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Colva has brought bees to the fair for decades

Busy with bees: Arlie Colva has brought buzzers to the fair for 40-plus years

Aug 1, 2012 - By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

As he bent over his buzzing box of brightly-colored bees, Fremont County beekeeper Arlie Colva said he has been bringing his honey-making insects to the Fremont County Fair since the late 1960s.

Other beekeepers used to come with their colonies, but since his mother passed away in 2003, Colva's hives have been alone at the fair.

"It's just me and my daughter now," he said.

But Colva seems to be shouldering the burden well. His hives are thriving in a time when bees -- and their precious pollination abilities -- are more scarce.

He estimates that his 1,200 hives each contains 3,000 busy bees. He has thousands of bees on display in the two glass-sided slats he brings to the fair every year.

During peak production, Colva said, his hives can produce 60 to 80 pounds of surplus honey in a season, with the same amount left in the hive to sustain its inhabitants.

That much honey production allows Colva, the uncontested winner of this year's fair beekeeping competition, to display a wide variety of delicious products in the Fremont County Fairgrounds AgriCenter, formerly known as the Ag Building.

In addition to numerous golden jars containing honey of every consistency and variety, Colva also displays honey barbecue sauces, grains pollinated by his bees, and, perhaps most impressive of all, a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, which are sweetened in part by Fremont County honey. Colva's honey gets to cereal companies such as General Mills and Kellogg's through a distributor, which pays him by the load for his sweet substances before sending them on to add flavor to products around the nation.

Cereal isn't the only reason Colva sends his products out of state. Walking to a table near the wall, Colva produced a bulging bag of almonds, leaving others like it heaped on the shelf. The almonds were labeled: "CALIFORNIA ALMONDS POLLINATED BY WYOMING BEES."

Colva's bees came to be in the Golden State through a bee trade agreement with states such as California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona for 11 years.

As the bee population dwindles in those states, farmers and crop-growers find themselves without a reliable source of pollination, which could cause their crop harvest to be diminished or fail altogether.

Fremont County comes to the rescue by trucking local bees cross-country in semi trailers, four hives to a pallet all the way to the West Coast to provide their sweet services to plants of all kinds.

Colva listed a few of the crops his outsourced bees have saved: almonds, apples, cherries, peaches, wheat and cranberries.

Colva said he often travels with his bees when they go out of state.

"Sometimes the queen will die, and all the workers will dwindle after that," he said. "You have to be ready if something like that happens."

Demonstrating his ability to identify an ailing queen bee, Colva has marked each of the queens he has brought to the fair with a white dot on her abdomen. The transparent viewing cases used to display the fair bees provide a cross-sectioned look at a hive, allowing onlookers to view dozens of buzzing insects roiling beneath the glass -- including the white-dotted queen, who Colva said is identified by her elongated abdomen and the swarm of worker bees pressing in on her from all sides.

As for the honey he brings with him every year, Colva said he likes to keep his display products off the market until Saturday, to give fairgoers a chance to observe.

But once Saturday rolls around and the fair begins to draw to a close, Colva said, "I might sell a few."

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