Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grow Your Own Local Firewood Using the Groasis Waterboxx

The U.S. has entered another cold snap, even before winter has officially begun.  This, after the fact, that for much of the United States, the 2013-2014 winter was the coldest in recent memory.  We are spending a great deal of money and non-renewable fossil fuels to heat our homes.  This wasn't always the case.  Humans first tamed fire and heated homes with firewood, an affordable renewable resource.  With the recent interest in biofuels and cost saving (which is always popular), many have a renewed interest in humanity's first fuel.

Firewood can be an excellent heat source during winter, and of course does not add any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (all carbon in wood was pulled from the air during the tree's growth).  However, it is very, very important that any firewood you use be grown very close to the area you plan to use it.  Transporting firewood across any distance can allow invasive and destructive insects and other pests to invade new trees, threatening whole forests.  The number of invasive insects alone -Asian Longhorn Beetles and Emerald Ash Borer to name only two in the author's area- is long and keeps increasing.  Firewood must be grown close to the site of its use.

However, many areas do not have a great deal of naturally occurring trees, and many of those alive in such areas are too valuable to be cut for firewood.  What can be done in this situation?

The answer is simple - plant fast growing trees with the Groasis Waterboxx, stagger when you harvest the trees, and use these trees for firewood.  What trees are both fast growing and suitable for firewood?  The five we recommend at Dew Harvest are the poplar (Populus species), the silver maple (Acer saccharinum), the Red Oak (Quercus rubra), the thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) and the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

First, the poplar is extremely fast growing, with some hybrids growing up to 8 feet per year.  The poplar grows straight, with relatively short branches, allowing these trees to be packed densely.  Huge tree farms 25,000 acres large have been planted with nothing but hybrid poplars.

Poplars can also be grown from cuttings (vegetative reproduction).  This means several poplars can be started from cuttings every year.  This is remarkable simple, and can be done with the Groasis Waterboxx as well.

Because the poplar is so fast growing, it is not very dense and doesn't store as much energy per volume of wood (around 16 million BTU per cord) as other hardwoods.  As a comparison, natural gas currently costs $9.50 per million BTUs, while propane is $33.00 per million BTUs, and electricity is around $24.91 per million BTUs)  Because of this lower energy density, you can use poplar for kindling or starting a fire, and then chose another tree for its longer burning properties overnight.  For this, we recommend silver maple.

Silver maple is also very fast growing (the author has personally seen silver maple grow six feet in a year between a shed and fence with limited sunlight), but doesn't have quite as compact a form as the poplar.  Silver maple has branches that can spread out up to 40 feet, and will take slightly longer to reach maturity.  Silver maple, however, contains about 19 million BTU per cord and doesn't spark as much as poplar.

A third option for much of the country is red oak (Quercus rubra).  This oak is almost as fast growing as silver maple but gives 21.7 million BTU per cord.  Red oak grows in zones 3-8 (all but the most southern part of the country) and have some drought tolerance, improved when planted with the Waterboxx.   This tree can easily grow two feet a year even without the Waterboxx, and more with it.


A very drought resistant tree with a high energy density is the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis).  This tree has 25.8 million BTUs per cord, light smoke, and is easy to split.  It is so drought resistant that it is easily grown in most parts of the country if planted with a Groasis Waterboxx.  Buy the Thornless Honeylocust.

Slightly less drought resistant but a very tough tree is the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).  This tree grows in zones 3-9, withstands some drought, as well as strong winds and pollution.  It has 21 million BTUs per cord of firewood, doesn't spark, doesn't smoke, and is easy to split, making it and ideal firewood tree.   Buy the Hackberry here.

When growing these or any trees for firewood, you must obtain the young trees for a good initial price and ensure that they survive to adulthood.  Poplars are not generally available from garden centers; buying maples from these stores will be both expensive and futile since their roots are so malformed that they will grow very slowly.  Because of these issues, we recommend buying bare root trees from the Arbor Day Foundation.  With a ten dollar membership, bare root trees cost around five dollars each, and can be ordered in large quantities for significantly cheaper than that.

