Friday, December 4, 2015

Plant Paw-Paw - Indiana Banana, America's First Fruit Tree

History can be capricious.  The phrase "American as apple pie" has entered the lexicon of most  Americans.  This is unfair.  The apple tree is derived from wild ancestors in Central Asia and Europe and is not truly an American fruit.  This is of course the American way - adopting and adapting ideas and foods from around the world.  However, most people in this country, who have tried everything from apple butter to apple pie, have never tried true American native fruit - the Paw Paw.

The Paw Paw tree, also known as 'Indiana Banana', Asiminia triloba, is the largest fruit native to the U.S.  It is rich in vitamin and energy content, good tasting, and grows in all or part of 26 states.  Paw paw is a valuable fruit in that it has all 20 essential amino acids or building blocks of protein.  Paw paw also has more vitamin C than banana (twice as much) or apples (three times as much).  It has more potassium than apples (3x) and orange (2x) and almost as much as bananas.  It also has markedly more calcium, magnesium, and iron than these other three fruits.

A local paw paw in the author's native Indiana - with nearly ripe fruit!


Paw paw fruit does not transport well fresh, and is only a peak taste for a few days.  It is for this reason primarily that it has never been commercialized.  When eaten fresh off the tree, however, the paw paw has a flavor that is something of a cross between banana, pineapple and mango.  Paw paw fruit can be substituted for banana in most recipes.   

Range of the Paw Paw Tree - most of the Eastern United States (from USGS)
Paw paw is relatively disease and insect resistant.  It is recommended that you buy grafted trees if you want sooner fruit production - our preferred source is Stark Brothers.   According to Sheri Crabtree, a paw paw expert at Kentucky State University"Pawpaws do have a strong taproot and can be difficult to dig and transplant".  This tap root needs to be kept moist at almost all times, which requires near constant watering. This makes watering them almost daily essential right after planting.  This is not feasible for most home owners, however.  There is a device that may help, called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon or Waterboxx for short.

The Waterboxx collects dew and rain, stores it in a four gallon reservoir, and slowly releases it to the roots beneath the growing tree.  It also prevents evaporation of soil moisture - allowing a "water column" to form immediately beneath the Waterboxx.  Tap roots are induced to grow straight down in this water column until the tree is well established.  The Waterboxx can then be removed and reused again.  This is all explained in the video below:



We hope to see our natural botanic heritage more appreciated in the future.  We hope you will consider planting a paw paw tree or three.  If you want to try planting with the Waterboxx, it is available here.  

We would love to read your comments below.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gardening During Flood and Drought In Dallas/Fort Worth

The Dallas/Fort Worth Area has extremely unpredictable rainfall.  Months of flood are followed by months with almost no rain.  Just over the last 18 months, the lowest rainfall amount was 0.06 inches in the month of September 2014, but the highest was 16.96 inches in May of 2015, more than 280 times as much!  After that washout in May, July and August of 2015 received less than an inch of rain each!  This was followed by a wet October, with almost 10 inches of rain.  How can anyone garden in such an environment - where almost daily watering is required some months and root washout happens in others?

So, the Dallas/Forth Worth area has variable rain, sometimes with not enough rain and sometimes with floods.  Also, the time when trees and garden plants could benefit most from water (July and August) due to the increased sun, the least rainfall is available.  In scientific terms, water becomes the limiting factor in the height of the growing season.

Is there anything that can help prevent flooding of plants during heavy rains, but also supply water to plants during droughts?  Could this device or system be automatic, rather than relying on gardeners to take time out of their busy schedules to water plants during droughts and cover the soil during heavy rains?  Finally, could this device collect and save water during rainy periods for use during dry periods?  The answer to all three of these questions is yes - and the device is the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, or Waterboxx for short.

The Waterboxx is a self refilling water battery for plants.  It is placed around a smaller plant (at least 6 inches tall and with a stalk less than 2 inches in diameter) right after planting.  The Waterboxx is then filled with 4 gallons of water.  This water slowly trickles out, about 50 mL or 10 teaspoons a day, to the roots of a growing plant, via a small wick.  The Waterboxx has a special lotus leaf inspired lid, which allows it to catch dew, transpiration moisture from the plant, as well as rainfall, and store it for later use.  The Waterboxx, although 10 inches tall, is filled with less than 4 inches of rain and has enough water stored (with average water outflow of 50 mL/day) for 300 days without any precipitation.

The Waterboxx also prevents plant over-watering by directing heavy rains away from the roots of the plant.  Once full, the Waterboxx funnels all excess water off to the side of the plant (10 inches away from the stalk).  This channeling away of excess water prevents root washout and also prevents the splitting of tomatoes and melons.

From Groasis - A cross section view of the Waterboxx - water is collected by the tan lid, funneled down the siphons (shown in red here), stored in the green reservoir (which holds 4 liters), and slowly released through the white wick to the roots below. 

The Waterboxx can easily accommodate two tomato plants, two to four pepper plants. two zucchini plants, or one melon or winter squash.  You can see Waterboxx gardening results here.  With more than one plant, an extra wick can be inserted to give more water (which will decrease the length of time the Waterboxx has reserve water, halving it roughly for every doubling of the number of wicks).  

Has the Waterboxx been used in drought conditions before?  Yes.  The Waterboxx was used to grow tomatoes in the height of the California drought in 2015.  Tomatoes planted in Sacramento County, California received no water after planting, and got less than a quarter inch of rain for three months of summer, but still managed to produce over 40 fruits from one plant.  You can see the results of this below.

16 weeks' growth of a tomato plant in Sacramento County California - all with no water after planting.  

