Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Native Bees For Your Waterboxx Garden

Bees have been fundamental to the development of the natural world.  Bees are almost certainly the reason that angiosperms – flowering plants – evolved to have flowers.  Bees act as an intermediary, a courier, that allows disparate individual plants of the same species to move pollen (the plant equivalent of sperm) from a the stamen of male flower to the stigma of a female flower – producing seeds.  After flowers developed, plants then evolved fruit to cover these seeds – to attract animals to disperse the seeds far from the parents.  Thus, bees are the first necessary step in an intricate system that allows us as humans to grow plants for their fruits.

Gardening seems very simple, until you try to do it well consistently, working with nature.  For a long time, the biggest impediment to a bountiful garden was the need for daily watering.  The Groasis Waterboxx changed this – capturing condensation from the air and transpiration moisture from the plant, as well as occasional rainfall, storing it and slowly releasing it to the roots of the plant.  Once a filled Waterboxx is in place around most vegetables with a compact central stalk (like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, squash, and melons), little or no water is needed again for the length of the growing season.  Dew Harvest in privileged to sell the Waterboxx in the United States.

Once consistent water is addressed by placement of the Waterboxx, however, an additional problem arises.  Having large, fast growing plants doesn’t necessarily mean having lots of produce – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash and melons.  The plants themselves growing well only means that that they produce flowers well – the flowers still need to be fertilized.  This is where bees come into the picture.

Bees bring pollen from the male anther to the female stigma – allowing fertilization to take place – without which there would be no fruit.  Some flowering garden plants, like tomatoes, can undergo this process just through the wind but bees are a more direct and definite way for fertilization to happen.

Many people assume, due to all the press coverage they receive, that honey bees are native to North America and that they are the best pollinators for the garden.  Honey bees are wonderful – we wouldn’t want to live without the mild sweetness of panna cotta with honey – but European honey bees are neither native to the U.S. nor are they particularly effective pollinators.  Honey bees are greedy with pollen - taking as much back to their hive as possible to eat and feed their young- dispersing relatively little between plants.  Many other native bees, for example mason bees, leafcutter bees, squash bees and even bumblebees, are far more important for pollinating plants in the home garden.  Most gardeners are familiar with only one of these – bumblebees – and only then for their sting.  This is unfortunate – honeybees are the celebrities of the bee world – doing little of the real work of pollinating but getting all the credit – while native bees remain unsung and underutilized.

Mason Bees

Mason bees of the genus Osmia, including the strikingly beautiful blue orchard bee, get their name from the fact that they use mud to complete their nests.  These solitary bees lay eggs in existing holes – like reeds or purposely drilled holes in wood blocks.  They are active very early in the spring – as soon as the weather is consistently fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  This makes them ideal pollinators for early blooming fruit trees – cherries, pears, apple and especially peach - all of which can be planted with the Waterboxx as ours were..  Just a handful of mason bees can ensure an excellent peach harvest – we have harvested well over 200 peaches from a four year old peach tree due to our purchase of mason bees.  Mason bees do need a consistent source of wet mud nearby to be induced to build their nest – and should also have reeds or pre-drilled holes in an untreated wood block available.  Make sure the mason bees’ holes face south or east – the morning sun being needed to warm these cold blooded garden companions.  While providing a home and a supply of mortar (namely – wet mud) can encourage these bees to come to your garden and stay, after several years of trying unsuccessfully to entice them to our Dew Harvest Test Garden, we decided to purchase these bees and couldn’t be happier.  Only female mason bees sting – and then they only tend to do so if trapped or crushed.  In several years of releasing and closely observing these gentle bees we have never been stung.  The only protection we use when handling them is gardening gloves and sunglasses (which should always be worn in the garden ).  Important Note: If allergic to any insect of the order hymenoptera (including wasps and ants) – it is wise to avoid bees as these species are all related.

Mason bees are active for the first 6-8 weeks of the growing season before laying their eggs and dying.  Their eggs then mature the rest of the year and emerge as adults the following spring.

