Many cucurbits, such as cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins, depend on pollinating bees in order to set fruit. However, fruit yield and progeny vigor in these plants generally decreases as heterospecific pollen deposition increases. We studied how the spatial area dedicated to cucumbers (Cucumis sativis), versus other flowering plants, influenced the deposition of conspecific and heterospecific pollen on cucumber plants in New York City community gardens. We also examined the effect of garden size on conspecific and heterospecific pollen deposition on cucumber plants. Female flowers were collected from potted cucumber plants that had been experimentally placed into the gardens, specifically for this study, or that were established in raised beds by members of the community garden. In the laboratory, pollen grains were isolated from the flower by acetolysis, and the number of heterospecific and conspecific cucumber pollen grains were quantified.
Conspecific pollen deposition was positively and significantly associated with the size of a community garden, as well as with the area of each garden dedicated to non-cucumber, flowering plants (i.e. floral cover) and the area of each garden dedicated to cucumber plants (i.e. cucumber cover). Although floral cover explained a greater proportion of the variance, cucumber cover had the strongest effect on conspecific pollen deposition. Heterospecific pollen deposition was positively and significantly related to garden area. However, no significant relationship was found between heterospecific pollen deposition and floral cover or cucumber cover. Based upon these results, we hypothesize that floral cover positively impacts conspecific pollen deposition by attracting a greater number of pollinators into an urban garden, and that total cucumber area positively impacts conspecific pollen deposition when pollinators are locally foraging within a garden. We suggest that the arrangement of plants within a garden can positively influence yield in fruit and vegetable-producing plants within urban community gardens. Due to the low availability of fruits and vegetables within the stores of the neighborhoods where this study was conducted, developing a better understanding of those factors that constrain or foster fruit and vegetable production are important to increasing food security and public health.