This Drone Could Pollinate Your Entire Garden

When you hear ‘bees’ and ‘drone’ in the same sentence, you think of the low, continuous hum that the insects omit. What you don’t think is expensive gadget used to film smug family’s Jamaican getaway. Nonetheless, the scientific community’s concerns about the imminent demise of honeybees has instigated the development of drones – of the tangible persuasion – to carry out artificial pollination.

The development comes amidst ongoing concerns about the world’s bee population, and the ramifications if bees die out altogether. Extinction would have huge consequences for the global ecosystem: bee pollination is responsible, in varying capacities, for apples, cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, celery, broccoli and onions. In turn, it is estimated that bees are responsible for approximately 1.4 billion jobs worldwide; they’re a critical component of human welfare. Pound for pound, they contribute more to the nation’s GDP than the royal family.

In a recent endeavor, scientists in Japan have come up with a backup plan should the world’s honeybee population collapse, in the form of mini hummingbird-sized drones. Protruding from the drone’s body are a cluster of horsehair paintbrush bristles coated in a sticky gel, which facilitates the pick-up and redistribution of pollen grains amongst flowers.

The researchers stressed that “The global pollination crisis is a critical issue for the natural environment and our lives. The need to develop an innovative pollination tool that does not require time and effort to achieve pollination with a high success rate is urgent.”

The drones signal a step forward, certainly, but they lack the honey-producing capacity of the bees themselves. Plus, there’s a long way to go before the drones can operate without human guidance, not to mention a huge financial barrier to overcome. Nonetheless, flawed though they may be, the drones are a necessary evil; it is estimated that about 9% of bees are classified as ‘threatened’, and bee colonies are in sharp decline.

This isn’t the first time that humans have intervened, laden with technology, in an attempt to save the bees; in 2015 Australian scientists installed micro tracking chips on bees in an endeavor to find out the causes of ‘colony collapse’, the phenomenon which depletes the honeybee population.

As unsettling as all this bee-interventionism may be – you may remember a similar scenario going horribly wrong in the final episode of Black Mirror – it’s a solution to a potentially devastating problem. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of ‘buzz’ (I’m sorry) surrounding the issue…

The FarmBot Can Automatically Grow Food In Your Yard

FarmBot’s innovative home gardening robot is inching closer to its official availability, as the company has been accepting pre-orders since the beginning of July. The money is rolling in quickly for the California corporation — with only a few days left in the pre-ordering period, it has more than tripled its $100,000 goal, raising $351,330. To entice early adopters, FarmBot offered a 25 percent discount on each unit, shaving $1,000 off the price of the robot and bringing it down to $2,900. The company expects to ship this first round of July pre-orders in February 2017.

Precision farming has been hailed as the future of agriculture, sustainability, and the food industry. That’s why a company called FarmBot is working to bring precision agriculture technology to environmentally conscious individuals for the first time. The company’s first product — the FarmBot Genesis — is a do-it-yourself precision farming solution, that (theoretically) anyone can figure out. The system is already up to its ninth iteration, and the open source robot improves in each version thanks to input from the FarmBot community.

Agriculture is an expensive and wildly wasteful industry. The precision farming movement may not solve every problem the industry faces, but it does have a lot of potential to improve sustainability and efficiency. Before FarmBot, precision agriculture equipment was only available in the form of massive heavy machinery. Precision farming tractors used to cost more than $1 million each when FarmBot creator Rory Aronson first had the idea for his solution in 2011.

The FarmBot robot kit ships with an Arduino Mega 2560, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, disassembled hardware packages and access to the open-source software community. FarmBot Genesis runs on custom built tracks and supporting infrastructure, all of which you need to assemble yourself. The online FarmBot community makes it easy to find step-by-step instructions for every single assembly process. There are even forums to troubleshoot installing a FarmBot in your own backyard. The robot relies on a software platform that users access through FarmBot’s web app, all of which looks a whole lot like Farmville, the infamous mobile game.

The physical FarmBot system is aligned with the crops you plot out in your virtual version on the web app. That’s how Farmbot can reliably dispense water, fertilizer, and other resources to keep plants healthy and thriving. Since it doesn’t require any delicate sensor technology, FarmBot is a cheaper solution than the industrial precision farming equipment on the market. And with its universal tool mount, you can adapt FarmBot to do pretty much any garden task you desire.