A blue orchard mason bee visiting an eggplant flower in the Dew Harvest Test Garden

Leafcutter Bees

Leafcutter bees, belonging to the genus Megachile (are they really cold?), are very similar to mason bees but differ in a few important respects.  These bees also live in hollows in wood but line their nest not with mud but with parts of leaves they cut themselves.  This tendency to cut up leaves deterred us from acquiring leafcutter bees for several years – much to our regret.  The amount of leaves used by these bees is negligible, and we have not noticed any marked defacing of our ornamental plants.  When we did acquire leafcutter bees, however, the amount of produce from our garden plants increased dramatically.

Leafcutter bees do not become active until later in the spring – when temperatures are closer to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and also are active for 6-8 weeks.  The period after the temperature first rises into the 80s is often the time when there are the most flowers available on garden plants and the most fruits can be produced.  Leafcutter bees prefer rose or lilac leaves to line their homes so these should be nearby to encourage them to stay, and just like mason bees will do well with drilled holes.

A leafcutter bee emerging from its reed home in the Dew Harvest Test Garden
Squash Bees

Squash bees are one of our favorite insect partners in the Dew Harvest Test Garden - at least partly because we didn't have to pay for them them or build them a house - they arrived of their own accord.  These native cucurbit specialists chose to come live in burrows in our dirt after we had been planting several types of squash and their cousins - cucumbers and melons, for a few years.  The females of the bees live in solitary burrows in the soil, and can sting if their homes appear threatened.  The males actually sleep in the cucurbit flowers themselves at night - awaiting the females during the morning, sleeping during the afternoons. The male squash bees do not sting.  As these bees only visit cucurbits - which is a group of garden plants that includes winter squash, zucchini, pumpkins, gourds, melons and cucumbers - they are very effective pollinators and will dramatically increase your garden yields of these plants.  The best way to encourage squash bees to begin living on your property is to plant cucurbits in consecutive years (but at different locations in the garden each year to discourage pests).  

A single squash bee resting in a cucurbit flower - this is likely a male that slept there overnight - what a charmed life!
Bumble Bees

Bumble bees hold a special place of both mild apprehension and respect in our garden.  These bees of course can sting and their stings hurt severely.  However, we haven't been stung since childhood despite spending as much time outdoors as possible.  Our family dog even has a strange tendency to chomp on these bees in flight - and he has never been stung (thank heavens!).  These bees also live in burrows in the soil as well as sometimes above ground.  Bumblebees are one of the few bees capable of buzz pollination - a type of shaking of the flower using flight muscles to dislodge pollen.  This buzz pollination is the only type of pollination (besides wind) that can fertilize tomatoes.  Just like squash bees, bumblebees will move into your garden if there is sufficient pollen year after year.  

A bumblebee on a wild flower in our Waterboxx Test Garden

Successful gardening is like climbing a ladder - each step must be climbed before the next.  The first step for plants is correct climate, then good soil.  The largest step for many warm and sunny areas is consistent water - which is provided by the Waterboxx (available from Dew Harvest here).  After these steps are climbed however pollination becomes vital to have a productive garden.  That is where our friends, native bees, become essential.  We honestly find more joy in gardening when working with bees (and our other friends predator insects like mantises and ladybugs) than with any other aspect of gardening.  If you would like to learn more about Waterboxx gardening, working working with nature, please consider reading our E-Book - The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden on Amazon.com.  The Waterboxx itself can be used to grow many garden plants, frequently without any water after planting, and lasts for up to 10 years.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


What if a solution to climate change, worsening nutrition, and water scarcity could be grown in your own back yard?  What if a simple but ingenious device allowed you to grow trees and garden plants with no water after planting?  What if you could grow your own hyperlocal produce while caring for the environment?  These are “What Ifs” no more:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How to Assemble The Waterboxx From Dew Harvest

The Groasis Waterboxx is an incredible invention.  It allows the growing of many garden plants, like peppers and tomatoes, with potentially no water added after planting.

Two Parks Improved Whopper Hybrid Tomatoes - which together produced over 100 fruit without any watering after planting, with the Waterboxx.   
Plants can grow astoundingly tall with the Waterboxx. 

