Guest Post by Nicole Miller-Struttann, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, Webster University
Orchards are popping up in a lot of community gardens around the country, and it’s easy to understand why. They help to provide local sources of high-quality fruits, create shaded nooks for people and animals alike, and reduce the environmental impacts of long-distance transport of food. However, maintaining orchards in heavily populated areas poses several challenges. For instance, fruiting success can vary a lot from year to year, in part due to insufficient pollination.
We are a team of researchers from six institutions in the St. Louis region working together to examine how factors such as human population density, socioeconomic status, soil type, and surrounding vegetation impact insect numbers and fruit yield. We are working with nine orchards in the Seed St. Louis network to test the effects of increasing pollinator numbers on pollination and fruiting success using relatively simple interventions: (1) adding colonies of native bees or (2) adding blackberry stems and commercial bee houses that they can use as nesting sites. You may see us and our students filming pollinator behavior, netting pollinators, measuring fruits, or taking soil samples. If you do, we invite you to stop us for a chat!
Our ultimate goal is to provide timely information on best practices to maximize the economic value of urban orchards, as well as their environmental benefits in terms of supporting local insect diversity and minimizing the ecological impact of cities. Conversations with you and the support of your community gardens are vital to making this project a success. We look forward to answering your questions, learning more about your gardens, and sharing our results with you as they come in.
This work represents a collaboration between the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, Maryville University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Saint Louis Zoo, and Seed St. Louis.