However, if these trees are planted and not cared for through a dry summer (another recent phenomenon in most of the country), they will be a wasted investment.  That is why the Groasis Waterboxx is used.  If you plant young bare root trees using the Waterboxx, you increase their chance of survival greatly, and increase their rate of growth.  The Waterboxx funnels dew and rainwater to the roots of the growing tree, ensuring the roots reach deeper for water and allowing them to survive future droughts.  In a Sahara planting trial, trees planted with the Groasis Waterboxx that received water only at planting had an 88% survival rate, versus only 11% survival for the trees watered weekly.  The Waterboxx is reusable for up to ten years, allowing you to plant trees year after year and harvest wood indefinitely.  Finally, the Groasis Waterboxx allows you to establish trees in areas that may be too dry for trees to start growing otherwise, harnessing the sunlight of summer for heat in winter.  The Groasis Waterboxx can be purchased from Dew Harvest.

The Groasis Waterboxx with an oak grown from seed.


Depending on your firewood needs, a set of five to ten Waterboxxes and as many young poplars or maples planted each year will likely keep you warm indefinitely, once the trees have had time to get established (three to five years). Since the Waterboxx can be reused, only the trees need to be purchased each year, not the Waterboxx.  This system will almost certainly be cheaper than electric or propane heating and will of course be better for the environment as no net carbon is released.

Buy Hybrid Poplar from Arbor Day

Buy Silver Maple from Arbor Day

Buy Red Oak from Arbor Day

The Groasis Waterboxx can be purchased for around fifty dollars from Dew Harvest, with discounts on orders of five or more.  The Waterboxx can be used to establish new trees for any purpose (such as landscaping or to prevent soil erosion), not just firewood growth.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

Our Sources not linked above

http://www.offroaders.com/tech/firewood-BTU.htm


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Grow Healthier Food with the Groasis Waterboxx

There is growing evidence that diet does have a significant effect on health, including longevity.  What we are learning is that what we have traditionally grown so much in the United States - corn and corn fed animals, are likely not what is best for our health.

What foods are healthy?  There is growing evidence that what is called in medical literature "The Mediterranean Diet" is the healthiest palatable diet available.  Among sources of protein, fish is clearly most strongly associated with longer life.  Limiting red meat to once weekly, and white meat (poultry) up to 3-4 times weekly, also helps.

Also very important to the health effects of the Mediterranean Diet is olive oil.  People who have a diet high in extra virgin olive oil also have a decreased mortality rate.  It is important that olive oil be extra virgin (minimally processed), and that means it is best to grow it close to home.  Olives can be grown in only a few select southern locations in the United States, ideally in zone 10 and 11, but some varieties in zone 8 and 9.  Olive trees have a tap root, meaning they send a root down deep into the soil to have access to capillary water.  Because of this tap root, it is very difficult to establish olive trees without irrigation - that was until the Groasis Waterboxx.

The Groasis Waterboxx is a intelligent tree incubator that collects dew and rainwater, stores it, and slowly tunnels it to the roots of a growing plant.  It prevents water from evaporating from the soil, establishing a water column immediately beneath the plant.  In the case of the olive tree, this induces the tap root to grow straight and deep until it can tap into the underground moisture of soil capillaries.  The Waterboxx can then be removed and reused the the Waterboxx established tree will be much more drought resistant in the future.

Besides extra virgin olive oil, it is believed grapes (and especially wine) contribute to the health effects of the Mediterranean Diet.  Grapes need consistent but not excessive moisture, something the Waterboxx excels at providing.  The Waterboxx has been used at the Mondavi Winery in California, in the wineries of our customers, and as seen below, in Chile to grow grapes.

