Head up S.C. Highway 61 like you're running from a hurricane, out past Summerville, through Givhans and across the Edisto River into Colleton County.

There, on the right, is a yellow sign: "Bee City Café." Take that dirt road and drive through the trees until it brings you to the parking lot where school buses are parked end to end and you hear the laughter of children in the pines.

This is where Archie Biering started his hobby 20 years ago, raising bees for the fun of it and entertaining kids for the joy of it.

"It's just gives me something to do," the former shipyard worker says as 60 kids from Faith Christian School file in through the front door Wednesday morning. "It keeps you busy."

Especially this time of year when Archie and his wife, Diane, welcome Lowcountry schools for field trips to Bee City (www.beecity.net) to learn about pollen and nectar and bees wax.

Then there's the petting zoo, where kids can touch exotic species like ring-tail lemurs, baby goats, wallabies and llamas.

"It all started with a few chickens," Archie said. "It kind of grew over the years."

Just a hobby

A retired pipe welder, Archie built Bee City on the smiles of children young and old. Even the chaperones learn something they probably didn't know.

That's because the Bierings know a lot about bees. Behind the café they have 130 hives containing more than 10 million honey bees. They not only provide their experience and knowledge, inside the gift shop they merchandise everything from honey to bee pollen.

Each year the Bierings host about 17,000 children at $3 to $10 per head, depending on the extent of the experience. At the very least, the children all get to see a bee hive up close and personal, learn all about bees, make a beeswax candle and visit with the animals in the petting zoo.

The latest addition to this growing menagerie is the Nature Center, where Archie will display his collection of indigenous rat snakes and other reptiles. That exhibit will open April 24.

Asked if the admission price increases when new things are added, Archie, 69, just looks around, laughs and says, "Naw, it's just a hobby of mine."

A little crazy

Another bus arrives with a group of 4-year-olds from the Sunshine House in Summerville, and the buzz increases.

The children, being children, are hyper kinetic, climbing on each other, turning, spinning and doing exactly what bees do in the hive.

Meanwhile, they learn that a third of our food depends on bee pollination and that more and more farmers are becoming beekeepers because they need the insects to grow their crops.

They also learn how queens and drones and worker bees make up the colony and what threats they face in today's world.

But mostly they do what bees do. Make noise. Which is quite all right here at Bee City, where children can play and learn among the whimsical displays.

"We like the kids," Archie said, counting heads and making change. "Some people say we're a little crazy, but that's part of the fun."