What about flood conditions?  How well does the Waterboxx work in flood conditions?  Well, in the same year (2015) that the Waterboxx was growing full sized tomatoes in California, it was growing Roma and cherry tomatoes in Indiana, which had one of the wettest springs and the wettest July on record.  Over 13 inches of rain fell around Indianapolis in July, which would have both washed out most tomato roots and caused most fruits to split.  With the Waterboxx, however, this did not happen. We see no tomatoes split and a bountiful harvest just beginning below. 

Roma (left) and cherry (right) tomatoes growing with the Waterboxx during an extremely wet July, with over 13 inches of rain.  This photo, taken July 21, shows no split tomatoes and an excellent crop - all because the Waterboxx prevents overwatering even in heavy rains.

The Waterboxx works great in a standard 4'x4' raised bed, but also works in traditional garden rows. The consistent water the Waterboxx provides allows the plant to reach their maximum height, while also sparing gardeners hot evenings of watering the garden.   The Waterboxx can also be used to grow trees without any watering after planting in difficult areas like Dallas/Fort Worth.  

The Waterboxx can help residents of the Dallas/Fort Worth area to stop spending hours in the hot summer sun watering their garden plants and just enjoy the fruits of their labor.  If you want to try gardening with the Waterboxx and stop worrying about too much or too little rain, you can find out more here or buy the Waterboxx here.  

We would love to read your comments below.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Water Tomatoes Only Once In Central California Drought

How much can a tomato plant grow if watered only once, at planting?  A great deal, if it is planted with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.  Tony Palumbo of Sacramento County, California planted a tomato with the Waterboxx in Folsom in the great drought of 2015.  He provided water for it and the Waterboxx (about 4 gallons) only at planting and then never watered it again.
Week 1 - the tiny tomato is barely visible - but the Waterboxx is designed to allow light to reach it.
The Waterboxx works by collecting occasional rain and more frequent dew, and actually makes condensation more likely as the plastic lid cools down at night.  It doesn't rely on electricity or running water, just nature's genius like the lotus leaf (which inspired the lid).

Week 2 - the tomato plant has more than doubled in size
Because the need for watering is greatly reduced or completely removed with the Waterboxx, the most important input for the plant's growth is now sun.  Central California had that in excess during the summer of 2015, with less than one quarter of one inch of rain during this time.

Week 3 - tomato plant more than doubled in size in one week - with the Waterboxx providing support for the base

The Waterboxx has a four gallon (15 liter)  reservoir, and releases only about 50 mL (10 teaspoons) of water a day through a small wick in the bottom of the reservoir.  This gives approximately 300 days of water to the average plant (although water loving plants may have faster water use).

Week 4 - the first small tomatoes are appearing, very quickly because of the consistent moisture and excellent sun exposure in Central California
It takes only 4 inches of rain total to completely refill the Waterboxx, an amount almost every location in the U.S. gets.  For this reason the Waterboxx was initially used to grow trees - but it works so well for the garden that it is now being used to grow many garden plants.

Week 6 - the single tomato plant already needs three supports because it has grown so large so quickly

The Waterboxx works great for full size tomatoes, but also for Roma and cherry tomatoes (other growers have grown almost 1000 Roma (Juliet) tomatoes and >1500 cherry tomatoes with the Waterboxx).  The Waterboxx can also be used for peppers, melons, eggplant, zucchini, winter squash, and pumpkins.

Week 7 - The first tomatoes are almost ready to harvest
Gardeners can also put more than one vegetable plant per Waterboxx - but this will require extra wicks and some supplemental watering in very dry climates.

Week 16 for Waterboxx planted tomato (left) - 14 produced, 40 tomatoes - left  (traditional with DAILY watering) shows week 13 - 0 produced, 0 tomatoes but some buds
A traditional, non-Waterboxx tomato was planted next to the Waterboxx tomato but three weeks later.  This tomato required watering every single day - but still didn't come close to the Waterboxx tomato in terms of size or fruit produced.

The Waterboxx is transforming gardening in hot climates and during droughts.  You can see more examples of gardening with the Waterboxx - this time in southern California  - here.  You can buy the Waterboxx here or learn more about the Waterboxx here.

16 weeks growth of the Waterboxx tomato plant - all without any water after planting in the Great California Drought - the Waterboxx is truly changing gardening


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Growing Pecan Trees Without Watering In Texas

The pecan tree, Carya Illinoinensis,  is of course the Texas state tree.  This tree is large, stately, and can be very prolific in its nut production.  There are varieties of pecan that are well suited for every part of Texas, seen below.


Varieties of pecan for different regions of Texas - from Aggie Extension Service - an excellent source of information about pecan growing, found here

 The pecan tree, once established, is drought tolerant. Unfortunately, the pecan tree can be very slow growing due to its need to develop a significant root system.  The pecan's tap root, actually, is what makes it so resistant to drought, but also what makes it so hard to become established.

There is a device that will help in establishing pecan trees, provided the purchased trees are not yet too large.  (Note: always buy grafted pecan trees if you want nuts in your lifetime - our recommended sources are Willis Orchard and Stark Brothers).  A device called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon (hereafter just "the Waterboxx"), provides consistent moisture to the long tap root of the growing pecan tree, all without irrigation or electricity.  The Waterboxx works as explained in the video below.



