Sweet lessons at honey festival

The Recorder. September 14, 2014. By Tom Relihan.

At most outdoor gatherings, close encounters with bees are generally considered something to be avoided. But at Deerfield’s Warm Colors Apiary this weekend, that notion was turned on its head.

The apiary was abuzz with beekeeping and honey aficionados Saturday afternoon during the company’s annual Honey Festival.

The festival, which ran from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., attracted local beekeepers and area residents interested in becoming beekeepers themselves. Visitors were treated to honey-flavored ice cream, samples of local meads and other honey-based beverages produced by Green River Ambrosia, of Greenfield, and a taste tour of the company’s various styles of honey.

“It’s an event to celebrate the honeybee at the traditional harvest time before the bees quiet down for the winter,” said Bonita Condon, the apiary’s co-owner. “It’s good to draw people in and educate them about bees and bee products, too.”

Next to a tent where visitors were able to buy various honey products, including beeswax candles, candies, and bottles of honey, Chris Wayne, a beekeeper from Westhampton, gave groups of visitors samples of four different types of honeys produced by the apiary — Deerfield wildflower, apple blossom, raspberry blossom and buckwheat.

Starting from lighter honeys and ending at the darker end of the spectrum, the buckwheat style, Wayne applied a dab of each different type to a cracker or outstretched finger tip for each person. As the onlookers savored the product, Wayne described the process through which each variety is made.

“For the apple blossom varietal, the beekeeper will move his bees to an apple orchard just before the flowers come into bloom,” said Wayne. “They keep in close contact with the orchardists so that they can get the bees there just as they bloom and come take them away right after the flowers are done, so that no other nectar gets into the honey.”

Wayne also provided information on how each honey was best served.

“The raspberry blossom honey makes a great vinaigrette,” he said. “If you really want to impress guests, take it and drizzle it over some brie cheese and put it out with some crackers.”

Throughout the day, speaking events and demonstrations were held under a tent next to the beehive yard. Master beekeeper and apiary co-owner Dan Condon opened the series with a speech about how this year’s beekeeping season went and closed it with a talk on the challenges facing bees and what can or is being done about them.

At lunch time, Pamela Adams, the head pastry chef at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, gave a demonstration on how to cook with honey, during which she described the various health benefits of using it as a sweetener instead of table sugar.

Later in the day, Green River Ambrosia co-founder Will Savitri gave a lecture on how mead is made. He spoke about the fermentation process, yeast selection and how chemical changes during the aging process affect the beverage’s flavor.

Jessica Mattson of Turners Falls said she brought her two sons, K.C. and Jake, out to the festival to embrace their mutual love of honey.

“We love it for its medicinal properties and its taste, and it’s a healthy alternative to processed sugar,” said Mattson. “This was our first time coming here, but we’d definitely come again.”

Ann Reiss, a Whately resident and member of the Franklin County Beekeepers Association, said she’s been to the festival many times since moving into the area five years ago, and sees it as a nice, local way to give back to the community.

“It’s a very small, nice, comfortable festival. There’s the education component, and people can buy candles and honey here,” she said.

Gary Ross and Linda Blackburn of Palmer said they came to the festival because they had recently taken up beekeeping themselves and wanted to support other honey producers.

“We’re just crazy bee people ourselves, and we like to go to bee festivals and support beekeepers,” said Blackburn. “You’ve got to support local beekeepers, or there won’t be any left!”