I just ran into an article that they are using drones to pollinate orchards. Has anyone heard of this or better, witnessed this? Does anyone have any knowledge of this at all? Drones used for pollinating, probably nanobots most likely will 'work'. If drones work then who will care about mitigating our practices in gardening to save bees?
Having learned a bit about bees this past year, I'm disappointed by articles like the one linked in this question. In the excitement to talk about robots, it doesn't address the details of the bees. I don't even know much about bees, but...here's a few thoughts on the topic. Probably a lot of folks on gardening.stackexchange know this already, but if I could edit the article I'd add in some of the below info.
- The honey bees people generally raise for honey and pollination are not native to North America. They are not that efficient at pollinating. They do make honey (sweet, delicious, honey).
- There's a few phrases that people use somewhat interchange-ably for other kinds of bees like "Native bees", Solitary bees, and Mason bees. Those words have specific and different meanings.
- Mason bees are a group of bees that use mud packed between cocoons like a brick-mason packing mud on something. Blue orchard mason bees seem to be growing in popularity as an alternative to honeybees for early-season pollination. Leafcutter bees are another group of bees native to North America that are active throughout the rest of the summer.
- Among the native bees, some are solitary and some are communal and some are in between. Even "solitary" bees often live in very close proximity to each other.
- As growers and suppliers look for alternatives, including robotic drones, there have been successful experiments with native bees. The native bees are more efficient than honey bees at pollinating and require less tending by humans (mason and leaf-cutter bees are less likely to sting and don't have to be sedated with smoke).
I have mixed feelings about the idea of replacing honeybees with native bees. I eat honey and appreciate it as a food source for the world, so it does seem important to keep honey bees alive somewhere. To the extent that honey bee colonies are dying from farming/gardening practices that have other bad side-effects (overuse of herbicides/insecticides, monocultures, heavy-till soil maintenance, overuse of fertilizers) I would rather see those practices curtailed than have effort put into alternatives to honey bees.
At the same time, the idea that honey bees are not native to many parts of earth makes me wonder if trying to sustain honey bees on all continents is really the right, practical, sustainable solution. Perhaps honey bees should be raised in places that are most adaptable for honey bees and farmers/gardeners should look to native bees for their pollination needs.
Some more information on all these different kinds of bees:
- Crown Bees is a company that sells a variety of items related to bees as pollinators. They sell bees, houses and other accessories for residential and commercial use. They also have a ton of educational content published online.
- This 2015 article from Wired Magazine You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees has some good information about the different kinds of bees and the importance of saving them all.
- The book Bees in Your Backyard (on crownbees.com or Amazon is very scientific and detailed. It was too detailed for me, but getting it from the library and skimming it was helpful.
- The book Mason Bee Revolution: How the Hardest Working Bee Can Save the World - One Backyard at a Time (on crownbees or Amazon) is more practical advice about native bees.