Pecan trees can be planted with the Waterboxx as follows.  A deep, narrow hole is dug for the pecan roots - just as deep as the pecan roots and no deeper.  It is easiest to use an auger if doing this with many trees.  If an auger is used, be sure to scrape the sides of the hole with a serrated edge (a soil knife is best) to loosen the dirt there and prevent root spiraling.  Nearer to the surface, a wider but shallower hole, 20 inches across and approximately 5 inches deep, is dug.  Approximately 10 gallons of water with any desired fertilizer is then added to the hole.  This was is allowed to trickle down over the next few hours so no water is left in the hole when the plant is inserted.  Once all water has percolated into the soil, the pecan with its large taproot is inserted into the deep central hole.  This is then filled with soil - either native or potting soil.  You can also insert mycorrhizae (helpful fungus to absorb water and nutrients) in this soil if you like. The assembled Waterboxx is then inserted over the pecan - the central 'Figure 8' opening allowing space for the trunk of the pecan tree.

A schematic view of the Waterboxx

The Waterboxx is then filled with about 4 gallons of water.  This water, stored in the green reservoir, will be replenished with morning dew, transpiration moisture from the tree, as well as occasional rainfall.  In fact, it takes only 4 inches of rain to completely refill the Waterboxx (even though the Waterboxx is 10 inches tall).

The pecan tree will now be completely self-sufficient regarding water for at least the next year.  You only need to visit the tree to make sure it is not growing too fast (as you will need to eventually remove the Waterboxx).  You want to remove the Waterboxx (by pulling it straight up over the tree) before the tree crown gets too large to fit through the figure 8 central opening - usually about one year after planting.  The pecan tree by then should have a deep tap root, resistant to almost all drought. The pecan tree potentially may not need manually watered ever again.  If you are growing for commercial reasons, a irrigation system may eventually be required to get the best nut harvest depending on your part of Texas and average rainfall amounts.

The Waterboxx can be reused after the first year (for up to ten years) so many successive plantings of pecans or other trees can be done.  You can buy the Waterboxx here.

We would love to read your comments below.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Impossibility Of Cutting Greenhouse Emissions

The news media has been abuzz recently with a new genre of news story - carbon fraud.  The German automaker Volkswagen has admitted to purposely designing software to make its engines appear less polluting, both for diesel and for gasoline engines.  Now it turns out that China, either intentionally or not, has dramatically understated how much coal it has burned over the last 15 years.  The European Union has a "renewable" energy mandate that is causing it to cut down American forests for fuel - producing more carbon emissions than if European coal was burned!  The stories of carbon fraud are becoming more numerous as the incentive to lie about emissions become stronger.  Unlike something like deforestation of the rainforest, there is no satellite or other system capable of monitoring carbon emissions.  We can measure carbon in the atmosphere (see below), but we can't really tell its source with any real accuracy.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as measured by the NOAA, increasing steadily for the last 50 years with the sawtoothed shape because of absorption by plants.
What are we to make of this carbon cheating?  Well, there is an economic parable called 'Tragedy of the Commons' that might be illustrative.  In medieval England, many small landowners of a village, all of whom owned livestock, owned land surrounding a large grassy area called a commons.  These small landowners were of course allowed to graze their livestock on their own land, but were also allowed to have their animals graze without restriction on the commons.  What happened with this arrangement?  The obvious - the villagers all grazed their livestock on the commons before letting their livestock on their own private land.  Because of this, the commons was soon ruined, turned to a grass-less mud filled wasteland as grass was pulled up by the roots, while the privately owned land remained pristine.

Say that everyone in the village realized the problem and came to an agreement - you can only graze your livestock one day a month on the unfenced, unguarded commons.  Some villagers would be responsible and abide by the agreement, but some would invariably cheat - perhaps taking their livestock to graze at night or when others were away.  The result would be the same - a muddy, ruined commons.  The only way to stop the cheating would a large wall around the commons (not practical) or an incredible police state monitoring the villages and their flocks at all time.

The utility of this parable to greenhouse emissions is obvious.  The Earth's atmosphere is in every sense a 'commons' - every nation and every person has access to it.  We cannot restrict a country from it for abuse or deceit.  Eventually, regardless of how little in greenhouse gases we emit as individuals or even as a nation, our work can be completely undone by others.  What good would it have done in the above parable for one landowner, seeing the ultimate fate of the commons, to only graze his animals there once a month? None - his sacrifice would have been meaningless in the context of everyone else's abuse.

So, what can be done?  Is the world doomed to much higher greenhouse gas concentrations because the atmosphere is a common area, with no real restrictions or controls?  No!  While the atmosphere is a commons, land is not and is frequently privately owned.  Is there anything that can be done on land to pull carbon out of the air?  Yes - we can plant giant, long lived trees - we can plant sequoias..

Giant sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest tree and the largest living thing on earth, once covered much of the world.  They thrived on the higher carbon dioxide concentrations available then as well as warmer temperatures, two conditions we are likely to see replicated soon..  These trees are very fast growing and can still, if planted correctly, be grown in almost all temperate areas.

What is more, the largest of these trees, called General Sherman, is so large that is has sequestered over an average American's lifetime of carbon emissions - over 2.2 million pounds of carbon.  Sequoias also live for thousands of years, with many now alive growing at the time of Christ.  This longevity means they will to continue to store as well as continuously sequester carbon for centuries.


We tried to plant these trees many times here in the Midwest without success before discovering a device that could water, nurture, and protect the tree without our intervention.  This device, the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, is shown with a sequoia tree below.

