Friday, September 15, 2017

Growing Tomatilloes

The tomatilllo  (Physalis philadelphica) is little known in American gardens.  This flavorful fruit, also know as a Mexican Husk Tomato, is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves, however.  

Tomatilloes are green or purple fruits that are used in salsa verde and other green sauces in Mexican cuisine.  These fruits are excellent however, sliced and lightly roasted on almost any starchy food.  Our favorite use is to slice them and place them on top of pizza (before baking), a recipe we call Pizza Victoria.  

Tomatilloes will likely grow anywhere tomatoes grow (far north of Mexico).  Our experience described below was at our test garden in central Indiana, hardly a balmy climate.  

Tomatilloes can seem difficult to grow - and indeed they may be without the Waterboxx.  Like most nightshade family plants, tomatilloes need very consistent watering.  With raised bed gardening, it is very hard to keep consistent water to the roots of the plant.  An ingenious gardening device, the Groasis Waterboxx, changes that.  

Two tomatillo plants growing in a Waterboxx in a raised bed.  Without any supplemental watering, these two plants produced over 200 fruit!
Tomatilloes must be grown from seed.  There are many seed suppliers on line.  Almost all of these seeds are heirloom, meaning you will not need to buy seed year after year but can just save and dry seed from your plants. The varieties that turn purple has more sweetness than the varieties that are green at maturity.  We recommend the purple variety unless you are only interested in tart salsa verde.

Tomatilloes, just like tomatoes, should be started indoors in a peat pot 6-8 weeks before last frost date.  Once last frost date has passed, they are ready to be transplanted outside.

To plant outside, first slightly moisten the soil and add any desired fertilizer.  Then take an assembled Waterboxx with two wicks, press this down into the soil to leave an indentation.  The raised dirt in the center should form a figure 8.  You will plant one tomatillo at each corner of this figure 8. 

Remove the dirt, plant the tomatillo even with ground level (leaving the peat pot in place), place an evaporation cover and then place the Waterboxx carefully over the tomatillo plants.  Your work is now done!

Three tomatilloes, about 2-3 days from maturity, in their husks (which look like alien pods from a science fiction movie) with the Waterboxx in the background.

The tomatilloes will not need any more care, with the possible exception of staking if your plant gets large, between now and harvest.  Tomatilloes are ready to harvest when the fruit is growing enough to burst out of its husk (or it the fruit falls from the plant).  

A ripe tomatillo, grown without any watering after planting with the Groasis Waterboxx

You can learn more about the Waterboxx at DewHarvest.com or buy it here

Monday, September 4, 2017

Growing Cucumbers with No Watering

Cucumbers are a very pleasant fruit (yes, they are a fruit as they grow from a fertilized flower) for home gardeners.  This vining cucurbit (in the family with squash and watermelon) tends to produce earlier than almost any other vine crop.

Cucumbers are great in salad, great in sauces (like tzatziki), flavorful in infused water, and good for slicing or pickling.  Few fruits have so many different uses.

The difficulty with cucumbers has been the large and consistent amount of water these plants need.  For best production, cucumbers need water almost every day in a raised bed garden.  This places a terrible strain on most gardeners, who have better things to do than lug a watering can into the garden.

Two cucumber plants growing in our Central Indiana test garden - by early September these two plants had produced 45 cucumbers!
Several years ago, an invention, the Groasis Waterboxx, was applied to growing cucumbers for the first time.  The Waterboxx was initially developed to grow trees in dry places.  It functions through biomimicry.  The Waterboxx has a lotus leaf inspired lid, which is used to collect dew and condensation.  This water, as well as rainwater, is then funneled into a 15 liter (4 gallon) reservoir.  From this reservoir, water is released (passively without any moving parts or human interaction) by one or more wicks to the soil below.  The Waterboxx itself prevents evaporation of this soil moisture (just like the ground under a stepping stone stays moist even with the exposed soil around it becomes dry).

The Waterboxx works wonderfully to grow trees - allowing native and important non-native trees to be established with no watering after planting.  .