Control of trials with grapes with the Groasis waterboxx in March 2012
The Waterboxx growing grapes in Chile; From Groasis
Nuts are also very important in the healthy Mediterranean Diet.  Nut trees offer great pleasure in the landscape both for beauty and nut production, but can be very hard to establish as well due to their tap root.  If growing trees for nuts, it is important to get a grafted tree from a reputable nursery (we recommend Stark Brothers) to get the best yield of nuts as early as possible.  When investing in grafted trees, any with trunks less than 2 inches in diameter can be planted using the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx allows you to water planted nut trees only at planting (with 4-10 gallons in the soil and then 4 gallons in the Waterboxx basin) and then only revisit them to watch their progress or remove the Waterboxx when the tree outgrows it.
The Waterboxx growing roma tomatoes.  

The Waterboxx growing ab eggplant

Fruits and vegetables are also a very important (and tasty) part of the Mediterranean diet.  We have found that starchy row crops (corn, wheat) are great sources of large numbers of calories, but are not particularly healthy.  Vegetables like cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes (which can be considered a fruit), are easily grown with the Waterboxx.  Vine fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe can also be grown with the Waterboxx.  You can see examples of all of these garden staples at our main website, www.dewharvest.com.
Picture
Zucchinn grown with the Groasis Waterboxx - originally from Groasis.com
What about greens?  One Dew Harvest in Hemet, California came up with an ingenious was to grow greens in the middle of a drought by filling the Waterboxx only once weekly.  He added three extra wicks, attacked absorbent material to these wicks, spread this out in a raised bed, and planted greens on top of this Waterboxx irrigated soil.




As you can see, you can begin to grow healthy Mediterranean Diet food in one growing season, and begin planting trees that will yield nut and olives in a few short years.  All of this is made possible by the Groasis Waterboxx, which can be purchased from Dew Harvest LLC.

There are many excellent Mediterranean Diet cookbooks on Amazon.com.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here

We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments". 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Preventing Future Wildfires When Planting Trees in the Desert

Planting trees in the desert was always a tantalizing possibility that was usually right beyond reach, that is until the invention of the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx is an intelligent plant incubator, a self refilling water battery for trees that allows trees to be established in areas without water or irrigation.  The Waterboxx, explained below, is available for purchase from Dew Harvest.


When planning to plant a large number of trees in the desert, however, one must plan to decrease the risk of future wildfire consuming your hard work and spreading to neighboring properties.

Fire is usually started by lightning in remote areas, and we can do little to control the frequency of such ignition sources.  However, we can, with careful planning, prevent spread of fires by careful placement and grooming of trees.

Planting Fire Resistant Trees
Some trees and shrubs, specifically deciduous (broadleaf) trees, have a relatively high moisture content and are therefore less likely to combust.  The resins produced by many conifers are  flammable.  Unfortunately, the conifers are generally more drought resistant than even the best broadleaf trees.  Therefore, if conifers need to be planted, the other principles must be followed.

Spacing
If planting trees on a flat surface, it is recommended that there be at least 10 feet between the outermost canopy of each tree to prevent flames from jumping from one tree to the next.  For trees planted on slight slopes (20-40%) 20 feet apart is recommended, and for steep slopes (greater than 40%), 30 feet between trees is recommended.  You may start with trees planted much closer than this, and then eventually cut down trees spaced too closely.

Pruning
Ensuring that there are no branches on mature trees for at least the bottom 6 feet of the tree is essential.  Fires are started and spread on the ground.  If these fires cannot spread up the tree, the fire is more likely to be extinguished.  Many of our recommended trees elsewhere on this blog do not regularly grow low branches.

If you have a large property, you may be well served by having animals graze periodically on your land.  It is very important these be steers or non-pregnant females as pine needles can cause abortions of new calfs. This will trim any grasses (which can be extremely flammable if fully grown and dried) and they will sometimes eat low lying branches.  There is also evidence that "holistic" grazing reduces desertification of your land as well.  You will want to wait until the Waterboxxes have been removed and are being used elsewhere before having cattle walk around your property to prevent damage to the Waterboxxes.

