Farm Share: Husband and wife operation specializes in wide array of honey
The Recorder, September 5, 2017, by Tinky Weisblat
“I feel like we’re in a little bit of paradise,” Dan Conlon said as he drove photographer Paul Franz and me to the “bee yard” at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield.
Warm Colors encompasses 80 acres off South Mill River Road, mostly woods and wetlands. It is home not just to Dan’s bees but also to a variety of other creatures, including unusual birds and turtles. “I sort of look at our job as keeping a wildlife preserve that we put bees on,” Dan observed.
The business Dan runs with his wife, Bonita, includes breeding bees, encouraging the bees to make a variety of honeys, and making beeswax candles. They also offer a variety of classes and workshops for beekeepers.
The late summer is a busy time for the Conlons. They and their helpers are busy feeding essential oils to queen bees to keep them healthy, raising strong new worker bees for the upcoming cold weather, and preparing for their annual Honey Festival on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This free event will include talks on bees, bee products and pollinator plants; beverages to try from Green River Ambrosia, which uses Warm Colors honey in its mead; and a discussion of cooking with honey (including recipes and samples) from Pamela Adams, the pastry chef at the University of Massachusetts.
Visitors will, of course, also be able to purchase honey and candles, along with cones of honey ice cream made by Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley.
The Conlons will also offer tastings of their honey varieties. They gave Paul and me a preview of this process; we tasted six different flavors of honey, including wildflower, buckwheat, and basswood.
Trying the different varieties gave me a chance to ask a question that had puzzled me for some time: How do the bees know they’re supposed to be producing specific types of honey from specific plants?
Dan Conlon’s answer was highly practical. The different varieties of honey are determined by the season, he informed me. “You know when (the different flowers) start blooming,” he explained, “and you get the honey off as fast as they bloom.”
The Conlons’ wildflower honeys can come from a number of different flowers and are gathered over time. Varieties like apple blossom or raspberry blossom are each gathered in the seven to 10 days during which those blossoms last.
Dan Conlon is president of the Russian Honeybee Breeders Association has a passion for breeding bees to be stronger and more resistant to diseases and mites. He selectively cross-breeds different families and types of bees to create differing skills and attributes.
“You need all of them in combination to get a good strong hive,” he told Paul and me. “The lack of genetic diversity (in bees) has been a problem over the past 20 to 30 years.”
He explained that providing the bees with the right plants to pollinate is essential in keeping the creatures healthy. “Bees self-medicate,” he said with a smile.
Back in the Conlons’ farmhouse, Bonita gamely complied with my request for a cooking demonstration that involved honey.
She didn’t have all of the ingredients for her spicy sesame noodles on hand, but she made a couple of quick substitutions — chives instead of scallions, the seeds from chili pods instead of crushed red pepper — and served a quick lunch to Paul and me.
We sat on the Conlons’ deck gazing at their floral paradise and eating the fruits of her labor. Paul nursed a bee sting with an ice cube as he munched. (I had worn the beekeeper’s hat when we visited the bees because I love hats. I felt for Paul, but he was philosophical about the sting, viewing it as part of a day’s work. And I looked great in that hat!)
“One of the things about our business is that it’s a lifestyle,” remarked Dan Conlon. He noted that beekeeping keeps him and Bonita active and keeps them in touch with young people. The Conlons obviously work hard — and obviously enjoy every minute of their work.
Spicy sesame noodles
This dish comes together quickly and easily. Bonita reports that it is “great to take to a pot luck.”
- ½ cup corn oil
- 6 tablespoons sesame oil
- 6 tablespoons honey (*Bonita used wildflower honey)
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
- 1 pound cooked spaghetti
- chopped scallions (or chives) and sesame seeds to taste
In a bowl, combine the oils, the honey, the soy sauce and the crushed red pepper. Be sure to use the same measuring spoon for the sesame oil and the honey — and to measure the sesame oil first. That way, the oil will lubricate the spoon and help the honey slide off instead of sticking.
Pour this dressing over the noodles and toss. Garnish with the scallions and sesame seeds. These noodles may be augmented with pieces of cooked chicken or shrimp, tender cooked beef chunks, or chopped vegetables.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course or more as a side dish.
Here is another seasonal honey recipe from Bonita Conlon’s kitchen.
- ½ cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 pinch (or more) minced fresh ginger
- several pickling cucumbers (as many as your marinade will cover!)
Combine the vinegar, the honey, and the ginger. Pour this mixture over sliced cucumbers. Marinate for at least an hour; then pour off the liquid. Serve chilled. Serves 4 to 6.
Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.