When the Waterboxx is placed around garden plants, it functions the same way as with trees.  The garden plants, like cucumbers, get consistent amounts of moisture all day with their roots never drying out.  The Waterboxxes only need refilling with water if there is no rain for several weeks (the Waterboxx reservoir completely refills with 4 inches of rainfall).

We planted two cucumber plants in our raised bed garden, placed a Waterboxx around them, and then did nothing besides train the vines on a string trellis.  Our results were astounding.  We had over 45 full sized cucumbers be produced in our short, northern summer.  The cucumbers kept producing even in periods without rain due to the ingenious design of the Waterboxx.

Why not try out the Waterboxx in your garden? It can save you time, effort, while ensuring better harvests.  The Waterboxx has been used to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, melons, eggplants, zucchini, squash and pumpkins.  You can learn more about the Waterboxx here or buy the Waterboxx here.

Our book, The Waterboxx Gardener, is available here.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Evergreen Hedges - Tree Selection and Maintenance

     As Americans have rediscovered their back yards over the past several years and decided to spend more time in their current home because of the recent recession, more have decided to plant evergreen hedges.  The advantage of hedges are obvious - privacy, sound reduction from nearby streets and neighbors, habitat for wildlife, as a windbreak lowering heating costs in winter, and improvement in home value and curb appeal.  Unfortunately, we have seen a significant number of dead hedges over the past several years - mostly due to inappropriate trees for the area, inappropriately planted and insufficiently watered during the recent droughts.  We will attempt here to educate on the best types of evergreen tree for certain growing conditions, and how the Groasis Waterboxx might be useful in the planting of the hedge.  For the purposes of this post, we will only be discussing trees that grow at least to eye height (thereby blocking line of sight).

Arborvitae

      In the Great Lakes region where we are based, this is definitely the most popular hedge tree.  The Thuja occidentalis 'Emerald' variety seems to be the most commonly planted, but sometimes the faster growing if less picturesque Thuja standishii x plicata 'Green Giant' is used.  Both of these arborvitae (Latin for "tree of life") can be grown in zones 5-7, with the 'Emerald' variety hardy to zone 3 (see zones below).  
USDA Hardiness Zone Map - From Wikipedia
The 'Emerald' variety has a very nearly cylindrical appearance (with a slightly tapered spire), but tends to grow only about 12-18 inches per year, and reaches it maximum height of 20 feet slowly.  The 'Green Giant' variety can grow up to three feet a year under ideal conditions, and can potentially grow to 60 feet in height.  Both of the arborvitae are extremely sensitive to drought.  Over the last three summers, we have seen approximately 60% of established arborvitae die and 90% of newly planted arborvitae perish.  These trees, when bought potted from nurseries, almost always have a thick root ball when their base is removed from the pot.  Even when properly planted, these roots tend to stay near ground level, and will quickly dry out in periods of even partial drought.  One solution to deal with this is the rather arduous task of snaking a soaker hose throughout the trees every spring, and watering them thoroughly at least once weekly.  The soaker hose will need to be removed and stored before freezing in winter.  This can quickly become expensive, and tends to further cause roots to grow near the surface.  A (far cheaper) solution is to plant small bare root arborvitae (available from Arbor Day for as little as $2.49) using the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx allows you to plant smaller, much cheaper (potted arborvitae sell for around $35 at big box home improvement stores due to the recent die off) arborvitae with properly formed roots.  The Waterboxx induces the roots of the tree to reach downward toward capillary water, not laterally (staying near the surface).  Because the Waterboxx contains a water reservoir and collects dew, you will not need to irrigate the trees after planting.  After approximately one year (depending on growth), the Waterboxx can be removed and reused.  You can calculate whether using a Waterboxx will save money during the first year using our calculator.  

