Valley Bounty: Warm Colors Apiary
Dan and Bonita Conlon began Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield around 2000, as Dan Conlon transitioned from a teaching career to full-time beekeeping. The couple strives for nonchemical beekeeping while they act as ambassadors for their craft.
In their early years as Dan Conlon fostered his passion for beekeeping into a business, Bonita Conlon learned marketing and sales through immersion in the Greenfield Farmers’ Market. “Everyone should support farmers’ markets because it’s a lot of work. I lugged hundreds of pounds of honey to market. The only vendor with a heavier load was an artist selling inscribed bricks,” Bonita Conlon says with a chuckle.
“We are fortunate that we have each other for a lot of reasons. We work as partners and have different skills that work out,” notes Dan Conlon. Bonita Conlon shares, “For me, the best part of the business is the customers. Some have been with us over 20 years. They love our honey.” Dan Conlon adds, “There’s a whole social aspect to this business.” Bonita Conlon continues, “Our customers became our friends. We’ve seen their kids grow up, and we provide honey and candles by special order as favors for weddings, births, and funerals.”
After fifteen years, Bonita Conlon stopped going to the farmers’ market and focused on their farm store at their house. The clients who already tasted Warm Colors’ honey at the market transitioned to buying the products directly at the farm. The apiary offers seven types of honey, including honeycomb: three kinds of wildflower, apple, raspberry, basswood from Linden trees, and buckwheat. “We’re probably the only people in western Massachusetts that still offer so many varieties,” Dan Conlon notes.
The color of honey is not related to its quality. “The darker the honey, the more anti-oxidants, minerals, and enzymes are contained,” notes Dan Conlon. “The darker the honey, the healthier for you. Each has different flavors, and that’s where tasting it helps. We don’t handle it very much. Our honey is really the way the bees put it up, and our job is to not mess it up while extracting,” he adds.
Along the way, the couple expanded their business to include queen breeding and selling beekeeping equipment to beekeepers. The apiary offers pollination services for other farms at key times particular to each crop including spring fruit pollination in mid-May for apples and peaches. Some local orchards that Warm Colors’ bees pollinate are Outlook Farm and the UMass Cold Springs Orchard. In the summer, they pollinate squash and vine crops, like cucumbers. Dan Conlon notes, “We have pollinated Plainville Farm and a dozen or so locations around the Valley for the last 20 years.” For the health of the bees, the couple keeps bees local, and declines lucrative requests to send their bees across the country.
Dan Conlon brings teaching and advocacy to his passion for beekeeping and relates an extensive history of the bees in his apiary. To summarize, in the 1990s when mites from the Asian honeybees were killing the hives of the European honeybees used in the West, a cross-continent, scientific journey ensued. Siberian queens that were bred through natural selection to withstand mites emerged as a natural antidote to the mites that were killing hives in our northeastern region.
Warm Colors Apiary is the only apiary in the Northeast that is certified for breeding Siberian Queens. “Our mission is to preserve the genetic diversity of these bees, which are documented to have greater genetic diversity than any honeybees in this country—or the world, for that matter. Our secondary mission is to continue the natural selection process by enhancing the ten defensive mechanisms identified by the scientists. We can do that now because we have such advanced genetics that we can ensure those genes are present,” says Dan Conlon. The breeding stock is evaluated and approved each year by scientists before producing the next year’s breeding stock. “We send samples of our bees to a lab down south to be evaluated each year,” Bonita Conlon notes. “We are getting 100% purity on our lines, which is unheard of,” Dan Conlon adds. Bees were the first subjects of genome mapping, and this technology is used to review Warm Colors’ bees.
For over twenty years, the couple has offered a series of classes for introductory through advanced levels of beekeeping. “We’ve started hundreds of people,” Dan Conlon notes. Customers are curious about beekeeping too. Bonita Conlon notes, “a lot of our business is education. We educate people that want to be beekeepers, but much of our work is about ‘what’s a honeybee,’ ‘what’s raw honey,’ or ‘why is one honey better medicinally.’”
More than the beekeepers, the real teachers are the bees themselves. Dan Conlon shares the lessons he has learned from the bees, “Don’t procrastinate because you always pay a price.” He admires bees because “bees persevere through any circumstance or problem.” Bonita Conlon adds, “The bees are amazing creatures for how they work together.”
As a society, bees offer larger lessons to all of us. Dan Conlon concludes, “When bees die of starvation in the winter, they die as a tight group ball. The reason for that is they share food to the very end. They starve together, and they die together. The ball remains intact. I don’t know what the lesson is, but I admire that they put the colony’s survival above all things. As a human being, I wish we were a little more united on some of that.”
Dan Conlon concludes, “Being a beekeeper has given us a unique lifestyle.” Bonita Conlon completes his thought, “It’s sweet.”
Warm Colors Apiary sells honey by appointment. Customers can call 413-665-4513 to place an order or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange pick up. The apiary encourages reusing jars by offering a discount when refilling jars.
Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about local farms, what’s in season, and where to find it, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.