Pollinator Project with NC State University
If you've been by the farm lately, you may have noticed a special project underway. We've partnered with NC State University to be part of a pollinator project study. Raleigh City Farm is hosting contained vegetables and two "bee hotels" that will be monitored over the course of two growing seasons. Read more about their goals and study details!
To increase vegetable production and quality in urban areas of Raleigh, NC using pollinator-friendly habitat. Through this research, we will determine the extent to which supplementary pollinator habitat can contribute to pollinator abundance/diversity and evaluate the impact on yield for two commonly planted food crops in community gardens.
Community gardens in urban areas have the potential to provide food and habitat for native bee species, which are often under-appreciated in regard to ecosystem services, including crop pollination. Native bees are typically more efficient pollinators than commonly managed bee species, and some are essential for pollinating certain crops, such as squash.
In North Carolina, pollination service is provided by a combination of managed bees and wild insects, and together they are responsible for an estimated 120 million dollars per year in agricultural production (1). Human nutrition and food security are thereby linked to the health of insect pollinators, but honey bee populations in the US declined by 61% between 1947 and 2008 (2). Urban environments have typically also provided floral resources for pollinators, although pollinators living in these areas have also been declining recently.
This study is being conducted at eight community gardens around Raleigh, NC. At each garden, four different vegetable varieties were planted, including two tomato varieties and two squash varieties. Two ‘bee hotels’ were installed at each garden in order to attract cavity-nesting bees and provide nesting habitat to increase populations for the next growing season. Four of the gardens were supplemented with pollinator-friendly annual flowering species and will be compared to four other community gardens that received no added wildflower plants.
Pollinator community composition and fruiting quality of the food crops will be monitored throughout the growing period. The species and bloom period of supplemented and previously established pollinator habitat will also be observed and recorded to quantify available pollinator resources at each garden. The abundance and diversity of the bee community at each garden will be compared over two growing seasons to determine if added habitat influenced bee nesting behavior. Comparisons between similar crops grown in areas with and without supplemental pollinator habitat will determine the impact that additional pollinator habitat can have on the quality of common community garden food crops. In addition, landscape and environmental factors shown to impact pollinator abundance will also be recorded to document geographic information specific to urban areas.
North Carolina is ranked 9th in food insecurity in the US, despite being 10th in food production (3). The problem has remained persistent in the state, having 14.4% of households experiencing hunger (3) with 27% of children (4) and 18% of seniors designated as food insecure (3). Many community gardens aim to donate a portion of their produce to local hunger relief organizations, allowing them to satisfy the immediate needs of their neighbors in need of food.
Pollinator declines could have a dramatic impact on the growing number of urban farms and community gardens which have been increasing in number in the US, inspired by the many potential benefits of producing local food in cities—such as improved nutrition, food security, and community involvement. Therefore, increasing habitat suitable for native bees may also contribute to improved crop pollination, and ultimately, community access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
For project updates and details, follow along at cgpollinators.wordpress.ncsu.edu
1 NCSU Apiculture Program. Beekeeping note 3.14: The value of honey bees as pollinators in NC. (2007).
2 VanEngelsdorp, D. & Meixner, M. D. A historical review of managed honey bee populations in Europe and the United States and the factors that may affect them. J. Invertebr. Pathol. 103, S80-S95 (2010).
3 “Food Security in the U.S.” USDA Economic Research Service. 2018, Key Statistics & Graphics.
4 “North Carolina” Food Corps. Food Corps, Inc, 2018, Where You’ll Serve.