Leyland Cypress

The Leyland Cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii) is also an excellent evergreen hedge tree, with the ability to grow much farther south than the arborvitae (up to zone 10).  The Leyland Cypress is also considerably more drought tolerant, as well as faster growing than the 'Emerald'  arborvitae.  The drawback to this tree is its mature size (up to 60 feet) and its susceptibility to infection.  As with the arborvitae, we recommend planting bare root Leyland Cypress using the Waterboxx, giving the tree an excellent foundation with deep roots.  The Waterboxx can be removed and used again to extend the hedge or to plant other trees.  
It is important to be a good (and thoughtful) neighbor when planting hedges, not planting tall plants that will block sun from reaching a neighbor's yard.  Also, each of the hedge trees discussed here can get certain diseases (arborvitae are susceptible to bagworms [Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis] which appear to be pine cones at first sight) that will need to be dealt with immediately if spotted.  These diseases are more likely to take hold of unhealthy trees, another incentive to use the Waterboxx to properly establish the hedge at planting.

Be the first in your area to start growing plants with the Groasis Waterboxx. The Waterboxx can be purchased in the United States from Dew Harvest, with discount prices on orders of five or ten. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".



   




Friday, October 14, 2016

Growing Peppers Without Watering

Growing peppers in the backyard garden can be frustrating.  Even though peppers are not as prone to damage by insects as other plants like squash or eggplants, they are very finicky overall.  Pepper plants frequently fall over if not staked, required near daily watering yet produce relatively little, and many varieties don't do well with hot temperatures. Peppers also wilt in during the height of the summer.   Finally, almost all weeds grow faster than pepper plants, requiring you to constantly be looking out for soil invaders near your pepper plants. After a few years, especially in hot climates, gardeners decide it is not worth the effort and many stop attempting to grow these plants.

This is a shame, especially as a new device makes it extremely easy to grow peppers.  The device, called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, or Waterboxx for short, collects dew and rain water, stores it, and then slowly releases it to the roots of a growing plant.  It doesn't require electricity and, after set up, may not require any manual watering, especially for peppers.

The Waterboxx: a tree or garden plant in planted in the central opening, water is collected from dew and rainfall from the corrugated tan lid, funneled through siphons (shown here in red) into the green reservoir, and then slowly released autonomously through a wick to the plant roots below.  Image from Groasis.com  


First, let's discuss bell peppers. These peppers are some of the most popular to grow because they are the most useful in the kitchen and most expensive at the store- frequently about $1 per pepper, even in season.  However, these pepper plants will drop their blooms if daytime temperatures get about 90 degrees Fahrenheit consistently.  The Waterboxx, however, stores water and keeps the base and roots of the plant cool, relieving some heat stress from this plant.  It also provides consistent moisture and prevents any weeds from growing around the pepper.  If you do live in an extremely hot climate (like the desert southwest), however, we would suggest 30% shade cloth over your pepper plants to prevent overheating.

Two bell pepper plants in the height of the summer heat - with no water at all since planting, besides rainfall and dew. The Waterboxx not only waters these plants but blocks out any competing weeds.  

So, the Waterboxx can be used to grow bell peppers well.  How about long peppers?  Yes, the Waterboxx is especially well suited to these peppers.  Below you can see long peppers thriving in the Waterboxx.  These two plants, in one Waterboxx produced over 100 peppers, with no watering after planting.


The Waterboxx growing long peppers - over 100 peppers from this plant without any watering after planting - a truly impressive feat!
How about jalapenos?  Will the Waterboxx help grow this delightful variety?  Yes, with incredible yields, as well.  Two jalapeno plants in a single Waterboxx with no watering or care after planting grew over 80 peppers!

Two jalapeno plants growing in a Waterboxx - produced over 80 peppers with no watering, no weeding, and no other care after planting.  


Finally, we come to the king of the hot peppers, the habanero.  The Waterboxx also can be used to grow this pepper, with large yields and no work after planting.


The Waterboxx growing two habanero pepper plants with yellow habaneros scattered through the upper leaves - no watering, weeding, fertilizing, muclching, or any other work since planting!

There has never been a device like the Waterboxx for growing peppers - it can completely eliminate the need for any watering after planting, completely eliminate weeding, eliminate mulching, and help produce high yields.  It also encourages tall, straight plants with its unique figure 8 central opening.