Two years' growth of a sequoia with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  No water was manually added to the Waterboxx or the tree after planting - not once - and the tree has thrived after the Waterboxx was removed.  
We have had a one hundred percent success rate planting sequoias with the Waterboxx here in Indiana, and plan to continue planting elsewhere.  Can our success be replicated?  Yes!  If every set of grandparents came together and planted one sequoia tree each for every new child in their family (for a total of two trees per new child), we could one day see all carbon emissions offset by growing trees.  If more than two trees were planted per new child, we could see America's net carbon emissions decrease, even if we couldn't directly measure it.  What's more, sequoias tend to grow faster as they age.  Sequoias are well adapted to survive common threats like forest fires and have few pests.  Sequoias can do what no other tree can - pull carbon reliably from the atmosphere at an increasing rate, and store it for thousands of years.

Companies, countries, and even continents will continue to lie and mislead about their carbon emissions.  Future "climate agreements" will just make this mendacity more likely as the incentive to cheat increases.  As this happens, a  person's individual carbon emissions will become meaningless in the face of widespread cheating.  We can decrease total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere only by removing it from the atmosphere - and the best way to do this is by planting long lived and massive trees like sequoias.

If you want to buy a small sequoia tree, we recommend Giant-Sequoia.com.  If you want to take the effort and try to plant from seed, we recommend this site.  To purchase a Waterboxx to grow a sequoia here in the United States, visit Dew Harvest at www.dewharvest.com.

We would love to read your comments below.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Don't Buy Trees From Big Box Stores

"Out of sight, out of mind" is a well worn saying, but very accurate.  This aphorism is especially true when it comes to purchasing and planting trees.  Landowners frequently purchase trees, usually at large nurseries or home improvement stores, based almost solely on the branches and leaves of the tree (the crown).  These trees are usually grown in containers - it is only when the tree is brought home that the root system of the tree is evaluated.  What is seen is frequently roots that completely pack the container, as shown below.

A young arbor vitae with a fairly dense root ball - this root system will prevent the tree from getting established for many years, and will make it slower growing after that.
Root bound trees are more likely to shift after planting (requiring staking), more likely to need excessive watering, more likely to be drought stressed (as all their roots are shallow), and more likely to die than trees with deeper roots.

A landowner's relationship with a tree will last many years and have a significant impact on yard work and property values - in essence it is a marriage between the land and the trees that will grace (or disfigure) it.  Because of this long term relationship, you should consider the whole tree, roots included.  Choosing a tree based on the above ground portion is like getting married on the first date.

What alternatives are there to root bound, store bought trees?  Aren't these the only trees that will grow fast enough to make planting them worthwhile?  Smaller, bare root trees (available online from many nurseries throughout the country) offer smaller, more affordable, but much better quality trees with good (downward pointing) root systems.  Because these trees have intact root systems, they are established much faster, grow much faster, and have better long term survival.

A recent invention has made planting and growing bare root trees easier.  The Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, or Waterboxx for short, is a dew and rain harvesting device that doesn't rely on running water or electricity.

A schematic view of the Waterboxx, with the corner removed to show function.  Water in the form of dew and rain is collected by the lid, funneled down the siphon shown in red, stored in the green reservoir, and slowly released to the roots of the growing plant by the white wick.  
It is placed around a new, bare root tree (or even a tree grown from seed) at planting.  The tree's roots are kept moist and at a near constant temperature by the Waterboxx, preventing stress.  Water is slowly released straight down by a wick, forming a vertical water column.  This water column induces the roots of the tree to grow straight down to underground capillary water, protecting them from future drought.  This is explained in the video below.


Bare root trees tend to be only a few dollars for shade trees (our preferred source is arborday.org), or a little bit more expensive for fruit and nut trees (our preferred source is Stark Brothers).  The Waterboxx can be used up to 10 times so is also only a few dollars per tree, and saves a great deal of time and money on not watering your newly planted tree.  You can find out more about the Waterboxx at www.dewharvest.com.

We would love to see your questions or comments below.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Gardening During Flood and Drought in San Antonio, Texas

The modern city of San Antonio was founded near a Payaya Indian village named Yanaguana - which means "refreshing waters".  The natives of the area understood the importance of water to area and to their lives and livelihoods.  Gardeners in the San Antonio area also know how important water is to their craft.  Excessive rain or the lack of it can make gardening very difficult and time consuming in the San Antonio area.  Just in the year 2015, two months of spring saw too much rainfall while two months after saw almost none.  May and June saw 8.57 and 6.42 inches of rain each, respectively, well above the average.  July and August, however, had barely any rain with just 0.07 inches of rain recorded in July and 0.29 inches in August. The San Antonio sunshine is great for gardening, but the irregularity of the rainfall makes it very difficult to grow things well. 


So, the San Antonio area has variable rain, sometimes with not enough rain and sometimes with floods.  Also, the time when trees and garden plants could benefit most from water (July and August) due to the increased sun and average temperatures in the 90s, the least rainfall is available.  In scientific terms, water becomes the limiting factor in the height of the growing season.

Is there anything that can help prevent flooding of plants during heavy rains, but also supply water to plants during droughts?  Could this device or system be automatic, rather than relying on gardeners to take time out of their busy schedules to water plants during droughts and cover the soil during heavy rains?  Finally, could this device collect and save water during rainy periods for use during dry periods?  The answer to all three of these questions is yes - and the device is the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, or Waterboxx for short.

The Waterboxx is a self-refilling water battery for plants.  It is placed around a smaller plant (at least 6 inches tall and with a stalk less than 2 inches in diameter) right after planting.  The Waterboxx is then filled with 4 gallons of water.  This water slowly trickles out, about 50 mL or 10 teaspoons a day, to the roots of a growing plant, via a small wick.  The Waterboxx has a special lotus leaf inspired lid, which allows it to catch dew, transpiration moisture from the plant, as well as rainfall, and store it for later use.  The Waterboxx, although 10 inches tall, is filled with less than 4 inches of rain and has enough water stored (with average water outflow of 50 mL/day) for 300 days without any precipitation.