Two cayenne (chili) peppers in a Waterboxx - which produced 361 full sized peppers without any water after planting thanks to the Waterboxx.  
The Waterboxx ships with its different components stacked within each other, taking up far less space.  This does mean that some assembly is required.  So, how is the Waterboxx assembled?

For most garden plants, we recommend an extra wick be inserted.  For this, a 3/16 inch drill bit is required, as shown in the video below:

The Waterboxx can be cleaned after each use and reused for up to 10 years.  You can buy the Waterboxx in the United States at DewHarvest.com

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Growing a Living Fossil

There is a tree that is currently endangered in the wild, was once thought to be completely extinct, is one of the fasting growing trees known with a maximum height of at least 200 feet, and that can grow in most of the continental United States.  Is this a tree you would like to plant?

This tree is the Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  This deciduous conifer (which has fine, soft needles that are shed in the winter and regrow in the spring) is an utter joy to plant and grow, and one of our favorite trees.

In the 1940s, a Japanese scientist at Kyoto University described the Dawn Redwood as a fossil from the age of the dinosaurs (the Mesozoic era).  Dr. Miki, the scientist, thought this tree was extinct.  However, the same year Chinese officials in the province of Hubei came across living examples of the tree, growing in a few tiny groves in China.  The fact that these were the same tree was soon realized.  Due to the critically endangered status of the tree, the Harvard University Arboretum funded an expedition in the late 1940s to collect seeds  from the original habitat.  This expedition led to a craze for planting this tree in arboreta and landscapes settings around the world.

The Dawn Redwood is in the same subfamily, Sequoioideae, as Coast Redwoods (like those growing on the American West Coast around San Francisco) and Giant Sequoias (originally from the California Sierra Nevada mountains but now grown worldwide).

We had considered planting the Dawn Redwood for some time (after planting its cousin the Giant Sequoia) but we dithered.  This was a mistake!  The Dawn Redwood is beautiful, the fastest growing tree we have yet seen, and one of our new favorites.

A problem with growing the Dawn Redwood is that it is only available in sapling (less than 24 inch tall) size.  For most people used to planting 6 foot containerized (and therefore unhealthy) tree specimens from big box stores, this can be an adjustment.  However - this is really an opportunity.  The Dawn Redwood needs near constant moisture after planting until it is well established.  This would be almost impossible to provide a 6 foot tall tree - the grower would need to water it twice daily in warm climates!.  However, there is a device for growing sapling trees that doesn't require any effort after set up - called the Groasis Waterboxx from Dew Harvest!

The Waterboxx is a self refilling water battery for plants.  It consists of a 15 liter water reservoir, that has a lotus leaf inspired lid that collects dew, transpiration moisture, and rainwater.  The water is slowly released through a wick to the plant roots below.  See a video of how the Waterboxx works here.

We planted a single Dawn Redwood with the Waterboxx and had the following amount of growth in just 101 days - without any supplemental water after planting.

We plant to leave the Waterboxx around the Dawn Redwood for one more growing season and then reuse the Waterboxx for other trees.  As the Dawn Redwood grows in most of the continental United States, the Waterboxx may only need to be left in place for one growing season in sunnier climates (we are growing in Central Indiana) with faster growth.

The Dawn Redwood is a wonderful landscape tree, which will grow from zones 5-8 so long as water is available to its roots (after the Waterboxx is removed).  It is extremely fast growing, with about 2 feet a year expected after the tree is established.  It it intolerant of de-icing salt so should not be planted by roadways or sidewalks that receive salt.  However, the Dawn Redwood does well in standing water and is excellent for planting by creeks or ponds.

The Dawn Redwood is available as saplings from the Arbor Day Foundation here or from Giant-Sequoia.com here.  If you are truly adventurous, you can try to grow from seeds available here.

The Waterboxx is available in the United States from Dew Harvest, at our website here, www.dewharvest.com.  Outside the United States it is available from Groasis.com

A preying mantis decided to spend the day on the growing Dawn Redwood (of its own accord - mantis was not moved for photo).

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).


      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".