Myers and her father, Al Pleasants, started their venture, The Pleasant Bee, with a single beehive. They are now up to 20.

They sell their honey and honey products via their website, thepleasantbee.com, at the Midtown Farmers Market at North Hills and through partners such as Papa Spud’s online farmers market and the Pet Mania shops.

Local honey for health

Many customers tell Myers they are purchasing local honey to combat the symptoms of seasonal allergies. The idea is that by eating local honey, you are ingesting local pollen, and this helps build natural immunities.

Although no studies have been published to support the theory, the medical community seems to be embracing the idea. Myers said customers frequently tell her that their doctors told them to try the remedy and that they feel better after eating the honey every day.

After my bee tutorial, I was feeling good about the fact that honeybees are good for the planet and honey is good for its inhabitants, so I agreed to check out a beehive up close and personal.

Myers and Pleasants invited me to visit some of the bees they keep off of Hillsborough Street. I stood 10 feet back from a hive and watched the bees come and go. I was pretty darn impressed with my bravery.

Both beekeepers assured me that bees do not want to sting anyone. They only sting when they feel threatened, they said.

“Then why did those seven bees sting me?” I asked.

When those seven bees stung me, it was probably because I accidentally sat on a bee or smashed one with my hand, they theorized. That would make the bees feel threatened enough to attack.

“Bees die when they sting, so they really don’t want to sting you,” Myers said .

At that point, Pleasants asked whether I’d like to suit up and get into a hive. I hesitated, but then I decided to be brave and do it. Myers showed me how moving very slowly and deliberately is key to keeping the bees feeling calm.

It was a little nerve-wracking as the bees tried to fly into my face, but they bounced off the mask part of the jacket, and I survived the experience without a single sting.

I was glad I braved the bees. I was also happy to take off the beekeeper jacket and gloves and drive away with my local honey, which I will be eating each day in hopes of reducing my seasonal allergy symptoms.