When Dave Treiber was a kid, he was hardly seen anywhere outside his backyard, flipping over rocks to see what was crawling underneath.
Now, as president of the Snoqualmie Valley Beekeepers Association, he’s taking this lifelong interest in insects to educate the Snoqualmie area on the art of “backyard beekeeping” — a term he uses to describe beekeeping as a hobby, not for commercial purposes.
The purpose of the association is to assist its members, the community and the public at large with a continuing education in the art and science of beekeeping. It was founded in 2011, growing to around 20 to 50 households since, depending on the season, with a rise in membership skyrocketing during the pandemic when the association’s meetings switched to virtual and people were pursuing new hobbies.
Treiber’s interest in the hobby buzzed during a trip to Germany, where he and his wife were attending a family wedding in 2008. While visiting with his wife’s uncle, a hobby beekeeper, Treiber was able to see the art of beekeeping for the first time, tasting honey right off the comb and the schnapps it became, and witnessing the candles made from the hives’ wax. Despite not knowing a word of German, and his wife’s uncle not knowing a word of English, the message was clear: This was something he needed to learn more about.
Treiber had to put his curiosity on hold when he realized his house in Redmond was not conducive to the space, or equipment, needed to get started. It wasn’t until a few years later, flipping through a Mount Si parks pamphlet, that he read about a beginner’s beekeeping class through Bees in the Burbs — a Maple Valley beekeeper store — and decided to take his first leap.
Coincidentally, the founding family’s last name of Bees in the Burbs is Halcomb, and the instructor of that class was Bob Combs (unrelated), founder of the Snoqualmie Valley Beekeepers Association. Having “comb” in your name was not a requirement of beekeeping, Treiber quickly learned, and he joined the nonprofit shortly after his family relocated to the Snoqualmie Valley in 2012.
“When I had my kid, I was thinking he was going to be doing the same thing, but he had, like, no interest,” Treiber laughed. “That’s when it dawned on me that well, you know, maybe it’s not for everybody.”
Backyard bee community
The first steps to building a backyard bee community, Treiber said, is setting up a place for your bees to live and flourish, before even thinking about buying a colony.
While this setup may differ from beekeeper to beekeeper, what it looked like for Treiber was installing a Langstroth Hive — a boxed beehive with vertically hung frames named after inventor Lorenzo Langstroth, along with a protective veil, a hive tool, and a smoker used for calming honeybees.
Then came the bees. Treiber first purchased a “package” (essentially a screened box with a queen and about 15,000 worker bees) from California where most Western Washington beekeepers receive their bees after almond pollination season ends — typically January through February. Although he had taken courses and researched the topic extensively, the first thing Treiber learned about beekeeping was how much more there was to continually learn about the art.
“We have some people in our organization that have been beekeeping for 40 or 50 years and they still learn new things,” said Treiber. “We have this running joke that bees don’t read the same books you do, meaning you can read a bunch of books, go out and think ‘I’m going to do this and this is what the bees are supposed to do,’ then they decide to do otherwise.”
A beekeeping “package” typically runs around $150, but Treiber has seen that price increase, at a rate of about $10 per year, since he first started. The reason, he suspects, is simply supply and demand.
In addition to renting out equipment, holding meetings on the first Tuesday of every month, and teaching beekeeping basics to the public and children in local schools, the Snoqualmie Valley Beekeepers Association can often be spotted at local events, such as Snoqualmie Days and Fall City Days, where the organization’s members share their passion with the community, selling their honey that was extracted directly from their backyard hives.
The taste of this honey, Treiber said, differs from most commercial honey because it’s not quite as diluted. In commercial operations, most honey is heated up, which removes all the natural enzymes. Commercial honey is watered down, then strained through a filter to remove the pollen. Commercial honey typically contains somewhere between 14% and 20% water, according to Bee Culture Magazine, and sometimes more.
While attending events like these, Treiber told the Valley Record that it’s not uncommon for people to commend the work his organization does in “saving the bees.” It’s nothing like that, he said, although he appreciates the praise.
“Most of our beekeepers are not beekeeping because they want to save European honey bees. There’s very few people that are doing it because they’re trying to save the bees, so to speak,” said Treiber. “I get that a lot from the public. When we do these events, people come up and say good job, you’re saving the bees, and I almost actually have to say well we’re not — they’re doing just fine as an agricultural tool.”
‘Save the bees’
To really “save the bees,” Treiber suggests planting a pollination garden before beekeeping so native pollinators always have a place to forage. The biggest problem bees face, at least in the Snoqualmie area, is that many bees are bringing in pollination from other areas and planting it in invasive species. Native pollinators, such as honey bees, typically start their pollination earlier when the flower sources are beginning to dwindle, he said.
“If you want to save the bees, plant a pollinator garden before you become a beekeeper,” said Treiber.
For anyone considering picking up backyard beekeeping, Treiber also recommends they do their research and recognize, while it’s “a lot of fun,” it can be challenging work.
“You can’t just get a hive and put it in your backyard and forget about it because your bees will likely die,” said Treiber.
He also suggested buying your bees around the time when the almond pollination season in California is ending, again around January or February, because typically when the spring is here and the flowers have bloomed, and bees are on your mind, it’s “too late.”
A problem many beekeepers continue to face is managing hives of Varroa mites, which is a constant topic discussed at the association’s monthly meetings. The mites are also the number one cause of economic impact on the beekeeping industry today, contributing to high levels of bee losses around the world. That and, at least in Washington, managing moisture within the hive. Bees can tolerate the cold pretty well, Treiber said, with the ability to generate heat by clustering together during the winter, but if they get wet and get cold, then that’s a bigger issue.
Since joining the Snoqualmie Valley Beekeepers Association, Treiber has climbed his way to the presidency through a process mainly based on “willingness and tenure, but mostly willingness,” he said. He also manages the newsletter while balancing his “day job” in biotech.
The organization meets 7 to 9 p.m. every first Tuesday of every month at Meadowbrook Farm Interpretive Center in North Bend. Treiber encourages anyone who is eager to learn more about beekeeping to attend one of these meetings, which are open to the public, or keep an eye out for the SVBA booth out at Snoqualmie Days or Fall City Days.