The buzz in Cherry Hill is coming from Seth Belson's backyard - more precisely, from his 18 beehives.

Belson, 43, is the beekeeper who gained some attention when a hive that fell off a truck on the New Jersey Turnpike last month was given to him so he could care for the survivors.

Belson could not find the hive's queen, so he combined the remaining bees into one of his own hives.

Since 1991, Belson has worked as a lawyer for the New Jersey Public Defender's Office, representing defendants against charges ranging from felony shoplifting to homicide.

Then, two years ago, his life took a little turn. He saw something in the newspaper for a course on beekeeping.

"I always thought it would be neat to have bees," Belson said. "I've always been interested in nature and the environment."

And he had recently moved into a house on 1.5 acres of former farmland. "I finally had a lot big enough to have bees," he said.

He signed up for the course, called "Bee-ginner's Beekeeping," which was offered by Rutgers University and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

The state is encouraging people to become beekeepers.

"There's so few in New Jersey - and elsewhere for that matter," he said.

Thanks to the course, beekeeping is gaining in popularity, said Belson, who is now president of the South Jersey Beekeepers Association.

Belson said students include doctors, teachers and accountants.

"There's a growing number of suburban backyard beekeepers," he said.

According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, there are 10,000 bee colonies in the state. Most are part of the commercial honeybee industry, which provides pollination services that help produce $200 million a year in fruits and vegetables in the state.

It is also an industry in distress because large numbers of bees have disappeared due to "colony collapse disorder," for which there is no explanation.

Belson has been able to turn his beekeeping into a side business. He sells honey and removes swarms as well as provides pollination. He even has a Web site: www.hiddenacrehoney.com.

Just having the bees around has done wonders for his own garden and fruit trees.

There were several apple trees on his property that had produced a few apples. Then Belson brought in the bees.

"Since then, I get hundreds of pounds of apples from each tree every year," he said.

Thanks to the bees, he harvests several hundred pounds of cucumbers a year.

"I get 20 to 30 pounds of raspberries from one bush, and that is all because of the bees," he said.

Handling bees means you risk getting stung. And Belson has been stung. But in general, he said, honeybees aren't looking to bother humans.

He invited a reporter to watch as he inspected several hives without protective gear.

As he pulled honeycombed frames from the hives, many bees took flight all around the reporter - who would normally be fleeing if this were happening elsewhere.

The reporter, however, was able to conduct his interview unscathed.

"There are definitely times when I do suit up, and I never keep it far away," Belson said.

But on this recent day, the weather was great and, he said, the bees were "happy."

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.