AIKEN - There are a few rules to know when handling bees:
With those rules in mind and seven years of experience working with insects known for their stingers and their sweetness, Aiken resident Hartmut Jung slowly opened one of his 13 colonies to inspect the honey-filled frames inside.
He tries to convince visitors that bees are not so evil.
"They're missing the meanness," he said, his voice coming through the mesh veil at the top of his white cotton suit. On his right breast is a patch that reads, "Sheriff Beekeeper."
"If you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone," he said.
Mr. Jung, a real estate agent with McKinney Realty, started working with bees as a hobby in 1995, a few years after he moved to Aiken. The 57-year-old said he always wanted to raise bees but can't explain why.
"It was so exciting to me in the first few years; I'd just sit in front of the hives and watch," he said. "They're so well organized."
These days, he makes a profit selling honey to a local produce stand. This year he harvested about 900 pounds from the colonies he keeps on 7 acres of land off Outing Club Road. He bottles the honey into jars and little, bear-shaped plastic containers.
MR. JUNG IS AMONG 2,000 beekeepers in the state who watch over about 25,000 colonies, according to Mike Hood, an apiculture professor at Clemson University.
Beekeeping is not cheap. Mr. Wood said someone who wants to start probably will shell out $100-$125 for each colony and $150 for basic equipment.
Mr. Jung elaborates on his argument about the goodness of bees as he starts to puff smoke into a colony.
The smoke, coming from a small canister containing burning pine straw, makes the bees think their hive is on fire. They scramble into the bowels of the hive to eat the honey.
Mr. Jung said scientists differ as to why the bees take this instinctive measure, but it makes them more friendly.
BEES ARE AN important part of nature's food supply chain and, of course, produce that sweet, sweet condiment.
But bees, no matter how venerable, are also vulnerable.
Pests such as the sucking mite and pesticides sprayed on the plants they pollenate kill bees. The pests can kill the queen bee, which is the cog that makes the honey production flow.
They can hurt the worker bee who feeds the queen and the drone who makes sure the queen is fully reproducing.
A bee's life span is not long - 70 days at most.
Mr. Jung is a former German air force pilot. He says that, while he loves the bees, he doesn't see himself in any of the bee types.
"I don't think I'm a drone because I live longer. I don't work myself to death, so I'm not a worker. And I'm not a female, so I'm not a queen."
Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.