Find out more about the Waterboxx here or buy the Waterboxx here.

We would love to hear your comments, including any results, below.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Atmosphere's Carbon Dioxide Passes Key Level

This past month, the world’s longest running carbon dioxide measurement site measured atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to be above 400 parts per million.  While this has happened before, it has never happened in the height of the northern hemisphere summer, when carbon dioxide levels reach a yearly low due to growth of vegetation.

This is a significant milestone, and it is almost certain that no one now living will see levels drop below 400 ppm during their lifetime.  When observations at this site in Hawaii started in the 1950s, the average level of carbon dioxide was 315 ppm.  

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa Hawaii, with clear fluctuation throughout the year
From http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/mlo/programs/coop/scripps/co2/co2.html, public domain
This carbon dioxide is of course the most prevalent greenhouse gas, as well as the main cause of ocean acidification.  There are some benefits to the current level of carbon dioxide (we likely have postponed the next ice age, for one).  However, clearly continued increase in carbon dioxide levels will continue to change climate, raising sea level while also making it harder for many marine organisms to flourish (due to ocean acidification).  We have reached a point where we need to stop increasing carbon in the atmosphere.

For reference, carbon dioxide hasn't been this high in the atmosphere at any time during Homo sapiens tenure on this planet.  
Carbon Dioxide levels are higher now than at any time in the last 800,000 years, at least.
Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Almost all proposed "solutions" to this problem have really been efforts to just decrease how much carbon dioxide we are emitting, rather than removing any carbon dioxide.  This is futile, as almost all human productive activity produces carbon dioxide (even making steel for wind turbines and mining lithium for batteries).  Also, as more of the world electrifies, energy consumption and therefore carbon dioxide emissions will continue to increase from the developing world.  You can hardly blame the people of India and Africa for wanting a standard of living we enjoyed 60 or 70 years ago in the U.S.  This standard of living, currently, is only made possible by fossil fuels.

So, what is to be done?  We cannot stop using fossil fuels, so are we just stuck with the consequences of our emissions?  The answer is a resounding no.  Fossil fuels, specifically coal, are the compressed and aged products of ancient forests of massive trees, buried before organisms evolved that could readily dissolve lignin in wood. If we could replant reasonable numbers of massive trees, we could begin counteracting this emission of carbon dioxide.  We have calculated that some single trees (for example, the General Grant Sequoia in California) have stored more than a lifetime's emissions of carbon dioxide.  Even if we didn't plant massive trees, planting large numbers of smaller trees on currently dry, barren land would make the land productive and carbon sequestering.  

How is this to be done?  Planting sequoias outside their current range and planting trees in dry, barren areas has been made entirely possible by new technology, called the Groasis Waterboxx.

A schematic cutaway view of the Groasis Waterboxx (from Groasis.com).  Water is collected on the tan lid, funneled through the siphons shown in red to the green reservoir, and slowly released to the roots of the growing tree via the white wick.

The Groasis Waterboxx acts as a self refilling water battery for trees.  It collects condensation and rain water, stores it, and slowly releases it to the roots of a growing tree sapling. The method in which the water is released forms a water column beneath the Waterboxx, inducing the tree to grow deep roots that withstand future periods of drought.  You can see Waterboxx results below.  

Thirteen months' growth of a white teak tree in the desert of Ecuador - truly incredible growth without watering and with the Waterboxx

Three years' growth of a salt cedar (invasive in the U.S.) tree with the Groasis Waterboxx in the Sahara Desert!  These trees had over 88% survival with no watering after planting when the Waterboxx was used.
Image from Groasis.com
Two years' growth of a sequoia from planting with the Waterboxx in central Indiana.  No water was given to this tree after planting with the Waterboxx, even after Waterboxx removal.  The sequoia grew surprisingly well, and could easily be planted throughout the eastern U.S. with the Waterboxx.  

