SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Buddy Williams is a third-generation beekeeper who oversees 75 hives and well over 75,000 bees.
Bees are his livelihood - he sells honey from his home in Landrum and at farmer's markets across the Upstate.
But Williams and other Spartanburg-area beekeepers are doing something many small business owners wouldn't dream of. They're encouraging others to join the craft, even if that means competition.
"Bees are declining so much, we need more," said Williams, who lost 15 hives over the winter. "We need more beekeepers."
Williams is a member of the Spartanburg County Beekeepers Association and hosted several other members at his home on a recent Saturday while six local beekeepers earned their state certification.
The association's president, Dennis Fleming, said the group has grown in recent years, fueled by hobbyists with a small number of hives interested in collecting honey for their families and neighbors.
"A lot of people are taking an interest in what they're eating," Fleming said.
Joan Slemenda, a beekeeping hobbyist and former school teacher, said the association was formed four years ago with seven or ten members.
Now the group, which meets the second Thursday of each month at the Spartanburg County Administration Building, boasts more than 90 members.
Williams and Slemenda said beekeepers are needed to care for and nurture hives amidst a national outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder, a not-yet-understood phenomenon where worker bees are unable to find their ways home, dooming the hive.
The issue is a concern not only to beekeepers, but to farmers and the nation in general, Slemenda said.
"It's the pollination," she said. "If we lose our bees, we lose farms."
Greg Pack, an English teacher a Boiling Springs High, was the first of six beekeepers being tested on Williams' hives.
Pack, flanked by experts, dismantled one of the hives, pointing out the different makeup of the hive population, from the queen to the brood.
"I always wanted to do it," said Pack, who worked for a beekeeper when he was in high school and has kept his own bees for the last five years.
Pack said he has four hives of his own and collects honey for his family and friends.
"You have to know what you're doing," he said of the test. "You get used to it. If they sting you, they're going to die. They don't want to do it anymore than you want to be stung."
The test was the last step for certification and the beekeepers and others from across the state are being recognized this summer at Clemson University, Fleming said. Before taking the test, the keepers completed six weeks of courses and then kept their own hives for at least a year.
Williams and others in the Spartanburg County Beekeepers Association are there to help new hives flourish in the region.
The association keeps a list of mentors on its website, www.spartanburgbeekeepers.com , and helps beekeepers get their hives started.
"My father had bees. My grandfather had bees," said Williams as he reached down with a bare hand to pick up an Italian honey bee at his home. "It's been handed down through the years."
"They're very gentle," he said, before slipping on a crooked grin as the bee fell from his grasp. "But I wouldn't advise you to try that."
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/