MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University is taking strides to improve the environment by planting more flowers to feed pollinators and by supporting student research with bees.
Jackie Morgan, assistant director of grounds maintenance, previously managed the greenhouses at the Murray State Arboretum before stepping into her new role with Facilities Management. One of her first goals in her new position was to increase flowering color on campus. While the new flowers are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, the increase in flowering plants in Murray State’s landscaping serves more than one purpose: it is a significant draw for bees and other pollinators.
“There is an apiary at the Arboretum that houses thousands of bees,” Morgan said. “I am told that they will travel for several miles to find food.”
Morgan explained that Facilities Management is planting to help feed pollinators, such as butterflies and bees. An added bonus, she said, is that many of the plants seen in flower beds across campus are grown by the students in the University’s horticulture program.
“For as long as I can remember, [Facilities Management] has purchased annual plants and mums from the horticulture program, which has a greenhouse out by the Arboretum,” Morgan said. “I think it is especially important that we continue to have a working relationship with the folks in the Hutson School of Agriculture. So many students are able to get hands-on learning experiences simply because we choose to purchase plants from them rather than a large company.”
In addition to planting more flowers, Facilities Management has been installing more native plantings.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals.”
Pollinators are on the University community’s mind at large as other departments and students work on additional initiatives to help them flourish.
MacKenzie Jones, a presidential fellow and agriculture science major from Frankfort, has been working with the bees at Murray State’s apiary since she helped build it during her spring break in 2017.
In late September, Jones and students from two agriculture economics classes led by Dr. Michelle Santiago, professor of agribusiness economics, helped with the first honey extraction of the year.
Jones led the group as students pulled the honeycomb frames, opened the caps in the comb and placed the entire frame in a centrifuge to spin the honey away from the comb. This marked the first time many of the students had harvested honey.
“My goal in building the apiary was to create awareness for not only honey bees but other pollinators as well,” Jones said, adding that it can sometimes be difficult for pollinators to find reliable food sources in areas like Murray that are row-crop heavy.
Since establishing the apiary, Jones has hosted educational seminars for students of all ages, established a 4-H bee club and assisted in the creation of an educational bee park near the apiary.
“I’m excited that the apiary is moving forward in both education and awareness,” Jones said. “We even now have a paid position for a student to care for the bees at the Arboretum.”