Gardeners know that bees face tough environmental challenges, from parking lots to pesticides. Native bees are particularly at risk since, unlike honey bees, they are not so deliberately raised.
But gardeners can help reset the odds for native bees and at the same time invite a workhorse pollinator into their backyards. Justina Block, based in Cincinnati, owns and operates Osmia Bee Company, which sells structures and supplies to establish native bee habitats. These aren’t just any bees: They are Blue Orchard Mason Bees (of the genus Osmia), which Block says “can out-pollinate honey bees 100 to 1.” With these bees on the job, Block says spring plants will see an increased first-year yield of 20% to 30%.
This type of backyard beekeeping represents an easy commitment—and a safe one, too (unless trapped, these bees don’t sting). Block’s company provides nesting materials and wooden “housing,” which resembles a birdhouse and can sit atop a garden post. It also sells mason and leafcutter bees; the bee cocoons are shipped seasonally, with ample instructions for releasing them into your yard. Mason and leafcutter bees are solitary; they do not build hives, but rather search for places, such as Osmia Bee Co.’s nesting boxes, to lay their young.
Block has raised bees for the past five years. She initially volunteered time and supplies to establish native bee colonies at Spring Grove Arboretum and other garden and botanical organizations. “I wanted to share my passion and raise awareness about how wonderful and easy it is to support native bees,” she says. “At the time, I had no intention to start a bee business, but the interest in raising bees was overwhelming. My friends said, ‘You’re on to something!’”
Osmia Bee Company
Tom is a freelance writer specializing in environmental, energy, and transportation issues. He lives in Cincinnati’s Westwood neighborhood. He likes to garden, but, alas, the deer have robbed him of yet another earthly pleasure.