Ensuring Adequate Water
If trees are well supplied with water, they are much less likely to combust even with a significant spark.  For most trees, irrigation is out of the question due to cost and remoteness of planting site.  However, when trees are planted correctly with the Groasis Waterboxx, their roots are able to tap into the deeper capillary moisture in the soil.  Except in the most extreme of circumstances, this water is sufficient to keep trees alive and healthy.

Planting with the Waterboxx
When planting trees in extremely dry areas, we recommend pouring 10 gallons of water into the soil, and then planting the tree with the Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx is then filled with 4 gallons of water.  The Waterboxx should stay refilled with water from dew and occasional rainfall, and all of this water will eventually be funneled to the roots of the growing tree.  The Waterboxx can be removed when the tree is about to outgrow it, and reused.

Buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.  We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here.

For further information, please visit:

http://www.kkl.org.il/eng/forestry-and-ecology/fire-prevention/forest-maintenance.aspx

http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8228.pdf

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/defensible_space/

Trees to Plant in West Texas

West Texas poses a special challenge to landowners seeking to plant trees on their property.  The scarcity of water, the presence of caliche (hardpan), the danger of wildfire all serve as significant challenges to planting trees.  

Of note, it is important for the long term health of trees to break through caliche when planting trees in West Texas.  This can be done by hand or with mechanical drills (a two man auger).  

Planting for prevention of wildfire will be discussed elsewhere.

Of all the above issues, lack of water is clearly the biggest problem when establishing trees.  Per the National Geographic Society, a desert is an area with less than 10 inches of rain per year.  By this definition, much of west Texas is desert or near desert.  

Texas Rainfall - From Wikipedia

Planting trees in desert is difficult due to the high initial water need for newly transplanted trees.  In areas with high water costs or rural lots with no running water, this has prevented most trees from being planted in dry West Texas, until the invention of the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx is a self refilling water battery for trees and other plants.  When a tree is initially planted with the Waterboxx, the soil is watered with 4-10 gallons, and the Waterboxx itself is filled with 4 gallons of water.  The Waterboxx then is self refilling from dew and rain water, and does not need to be refilled as long as it is left in place.  The Waterboxx can then be reused for up to ten trees.  The Waterboxx is explained below.



When deciding which trees to plant in West Texas and similar climates, you must decide what purpose you are trying to serve.

Windbreak Trees
Pines and other conifers make excellent windbreak trees primarily because they function year round.  Several evergreen trees grow will grow well in West Texas.  Of note, if you plan on grazing cattle on your land we would recommend against planting conifers due to the risk of pine needle abortion for pregnant cows.

First, the Eldarica Pine (Pinus eldarica), which comes from central Asia initially.  The Persian emperors, wanting to be known as gardeners, planted this tree in areas where nothing else would grow.  In fact, they prevented common people from planting this, earning it the name "the tree of royalty."  Luckily, in America, everyone can plant this tree.  It is very tolerant of drought once established with the Waterboxx, and can tolerate many different soils.  Its growth is rapid, but it is not invasive.
mondell pine
Eldarica Pine: From National Park Service

The Aleppo Pine (Pinus halapensis) is similar but with a somewhat more slow growing pine from the Mediterranean basin.  This pine is known for its frequently curved trunk.

Despite its name, the Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is a Texas native that also works well for year round windbreaks.  This tree is also very rapid in growth and tolerates alkaline soils. It will prosper in zones 7-9, and can reach 50 feet in height.  It has a beautiful blue white hue to its needles.  Inexpensive saplings of this tree can be purchased from Arbor Day.

Another conifer suitable for planting in West Texas is the Italian Stone Pine, or Pinus pinea.  This tree is less suitable for a windbreak because it tends to only grow a canopy at its topmost end.  It makes up for this deficiency by producing edible pinenuts, which can be eaten by both humans and wildlife.  The tree itself is quite stately, and can grow 80 feet tall and 25 feet in width.  The Italian Stone Pine can be purchased online here.