If you live in a part of the U.S. with near average or above average rain (25 or more inches), have you considered planting a sequoia or other large tree on your property?  If you live in an arid part of the country, have you considered enriching your land, providing shade and sequestering carbon dioxide by planting desert-adapted trees.  This is now possible with the Waterboxx.  What is more, trees planted with the Waterboxx can be affordable, bare root trees, enabling large numbers to be planted.  The Waterboxx itself is reusable for up to 10 years.     

Wouldn't it be rewarding to leave your land better than you found it, while taking action on the biggest environmental issue of human history?  

You can find out more about the Waterboxx here at DewHarvest.com

We would love to read your comments below.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sequoia Progress in Indiana with the Groasis Waterboxx




We have always been interested in big trees, and have planted several (4) Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) outside where we live in Indiana, only to see all of them die.  When we started Dew Harvest® LLC, we decided to use one Groasis Waterboxx to plant a Giant Sequoia, hoping that the Waterboxx would overcome the dry Indiana summers that killed my previous 4 trees.  The Sequoia is very water loving, and does not tolerate long periods of drought.  Below you see pictures of both the Sequoia immediately after planting in mid May and progress since then 6 weeks later (for reference, the lid of the Waterboxx is 20 inches in diameter).

The Sequoia seen laterally at initial planting (again approximately 2 years old).  Some brown is evident from winter die back.

Sequoia after 6 weeks growth with the Waterboxx (almost doubled in size) while the grass around the Sequoia has died back from lack of rain.  No water was added to the Waterboxx except that added by dew and rain naturally.  Note: Orientation of photo is flipped 180 degrees as evidenced by blue cap in Waterboxx lid position.  The lighter blue green color is indicative of new growth.

The Sequoia after 6 weeks with the Waterboxx (approximately doubled in size in 6 weeks, after 2  years of slow growth).  Again, the  grass around the Groasis Waterboxx is dying back from lack of consistent rainfall.  Again, the lighter blue green is new growth, and no brown is evident.
The Sequoia after approximately 2 months, continues growing in height as well as width.  The large amount of light green indicates the rate at which the tree is growing.  The box will be left on over winter, as it provides a blanket of water which will only slowly change temperatures and protect the base of the Sequoia from drying out.  The design of the Waterboxx means that it will not break when the water in it freezes, but may loosen the lid (the ice will expand upward, not outward).



Sequoia after approximately 2 months of growth with the Waterboxx and no external watering (no water has been added to the box except dew and rain, which have kept the box completely full).  You can see that the surrounding grass continues to die back from lack of water, but the irrigating and cooling effects of the Waterboxx keep the sequoia growing without any browning.  This tree will soon be able to grow on its own, but we will leave the Waterboxx on it over winter to prevent the drying winter winds from killing the young tree.


The water level is only down approximately 1 cm (in a ~25 cm high basin) after one whole month with less than 1 inch of rainfall.  The morning dew is funneled into the basin, and this prevents the basin from emptying even though it continues to water the healthy growing tree (Photo from August 28,2013)



The Sequioa 3 months after initial planting with the Waterboxx.  The tree remains green even though the surrounding grass has died from lack of rainfall.  

Besides a very dry summer, we had the harshest winter in living memory.  Just as the Waterboxx provides consistent sustaining water in the summer drought, its basin protects the trunk of the tree from drying winds.  The image below shows the Waterboxx on January 10, 2014, during the Polar Vortex (with temps down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit).  




As you can see, the Waterboxx is wonderfully effective at growing water loving trees (or trees in dry areas) even if there is not enough water to sustain such plants as grass.  The Waterboxx accomplishes this by storing dew, collected almost every night, in its basin and slowly releasing it through a wick into the soil below.  The basin serves as a type of plastic mulch, preventing evaporation of the water during the day.  The Waterboxx will need to be removed before the Sequoia is too large to fit through the central opening, which will likely be next spring.  The Waterboxx can stay around the tree overwinter, and will not break if the water inside it freezes.  In this way, it will also form a blanket for the Sequoia, which is susceptible to drying winds (most experts advise burying the Sequoia in straw in the winter). 