The Waterboxx also prevents plant over-watering by directing heavy rains away from the roots of the plant.  Once full, the Waterboxx funnels all excess water off to the side of the plant (10 inches away from the stalk).  This channeling away of excess water prevents root washout and also prevents the splitting of tomatoes and melons.

From Groasis - A cross section view of the Waterboxx - water is collected by the tan lid, funneled down the siphons (shown in red here), stored in the green reservoir (which holds 4 liters), and slowly released through the white wick to the roots below. 


The Waterboxx can easily accommodate two tomato plants, two to four pepper plants. two zucchini plants, or one melon or winter squash.  You can see Waterboxx gardening results here.  With more than one plant, an extra wick can be inserted to give more water (which will decrease the length of time the Waterboxx has reserve water, halving it roughly for every doubling of the number of wicks).

Has the Waterboxx been used in drought conditions before?  Yes.  The Waterboxx was used to grow tomatoes in the height of the California drought in 2015.  Tomatoes planted in Sacramento County, California received no water after planting, and got less than a quarter inch of rain for three months of summer, but still managed to produce over 40 fruits from one plant.  You can see the results of this below.

16 weeks' growth of a tomato plant in Sacramento County California - all with no water after planting.  The soil is so dry around the Waterboxx that no weeds will grow, but the tomato grows wonderfully.  

What about flood conditions?  How well does the Waterboxx work in flood conditions?  Well, in the same year (2015) that the Waterboxx was growing full sized tomatoes in California, it was growing Roma and cherry tomatoes in Indiana, which had one of the wettest springs and the wettest July on record.  Over 13 inches of rain fell around Indianapolis in July, which would have both washed out most tomato roots and caused most fruits to split.  With the Waterboxx, however, this did not happen. We see no tomatoes split and a bountiful harvest just beginning below. 

Roma (left) and cherry (right) tomatoes growing with the Waterboxx during an extremely wet July, with over 13 inches of rain.  This photo, taken July 21, shows no split tomatoes and an excellent crop - all because the Waterboxx prevents overwatering even in heavy rains.
The Waterboxx works great in a standard 4'x4' raised bed, but also works in traditional garden rows. The consistent water the Waterboxx provides allows the plant to reach their maximum height, while also sparing gardeners hot evenings of watering the garden.   The Waterboxx can also be used to grow trees without any watering after planting in difficult areas like San Antonio.

The Waterboxx can help residents of the San Antonio area to stop spending hours in the hot summer sun watering their garden plants and just enjoy the fruits of their labor.  If you want to try gardening with the Waterboxx and stop worrying about too much or too little rain, you can find out more here or buy the Waterboxx here.

We would love to read your comments below.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Decrease Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Gardening

There are five major gases that are thought to warm the Earth's atmosphere - water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.  Water vapor is emitted by plant life as well as many other natural processes, has many good effects, and is not something that can (or should) be easily decreased.  Three of the other four gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone) are all produced to a certain extent by transportation using fossil fuels.  Methane is produced in significant amounts by anaerobic digestion of organic material in landfills.

How can the average person decrease their production of these gases without harming their standard of living?  Most proposed solutions to the pollutants listed above are terrible for the economy or extremely expensive for the average person - electric cars are hardly affordable and solar panels aren't yet practical, for example.  A simpler solution is, however, available.  A well meaning person can engage in a nature based activity that may save money, get them exercise, and improve their health - that person can plant a garden.  

Gardens allow food to be grown essentially at the point of consumption.  Grocery store bought produce can travel a great distance to market, up to 1,500 miles in one study.  It is much less energy intensive to transport seeds than to transport whole fruits and vegetables.  Some plants (called heirloom) produce true breeding seeds in their fruits, so a one time seed purchase would be all that was needed for a lifetime of produce.

 Also, garden fruits and vegetables can generally be left on the vine until the gardener is ready to eat them.  This greatly decreases the energy needed to preserve produce (in refrigerated trucks, cooled grocery stores displays, and in the consumer's refrigerator).

Produce available in stores is bred to be transported and shelf stable - not to be tasty.  This produce is often picked before ripe, transported "green" and ripened with a gas treatment.  This means that is is frequently less palatable than home grown produce.  Thus, people are much more likely to discard bland store bought produce than they are to discard better tasting produce they took the effort to grow themselves.  As the song says - "there are only two things that money can't buy - and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes".

So, growing your own produce can decrease the greenhouse gases the come from refrigerating and transporting that produce - carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone.  What about methane?  Methane isn't a pollutant released during typical food transport - it is actually the key component of natural gas and a fuel source.  Methane is produced by the average person's garbage when organic matter is discarded into a landfill.  In that landfill, there is insufficient oxygen for aerobic digestion so the organic matter undergoes a process of anaerobic digestion.  This anaerobic digestion produces methane - which is thought to be a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  This methane is sometimes captured and used for energy, but frequently it leaks into the atmosphere.

How can methane production from household garbage be prevented?  Composting can decrease methane production dramatically.   A huge amount of household waste can be composted, from leaves and grass clippings, to coffee grounds and filters, to banana peels, melon rinds, eggshells, and even paper plates.  What shouldn't be composted is animal products other than eggshells, (meat, cheese, etc), oil, or pet droppings (this last is vitally important).

Composting is something that happens naturally, and if you put the compostable materials listed above in a heap you would eventually find it turned into rich soil.  However, you can dramatically speed the process up by turning your compost pile or buying (or making) a compost tumbler.