Italian Stone Pine: From Wikipedia

As we leave our discussion of conifers, we turn towards the deciduous trees that grow in West Texas. Most of these trees turn out to be oak, which are also fire wise trees.

For those that have the patience, the Bur Oak (Quercus marcocarpa) is a beautiful and stately, if slow growing tree.  Its almost covered acorns are good food for wildlife, but may prove a hassle to clean if this tree is grown near a walkway (and you lack sufficient squirrels to do the job for you).  This tree does need somewhat more water than the trees mentioned above, and may not prosper in true desert.  If established with the Waterboxx, however, its root will extend much deeper and access capillary water in the soil.   Buy the Bur Oak here
Bur Oak growing in Indiana

The Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) is another stately oak that will grow in northern Central to West Texas if established with the Waterboxx.  It grows faster than the Bur Oak, but has several of the same advantages.  It also can be purchased inexpensively from Arbor Day.  

The Escarpment Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) is also known as the Texas Live Oak.  This tree is a marvel, growing from Oklahoma to Mexico.  It requires much less water than it southeastern cousin Quercus virginiana.  This tree is very long lived but also quite fast growing.  This tree has a massive canopy, and diseases can spread from one tree to another through root contact so sufficient spacing (80 feet minimum) is required.  This is an excellent shade tree and would make an excellent focal point for most properties.  This tree actually retains its leaves throughout the winter, making it a rare deciduous evergreen.   Buy the Texas Live Oak here.


Texas Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) - from National Park Service

The above trees can provide windbreaks, erosion protection, wildlife habitat, or future lumber or firewood for use.  Planting large numbers of trees on your property can also change the microclimate of the land, allowing grass to become established and the land to be used for grazing.  Planting trees in the desert before the invention of Waterboxx was impractical due to the difficulty watering newly planted trees. However, today you can plant tree saplings in the spring with the Waterboxx, and return the next spring to remove and reuse the Waterboxx for another tree - with no work needed in between.

The Groasis Waterboxx can be ordered from Dew Harvest in the continental United States.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here.

We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Growing Dwarf Peach Trees (Without Watering) and With the Groasis Waterboxx


In the spring of 2013, the author planted several dwarf fruit trees from Stark Brothers, including Redhaven Peach Dwarf Supreme.  Even with frequent watering we were disappointed with the results we saw one year after planting.  Below you see the peach tree as it looked after one year (photo taken in February 2014).


We believed the poor growth was due to lack of consistent water which would allow the tree to grow.

Above you see the peach tree on April 27, 2014.  The first buds are just starting to break through.  We just put in place a device called the Groasis Waterboxx around the base of the tree.  The Groasis Waterboxx is a brilliant invention from Holland that collects dew and rainwater and funnels it to the roots of a growing tree each day.    The principles of the Waterboxx are explained in the following video from Groasis.



As you can see, the Waterboxx was meant to grow trees in very dry areas, but works well to establish trees without watering in areas with more rainfall.


Above you see the peach tree on May 18, 2014.  There has been some branch growth but mostly you just see new leaves established.



Above here you see the Redhaven Dwarf Peach Supreme on July 22, 2014.  The Waterboxx induced growth has been astounding, and has approximately tripled the size of the canopy.  This is all the more impressive as there was almost no growth the previous year.  It must be remembered that no irrigation or watering was given to this tree after the Waterboxx was put in place.  The Groasis Waterboxx collects dew and rain water, stores it in a four gallon reservoir, and slowly and consistently releases it to the roots of the growing plant below. In this way, the Waterboxx allows trees to be established with high success rates and without continued watering.
Luckily, the Waterboxx can be left in place at the base of this tree throughout the cold Indiana winter.  The Waterboxx's design prevents it from breaking when frozen.  We will likely need to remove the Waterboxx next spring.  

We will continue to update this site with photos of the above peach tree.  We expect our first crop of peaches next year thanks to the Waterboxx growth.  

You can purchase the Groasis Waterboxx in the United States from Dew Harvest® LLC.  

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".