The images above show the health, size, and continuing growth of the Sequoia in the late spring, approximately one month following removal of the Waterboxx.  The Sequoia generally browns out in early spring (see brown above) only to add significant new growth later that same season.  The Sequoia is now ~2 feet tall (23 inches) and about 20 inches wide in this photo.




This photo was taken on July 18, 2014, 3 months after Waterboxx removal.  This Sequoia has not had any irrigation or artificial watering of any type (it did have a pan around it, not shown in this picture, to funnel water to the base).  It is now almost 30 inches wide and about as tall.  It clearly will survive now due to the deep Waterboxx induced roots.  




The Sequoia is seen above on October 4, 2014.  Here you can see it is over one yard tall now (about 38 inches in total height.  It has continued to have new growth throughout the late summer. 

The tree, of course, continued to grow, all without any manual watering.  Below, we show it in September, 2016.   The browning of the lower limbs is normal - lower limbs die off as they receive less sunlight.  This tree has less sunlight than most as it has a fence immediately to its south.



Growing up in Indiana (where the tallest tree is rarely 100 feet tall), we became intrigued with the idea of Sequoias that can grow 300 feet tall and live for thousands of years.  We were disappointed with our consistent failure to establish one of these trees - until we tried the Waterboxx.  We now hope to be able to establish small woods with Sequoias, sequestering carbon and adding incredible beauty to our Hoosier landscape.  

Be the first in your area to start growing trees (including perhaps Sequoias) with the Groasis Waterboxx. As always, you can learn more about the Groasis Waterboxx and buy one (or several) at Dew Harvest® LLC.  

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We buy our Sequoias from our friend Joe Welker at Giant-Sequoia.com.  We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments". 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sequoia From Planting Through Growth

Since we were a child, giant sequoia trees have held a great fascination for us.  Several years ago, we saw some giant sequoia trees in small containers at our local botanical garden, and decided to try to grow them.  They grew fairly well potted inside our apartment, but each and every one died during transplanting outside.  Even with frequent watering, the roots seemed to dry out and we were left with a dead tree.  This continued for several unsuccessful attempts, that is until we planted our first tree with a device we read about online - the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  We planted this tree with the Waterboxx, watered it once, and never watered it again.  The tree not only survived, but thrived, and is now growing without the Waterboxx or any other intervention.  

We wanted to make sure this success wasn't a fluke, so decided to plant another sequoia, this time somewhat farther to the south, and transplanted at an earlier age.  Below, you can see the results of this test planting.  

The following photos will document the whole growth of a sequoia from its initial planting outside to removal of the Waterboxx.

A small sequoia barely sticks out of  the central opening of the Waterboxx on July 3, 2013, the day of its planting.

The same sequoia on August 24, 2013.  Already after 6 weeks you can see significant growth with even the limited light reaching the central opening.  It has not rained for approximately 2 weeks as of this photo.   

As the sequoia was so small initially, it had a great deal of trouble getting enough sunlight for rapid growth.  However, as more of the sequoia needles reached above the Waterboxx lid, the sequoia began to grow more rapidly.  Remember, we never added any water to the sequoia or the Waterboxx after planting.

Here you see the approximately doubled in size Sequoia on September 7, 2014 (with some dried grass on the Waterboxx lid).
The same sequoia on August 13, 2015.  This tree has dramatically filled out, and we will be able to remove the Waterboxx PlantCocoon after the winter.  The tree will then be able to grow without watering due to its deep, Waterboxx induced root system.


3 Years' growth of a sequoia - from tiny sapling to 2 foot tall tree - no water was ever given to the tree and the Waterboxx was left in place over winter.  

As long as the central dumbbell shaped opening is oriented along an East-West Axis, then the seed or small tree will get enough light to grow.  The Waterboxx cost 7 million dollars to develop, and works so well because of its multiple ingenious features.  It funnels dew into the central basin, and then allows that to drip to the roots of  a growing plant.  You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon here..  We buy our giant sequoias from Giant-Sequoia.com.  We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".