Although mason bees may not be the generalist pollinator that European honey bees are, they are nonetheless a more efficient forager.
Crown Bees, an Everett, Wash., firm, wants to take advantage of these super pollinators by expanding their populations and offering them for sale, according to a news release.
But to do that, proprieter Dave Hunter sought help from Peter Quist, a certified business adviser with the Washington Small Business Development Center in Everett.
The center is part of a statewide network that partners with Washington State University and others.
Quist and Hunter, for example, looked at the seasonality of raising mason bees and how Hunter would manage the cash flow in the off times.
Crown Bees coordinates an extensive network of backyard gardners who have small nurseries to help bolster mason bee populations.
When the gardeners have produced more bees than they need, Hunter buys the bees back.
He then sells the bees to commercial orchardists and others gardeners.
Recently, some beekeepers have been criticized for shipping non-native species to areas where they outcompete local bees or simply die because they're in the wrong habitat.
Hunter says there are two types of mason bees—one native to regions west of the Rockies and the other native to the East.
Hearing the concerns, Hunter says he's careful to follow recommendations of bee experts and only ship the type suited to the region.
Because many orchardists may not be familiar with mason bees, Hunter also provides consulting and recommendations.
In California, for example, millions of bee hives are needed for a six-week period in late winter to pollinate 650,000 acres of almonds.
The blue orchard bee, a mason bee, is an acceptable substitute.
In recent experiments, a 50:50 mix of honey bees and mason bees improved almond yields significantly, Hunter says.