Valley Bounty: Warm Colors Apiary practices the sweet science of beekeeping

  • Dan and Bonita Conlon, owners and beekeepers at Warm Colors Apiary. PHOTO BY LISA GOODRICH

  • The sign at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield marking the bee yard. PHOTO BY LISA GOODRICH

  • The bee with the blue dot is a Russian queen. Colors are used to track genetic lineage. Blue indicates one of three breeding blocks. If she were being used as a breeding queen, she would have a second color indicating a specific genetic ancestry. WARM COLORS APIARY

  • The bees at work at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield. CONTRIBUTED BY WARM COLORS APIARY

  • A close-up of bees at work at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield. CONTRIBUTED BY WARM COLORS APIARY

  • Bonita helping Dan move bees to Outlook Farm's orchard on a cold spring morning. CONTRIBUTED BY WARM COLORS APIARY

For the Gazette
Monday, November 14, 2022

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 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,” Dan says.

“For me, the best part of the business is the customers,” Bonita shares. “Some have been with us over 20 years. They love our honey. 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 15 years, Bonita Conlon stopped going to the farmers market and focused on their farm store at their house. Many customers who knew of Warm Colors’ honey from 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, buckwheat and basswood from Linden trees. “We’re probably the only people in western Massachusetts that still offer so many varieties,” Dan says.

The color of honey is not related to its quality. “The darker the honey, the more anti-oxidants, minerals and enzymes are contained,” Dan explains. “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.”

Along the way, the couple expanded their business to include queen breeding and selling beekeeping equipment. 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, such as cucumbers. As Dan 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 them local, and declines lucrative requests to send their bees across the country.

Dan  brings teaching and advocacy to his passion for beekeeping and relates an extensive history of the bees in their apiary. TIn the 1990s when mites from 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 the northeastern U.S.

Warm Colors Apiary is the only apiary in the Northeast 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,” Dan explains. “Our secondary mission is to continue the natural selection process by enhancing the 10 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.”

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 says. “We are getting 100% purity on our lines, which is unheard of,” Dan adds. Bees were the first subjects of genome mapping, and this technology is used to review Warm Colors’ bees.

For over 20 years, the couple has offered classes for introductory through advanced levels of beekeeping. “We’ve started hundreds of people,” Dan says.

Customers are curious about beekeeping, too. “A lot of our business is education,” Bonita says. “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 shares a lesson he’s 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 adds: “The bees are amazing creatures for how they work together.”

As a society, bees offer larger lessons to all of us. “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,” Dan explains. “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.”

Warm Colors Apiary sells honey by appointment. Customers can call 413-665-4513 to place an order or email warmcolors@verizon.net to arrange a pickup. 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.