People have very little incentive to compost unless they have a garden in which to use their newly produced soil, so gardening and composting are great complements to one another.

Isn't gardening hard work, with tilling, watering under the hot sun, for hardly any produce?  Not anymore!  Two great advances have made gardening enjoyable, easy, and extremely productive in almost every climate.  Raised bed gardening (popularized as "Square Foot Gardening" by the brilliant Mel Bartholomew) has eliminated the need to slowly improve and yearly till the soil.  This was only half of the battle however - as watering the raised bed garden still took significant time.  Then an even more brilliant device called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon (or Waterboxx) was used in raised bed gardens.  This device, the Waterboxx, collects and holds dew and rainwater and slowly releases it to the roots of a growing plant.

A Waterboxx growing Roma and cherry tomatoes.  Although the Roma tomato was destroyed in a storm, the cherry tomato plant went on to produce over 1500 tomatoes in one growing season - all without ANY watering after transplanting outside with the Waterboxx.
So, gardening can help you get fresh, great tasting produce all while helping the environment.  If you want to get started, we suggest reading Square Foot Gardening and trying out the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.

We would love to see your comments below.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Make Your Own Soil By Composting

Compost isn't exactly an exciting topic but one that each gardener should understand.  Most gardens, raised bed or traditional, should have compost worked into their soil yearly,  This provides humus (the organic or carbon-containing part of the soil that allows it to retain moisture) as well as nutrients like calcium and nitrogen to the soil and the future plant.  Also, compost allows food scrapes to be kept out of landfills where the scrapes would digest anaerobically, releasing methane (which is a potent greenhouse gas).
Compost can consist of all vegetable matter except seeds, coffee grounds and filters, paper towels and paper plates that weren't used with animal products, and eggshells.  Grass clipping and wood chips can also be added.

Almost all plant matter and some animal matter can be composted.  For the beginner's purposes, just remember, no meat, oils, or dairy products.  You technically can compost herbivore (chicken, cow, horse) droppings but I would recommend against this for the new gardener.  Never compost pet droppings - ever.  These can contain deadly (or teratogenic to a growing fetus) bacteria and parasites that you don't want near your food.  Egg shells can be composted but should be broken into small pieces to increase their surface area as they do take time to decompose.

You can compost really all plant matter if done properly.  Stems, peels, inedible cores and the like from fruits and vegetables will of course break down under most conditions.  Regarding seeds - these will break down if consistently exposed to temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  This may not happen in a compost pile but should happen with a tumbler in warmer climates in summer (see below).

As you will likely generate compostable materials throughout the day, we suggest a compost pail with lid right outside the house that can be emptied once or twice a week.  Whenever it suits you (say after a breakfast of coffee, eggs and a banana producing grounds, shells and a peel), take your compostable material to the pail - and replace the lid.  This should be outside the home because eventually it will likely get gnats -which are better left outside.
A moderate size aluminum compost pail - make sure it has a filter and air holes in the lid to prevent anaerobic decay.
Composting will start on its own in the pail but will not progress much - it needs to go to the main compost site.  If you so chose, you can have a compost pile in part of your yard.  This will need to be thoroughly mixed every week or so, and may smell if left longer.  For this reason, we strongly recommend a compost tumbler.  These vary in shape and size but all have a central axis (similar to a spit) to turn, as well as a door and a way for oxygen to enter the tumbler.  They are not cheap - $100-$200, but with limited space in most suburban yards are well worth it in our opinion.


Our trusty compost tumbler has stood up to 4 years of use with only some minor wear.  Our rule is every time we see the tumbler, we spin the tumbler.  
When do you know when the compost is done?  The simple answer is that it will look like potting soil or very rich earth.  If using a compost tumbler, we recommend taking your compost out at the end of summer and working it into the soil after the end of the growing season.  There are several reasons for this.  First, it allows you room for all the fall compostable materials (leaves, grass, dead garden plants).  Secondly, it encourages gardeners to clean their raised beds of that years plants and fallen fruits.  Finally, as some seed have likely found their way into your compost (from discarded vegetables or weed seeds in grass clippings), end of summer use of the compost means most of these seeds will be dead.  Our worst year for weeds in the garden happened after we tried to compost only in the winter and put the compost on in the spring.  Compost is like most things in the garden - only one crop per year, and it comes at the end of the growing season.

Won't you run out of space with all your compost in the tumbler?  Possibly, but unlikely.  Compost tends to decrease in size as it decomposes.  If you find yourself filling a compost tumbler mid spring, we suggest you get a second and alternate which tumbler to which you add new material.

It isn't fast, but composting also isn't complicated.  Stick to the rules, spin your composter regularly, and you will find you don't need to spend money on fertilizer or potting soil.  Also, you may save money if you are charged per bag or pound of trash.  Composting is one way, along with using the Waterboxx PlantCocoon, to decrease the waste and work of growing your own food.  Happy gardening!

We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".
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Grow Cantaloupe and Tomatilloes With Less Water and Less Work

Cantaloupe is one of the great harvests of any raised bed garden.  Unlike Watermelon or pumpkins, it doesn't take up that much room and can be grown on a trellis.  We have grown cantaloupe with varying success over the past few years, but we grew tired of the frequent watering and weeding around the base.  We decided we would try using a device called the Groasis Waterboxx to water the cantaloupe after planting and keep weeds from growing at its base.

