THE delicate fragrance of newly made honey and the murmur of bees have greeted visitors to our Hudson Valley home all summer. My husband, Bill Bakaitis, who tends our two hives, has put them in the front yard right beside the driveway. The bee-phobic sometimes get nervous, but for us the suspense is pleasant: between the music and the perfume you can’t leave the house without wondering what this year’s crop will be like.

The flowery 2002, for instance, thickened to velvet within weeks of harvest. The spicy 2003 is still liquid (what’s left of it). Each is a summary of its season’s flower parade, from locust, clover and dandelion to rose, raspberry and garlic chives. (The bees adore them. They smell like lilies.)

Bees usually visit just one nectar source at a time, and it is possible to capture the flavor of a particular source by harvesting each in turn. But our honeys are always the house blend, because for Bill, the family beekeeper, one crop a year is enough.

That means our October harvest is also a weather report; drought and deluge both discourage flowers. In 2005 we got more than eight gallons of honey. Last year there was almost none. Usually, there is enough to keep us well supplied without depriving the bees. Taking too much would kill them by starving them over the winter.

Sometimes they die anyway. Losses to cold or pests or disease are a normal part of beekeeping, no matter how well the bees are cared for. Ours have been replaced a number of times, but I never paid attention to where the new bees came from or what kind they were until early this year, when colony collapse disorder, the mysterious killer that was wiping out huge numbers of commercial honeybee hives, started making the news.

It made me wonder about the genetics of our bees and whether we should raise heirloom bees, the way we save heirloom seeds. 

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