FarmBot is “coming soon” to Kickstarter, so you’ll be able to order and assemble your own farming robot in the near future. Some DIY knowledge is definitely required to put FarmBot to work, though. At the very least, you’ll need an Ikea-level ability to follow assembly instructions. According to the website, FarmBot Genesis was “designed to be a flexible FarmBot foundation for experimentation, prototyping, and hacking”. If any of those three things scare you, FarmBot may be an intimidating endeavor. But if you know your way around open source software and Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms, a FarmBot in your backyard could change the future of farming.

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9 Honeybee-Friendly Plants

Avid gardeners take note: It’s never too late to get out your shovel and start planting flowers to help bolster the honeybee population, which is in danger of extinction. Widespread colony collapse disorder is due to environmental stress stemming from overuse of pesticides as well as parasitic attacks, according to experts. This affects not just the honeybees but also our food supply.

“Over 75 percent of the foods we eat require pollination,” says Miriam Goldberger, author of “Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature’s Blooms into Your Own Backyard,” and owner of Wildflower Farm, the largest (and oldest) wildflower seed company in Canada. “The most effective pollinators of food crops are European honeybees and North American native bees.”

Just think: By adding (floral) inventory to your landscape, you’ll also attract pollinators year-round because more than 75 kinds of wildflowers provide pollen for bees. “The best thing is to plant annuals that bloom all season,” suggests Polly Hutchinson, an organic flower farmer at Robin Hollow Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. “That gives bees way more to feed on and it’s a great way to support the population you have on your property.” So, why not roll up your sleeves and read on, as we share the top plants you should consider planting — and you can do it this weekend.

1. Asters

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These blue, pink and purple flowers are ideal additions to your garden since they bloom in late-summer and stay in bloom into fall, making them a welcome option for honeybees to feed on when other flowers in your garden are no longer in bloom.

2. Black-eyed Susans

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With stalks that grow to three feet and beyond, these yellow flowers that boast a brown-purple center are a honeybee fave. Best of all, they are long-lived perennials native to North America, so there’s no need to replant.

3. Dandelions

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Technically a weed, this yellow sprout is beloved by bees. “Let them be,” Hutchinson advises. “Yes, dandelions are weeds, but they’re also great for bees and their roots go way down, which ultimately puts nutrients from lower down in the ground up to help feed your grass. They’re a win-win plant!”

4. Lemon balm

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This perennial herb that’s part of the mint family, a.k.a. Melissa officinalis, is a perfect bee-attracting addition to any partly shady garden. It also has a long history. In ancient Greek times, this herb was planted near their bee hives to help keep the honeybees well-fed from the plant’s nectar-rich flowers and to help prevent their bees from swarming, says Aaron von Frank, an expert organic gardener and co-founder of GrowJourney, a USDA-certified organic Seeds of the Month Club. “We grow it in our garden and our neighbor’s honeybees cover the flowers throughout the blooming cycle,” he says. “Lemon balm makes a delicious tea, too.”

5. Purple coneflower

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Otherwise known as echinacea, this resplendent daisy-like flower is a honeybee magnet and provides both pollen and nectar to foraging bees.

6. Snapdragons

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During the day when bees are looking for nourishment, snapdragons release four times more scent, which draws honeybees to them. Adding to the allure: The bees then carry the aroma of the snapdragon back to the hive. This attracts even more bees to the flowerbeds.

7. Sunflowers

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A hardy annual that’s tall and grows into strong stalks, sunflowers are a honeybee must-plant. Opt for yellow or orange sunflowers instead of red ones, since bees can’t detect the color red when they seek out places to feed.

8. Yarrow

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A perennial, these bright flattened buds that come with a signature fernlike leaf are favorite spots for bees to collect nectar. They’re also ideal for cutting and drying once the season is over.

9. Zinnias

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These easy-to-grow flowers stay in bloom for most of the season and are colorful, too. “Anything that has a lot of small flowers on the flower is great for bees,” Hutchinson says. “You want to seek out flowers that can provide more pollen, which ultimately provides that much more food for the bees.”