A cutaway view of the Groasis Waterboxx.  It channels dew and rainwater using its tan lid, stores this water in the green reservoir, and slowly releases it through the wick to the roots of the growing plant.  
We inserted one extra wick into our Waterboxx, but it still had room for one more plant if that plant wasn't very water intensive.  We received a few tomatillo plants from a friend and decided to plant one next to the Ambrosio Cantaloupe.  Both of these were started inside under lights and transplanted into our raised bed garden on May 28.  The Waterboxx was put in place around them, and was filled with about 4 gallons of water.  We don't expect to need to fill the Waterboxx at all again as it refills itself through natural processes (dew, transpiration, and rain).
The Ambrosia Cantaloupe (left) and Tomatillo (left) on May 28, 2015, the day the Waterboxx was put in place.  

Our work with these plants is largely done except for redirecting them to the string trellis and waiting to harvest.  We placed the string trellis North of the plants to allow the most sunlight to get to the plants around this corner.
The Cantaloupe (still on left) is beginning to grow up the string trellis on this photo from June 18, 2014.  The Tomatillo on the right is now about a foot in height.  The Waterboxx is full even without manual watering due to recent rains.   
We haven't had to manually water the plants once as they get all water needs from the Waterboxx.  We also haven't needed to fill the Waterboxx with any more water.  The Waterboxx also prevents weeds from growing near the plants (we have a squash planted below the Waterboxx and corn to the right in the photo above).

We did add 2 small Jobe's organic fertilizer spikes to the soil around the Waterboxx sheltering the plants on July 1.

We will continue to update this post with pictures of the Waterboxx, including our final product - fresh cantaloupe and tomatillos. We have harvested over 30 tomatillos this year.

We are growing several other plants with the Waterboxx, a complete list is available here.

You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.

We would love to hear your comments - please leave one by clicking on the 'comment' link below.

Grow Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkins Without Watering After Planting

Carving a pumpkin with children in your family before Halloween every year is great fun.  Perhaps more fun, though, is growing that pumpkin with your children or grandchildren.  In this post we will describe how we use a seemingly simple yet little know tool to grow Howden (Jack-O-Lantern sized) pumpkins with watering only right after germination and at planting.

The Howden Pumpkin in the peat pot right before transplanting May 9, 2015

Recommendations very, but if you live in an area with shorter summers (like Central Indiana where we are based), you may want to start your pumpkin inside in a peat pot.  This allows you to transplant with the minimum amount of trauma to the roots.  If planting with children, make sure to have them put the seeds in the soil (push the seeds down ~1/4 inch) and apply the first water.  You can be the one to water the peat pot until the pumpkin is ready to transplant.

Howden Pumpkin after transplanting June 6 2015
We do suggest that you plant your pumpkin into a mound.  We found an area of grass in our yard we didn't like mowing, covered it with weed cloth (which blocks weeds but allows water through), and cut out a circular spot about 25 inches in diameter.  Here we made a mound (to ensure water drainage) of Miracle-Gro potting soil.  We then transplanted the pumpkin into the center of this mound.


Our seemingly simple tool that will make the planting and harvesting of the pumpkins fun rather than hot and frustrating is the Groasis Waterboxx, shown in a cut away view above.  This device was developed in Holland to grow trees in the desert, but it works very well for vine plants which with higher water requirements in areas with moderate rainfall.   It collects water from dew and rain, and stores it in a reservoir.  It then releases the water through a wick to the soil beneath, depending on the moisture of the soil and the needs of the plant. We placed the Waterboxx around our transplanted pumpkin in mid May.  We then filled the Waterboxx with water (about 4 gallons), and began to tend to the rest of our yard.  We do not think we will need to give the pumpkins any water between the Waterboxx set up and harvesting.  

Howden Pumpkin growing the the Waterboxx on June 6, 2015.  We filled the Waterboxx with 15 liters (~4 gallons) of water at set up, but haven't had to refill it yet.
Howden Pumpkin on June 18, 2015.  This has now gotten so big as to be difficult to photograph in one image.  We still haven't added any water manually to the pumpkin or the Waterboxx.   
We had actually forgotten about our Howden Pumpkin in the process of tending to the rest of our garden, but the Waterboxx remains filled with water despite our neglect.  We have seen our orange squash bees pollinating our other cucurbits so we hope to see little pumpkins growing on our Waterboxx planted pumpkin soon.  We will continue to update this post with pictures of the growing pumpkin (as well as our Jack-O-Lanterns when we carve them).  We are growing several other plants with the Waterboxx, a complete list is available here.

An excellent sized pumpkin grown without watering with the Waterboxx


We did add 4 small Jobe's organic fertilizer spikes to the soil around the Waterboxx sheltering the plant on July 1.

You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.

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

Growing Butternut Squash Without Watering or Weeding

Squash and other cucurbits (vining crops like pumpkins) are native to the Americas, and are one of the great gifts inherited from the native peoples here.  For those interested in growing squash but weary of frequently watering and weeding of this plant, growing squash with the Groasis Waterboxx may be just right.

A cutaway view of the Groasis Waterboxx.  It channels dew and rainwater using its tan lid, stores this water in the green reservoir, and slowly releases it through the wick to the roots of the growing plant.  With one wick the Waterboxx should never need manual refilling.
We started our butternut squash indoors, and transplanted it into our raised bed garden on May 2.  Like most Waterboxx crops in the raised bed, we will give this one four square feet in a 2' x 2' area.  Our planting is seen below.  After planting the squash and placing the white evaporation cover carefully around its stem, we placed the Waterboxx over the plant and carefully pulled the plant leaves up through the central opening.  We then filled the Waterboxx with 15 liters (about 4 gallons) of water.  This Waterboxx has two wicks (instead of the usual one) to provide water to the plant, so it may need to be periodically refilled.  We will note in this post if that happens.  Otherwise, rain and dew will refill the Waterboxx without human intervention.

