It is a cool overcast Saturday in June and Floyd Hawkins is conducting a beekeeping class at his home in south Arlington.

At 90, the soft-spoken, retired U.S. Postal worker believes it's important to pass on to a younger generation the knowledge he has gained in 55 years of working with honeybees.

This particular Saturday, four children stand around a classroom, which in this particular case is a small, comfortably cluttered basement.

The room is filled with honey-making equipment: a large metal honey extractor, bowls of beeswax, pans, knives and strainers. There are also pamphlets, posters, photographs, prize-ribbons and jars of honey. Several freshly made candles hang from the shelves. A few bees come and go.

Out a side door, down a stone path, stand 15 wooden beehives. Each four-foot beehive contains about 75,000 bees.

Andy Crane, a 9-year-old student, points at three bees circling a hive. "When the sky's gray, they get angry," he said, displaying his newly acquired knowledge. "And if two queens get together they fight and pull each other's hair."

"If you get a mean queen, you get a mean hive," added Zed Adams, 11.

In his basement and outside apiary, Hawkins, who is a volunteer with the Arlington unit of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, estimates he has taught hundreds of children about the life and habits of the honeybee. Last Thursday, on his 90th birthday, Hawkins was specially honored at a reception for volunteers given by the extension service.

Deborah Powers, director of the program, said Hawkins' volunteer work with the extension service includes working as treasurer for the Arlington County Fair since 1977 and teaching beekeeping.

"He is special in that he's been volunteering probably all his life," she said, adding that he is famous throughout the county for his ability to capture bee swarms.

Hawkins admits he's a complete bee fan. "The honeybee is the most valuable insect we have," he said.

"I tell the kids that bees are a friendly insect, that bees are very important and never try to kill a bee," Hawkins said.

Hawkins, who has five surviving children, 29 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, was born in Washington's Foggy Bottom in 1895. He said he moved his family to Arlington in 1925 at his wife's urging.

"She wanted to come to the country," he said. "It was country out here then."

Once in Arlington, Hawkins said he grew interested in beekeeping through a friend who kept bees. "I used to stop and see his bees," he said. "I saw how nice they were."

So in 1930, when an old Arlington beekeeper died, Hawkins obtained two of his beehives.

"Bees have a bad name," he said. "The bee does all the work and gets all the blame. A bee won't bother you if she's in a field."

Hawkins' Saturday class runs through this month. The course is offered through the 4-H program of the extension service and is limited to about 10 students.