Developing a regional spring flowering seed mix to support North Central mason bees

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $28,954.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Osmia Bee Company
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Justina Block
Osmia Bee Company

Information Products


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: networking, participatory research, Webinar, social media
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Bees pollinate 90% of the world’s crops. Their services are valued at $34B annually in the U.S. alone (Jordan et al. 2021). The U.S. bee industry focuses its resources primarily on the promotion and support of honey-producing bees. However, the honey bee population has been declining since the 1990’s due to the spread of pests and pathogens, widespread use of pesticides, and global climate change (Gregorc 2020). Many of the highest-valued crops in the U.S. (e.g., almond and cherry) are pollinator-dependent and bloom in early spring when pollinator availability is low because most wild bee species and honey bee colonies are still dormant in all but the warmest parts of the country. Wild bees and managed mason bees are used as a supplement or replacement to honey bees for pollinating various crops. For best crop yields and bee reproduction, supplemental forage is needed to diversify and extend the foraging season of wild pollinators (Pitts-Singer et al., 2019; Boyle et al.,2020). Currently, there is no seed mix available to aid in sustainable production of North Central spring blooming crops and their pollinators. 


    Literature cited list available upon request.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    NC SARE figure and timeline

    Solution: This project leverages the rich collaborative network maintained by the Osmia Bee Company and services provided by Penn State’s Honey and Pollen Diagnostics Laboratory to determine the variety and intensity of mason bee foraging on spring flowering plant genera found across Ohio State. Information obtained from the proposed study will be used to 1) develop and produce a custom seed mix that provides support for spring pollinators in North Central climates, and 2) educate the public about how to support and conserve spring bees. In early spring 2023, 30 mason bee hotels (natural grass reeds housed by a PVC nest shelter with accompanying mason bee cocoons) will be distributed to partnering individuals and institutions for local installation. Partnering institutions include the Strange Lab (Dept. of Entomology, Ohio State University), the Ohio Prairie Seed Company, and the Cincinnati Nature Center. A subset of hotels will be distributed to individual volunteers who are knowledgeable in mason bee management and active in the Osmia Bee Company community network. Partners will be instructed to place their hotels in various agricultural (10), natural (10) and developed (10) landscapes. At each hotel, sixty mason bee cocoons will be released in two equal batches during early and mid-April. Mason bees begin foraging around 55°F and are typically active during early April through May in Ohio. A staggered bee release allows for a longer nesting duration and will improve our capacity to identify plants that bloom before, during, and after orchard bloom. Concurrent with the mid-April bee release, three completed nesting tunnels from each site will be collected, labeled with the location and date, and frozen. The same nesting tunnel collection process will be repeated two weeks later (late April). Remaining nests can be managed according to the husbandry directions outlined on the Osmia Bee Company website. Frozen samples will be mailed to Dr. Natalie Boyle (Pennsylvania State University) via a provided, prepaid shipping envelope. Using an established pollen metabarcoding pipeline, Dr. Boyle’s lab will identify pollen species represented within provided mason bee nests, culminating into a list of which flowering plants best support mason bee reproduction throughout Ohio. In consultation with the Ohio Prairie Seed Company, this data will inform the creation of an herbaceous seed mix that could be used by homeowners, land managers or farmers to provide forage for spring pollinators. Pollen metabarcoding data will additionally highlight important native trees, shrubs, and agricultural plants that support mason bees. Information about and access to the planting list and corresponding seed mix will be publicized via the Osmia Bee Company’s website, social media accounts, and newsletters, and through four Spring 2024 webinar offerings of The Pollinator Report.

    Objective: The primary objective of this project is to develop a spring flowering herbaceous seed mix to support mason bees in the North Central region. A secondary objective is to provide mason bee producers and conservationists with a detailed list of local plants that support the reproduction of springtime bees, especially the native blue orchard bee.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.