A butternut squash grown indoors from seed then transplanted outside on May 2, 2015.  It was watered, had the white evaporation cover placed around its base, and then had the Waterboxx (seen in lower right) placed around it and filled with Water.  The squash will get all the water it needs from the Waterboxx.  
Cucurbits like squash frequently have severe transplant shock, as was the case with our squash. However, the Waterboxx kept the squash from being too damaged by the transplant, and had more than recovered by May 19 as seen below.

The butternut squash on May 19, 2015.  It has not had any water but that provided by the Waterboxx, which hasn't been refilled. 
The squash has fully recovered and grown significantly by May 28, as seen below.  We still haven't added any water to the Waterboxx manually (the occasional rain and daily dew has replenished water in the reservoir).

The Waterboxx Squash on May 28, 2015.  There has still been no water added to the Waterboxx.  

You will notice that in the pictures above there are some weeds growing around the Waterboxx.  This was likely due to poor composting (not allowing compost to bake through hot summer to kill weed seeds in the compost tumbler).  However, with the Waterboxx blocking these weeds from growing next to our squash (and competing for sunlight and water), we do not need to worry about the weeds stealing nutrients or sunlight.

Butternut Squash on June 18, 2015.  The Squash is getting to large for its plot and will be trained up a string trellis to the North.  We still haven't added any water to the Waterboxx or the soil around the plant.
We did add 4 small Jobe's organic fertilizer spikes to the soil around the Waterboxx sheltering the plant on July 1.

A large butternut squash, grown without watering with the Waterboxx, hanging from a string trellis.
We will continue to update this post with photo of our growing squash throughout the season.  If you are interested in growing plants with the Waterboxx yourself, you can buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.  We are growing several other plants with the Waterboxx, a complete list is available here.

We would love to hear your comments - please leave one by clicking on the 'comment' link below.

Growing A Giant Pumpkin With Minimal Work With This Exceptionally Designed Bucket

One of the great joys of gardening is growing pumpkins for Halloween.  In Indiana where we are based, our growing season happens to usually end just before October 31, making pumpkins the ideal fall treat.  We were able to grow a regular sized Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin variety last year with the Waterboxx, and we began to wonder if the Waterboxx could be used to grow a giant pumpkin here in a suburban garden.  


The pumpkin seeds at planting in the peat pot in early April 2015

We started by planting a few Big Moon pumpkin seeds in a peak pot in early April.  These were grown until they reached the recommended size (of 4-5 leaves) and were then transplanted outside.  A small mound of potting soil was made in an area of our suburban yard with sufficient sun.  The transplanted pumpkin was then surrounded with the evaporation cover seen below.


The Giant Pumpkin on day of transplanting May 9, 2015.

The Waterboxx was then placed very carefully over the transplanted seedling, with care taken not to damage the stem.  This Waterboxx has 4 wicks to delivery sufficient water to the plant.  If no rain is received (and insufficient dew), this Waterboxx would need to be refilled every 1-4 weeks manually.

The pumpkin has grown considerably by May 19, 2015, when this picture was taken.  No external water has been given to this pumpkin, as all of its water needs are being met by the Waterboxx which is refilled by dew and rain.  

We have been fortunate enough to have squash bees (bright orange bees the same size of a honeybee) in our area, so we hope that we will have many pumpkins from which to choose.  We will of course only keep one pumpkin to get the largest one possible.

The giant pumpkin on June 6, 2015.  This has exploded in its growth, even though we haven't watered or fertilized it once since planting . This Waterboxx has 4 wicks (3 extra), but still has always had water due to dew and rare rain (in this dry spring).  We haven't refilled the Waterboxx once.
The Giant Pumpkin completely covering the Waterboxx on June 12, 2015.  The  Waterboxx can just barely be seen. in the blow up below (you see the white corrugated lid).

A close up view of the above picture - the Waterboxx is still working beneath the pumpkin leaves.
So how much water did we need to give the pumpkin between transplanting outside and the above pictures?  None - not one drop.  Even though this Waterboxx has 4 wicks, there has been enough dew and rain water to keep the Waterboxx more than full.  You can see this if you look carefully (the water is clear), in the image below.

The Waterboxx lid on June 12, 2015.  The Waterboxx is so full from dew and rain water it is overflowing, and the blue circular siphon is covered.  
We are seeing our first pumpkins beginning to form at the base of the female flowers.  We will choose only one pumpkin to remain on the plant in order to get the most growth.

Our chosen giant pumpkin on June 30- we will let this one pumpkin continue to grow while keeping one back up. pumpkin  This way, all the plant's energy will go into this one pumpkin.  We put a wooden pallet beneath to support the pumpkin.

One site recommends 15 to 20 gallons of water per week should be added to the pumpkin at its base - but the Waterboxx holds only four gallons.  How is the pumpkin not dying of thirst?  Well, the Waterboxx prevents almost all evaporation of water from the soil around the pumpkin roots.  Secondly, when the pumpkin transpires water (similar in idea but not mechanism to sweating in animals) from the bottom on its leaves, much of that water is recycled onto the Waterboxx lid and collected by the Waterboxx.

We did add 4 small Jobe's organic fertilizer spikes to the soil around the Waterboxx sheltering the plant on July 1.

Same pumpkin on July 16.  We haven't added any water to the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® or to the roots of the pumpkin , but the Waterboxx remains full.  We expect the pumpkin to continue growing until at least early October.  

 We will continue to update this post with pictures of the pumpkin plant throughout the growing season. We are growing several other plants with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, a complete list is available here.

You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.

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