Saturday, May 23, 2015

Preventing a New Dust Bowl with the Groasis Waterboxx

In the movie Interstellar, a treeless landscape is subjected to frequent dust storms, choking those forced to live above ground.  A non-fiction account of such storms in found in the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl.  With increasing drought in much of the western United States, is it possible such dust storms could happen again?

Focusing on the historical dust bowl, we find several things concerning to us in the present day.    First, the western Great Plains had several year wet spells, before returning to dry conditions in which farming was not tenable without irrigation.  This is perhaps what we are seeing today - with only areas that have central pivot irrigation pumping water from the Ogalalla Aquifer surviving.

These previous wet conditions came right after the Homestead Act and Transcontinental Railroad caused mass migration to this area in the mid 1860s.  This convinced settlers that "rain follows the plow" as land promoters said, the opposite of reality.  Farmers to this area used similar practices to what they had done farther east - with deep plowing, no cover crops in winter, and no windbreak planting.

A Dust Storm hitting Stratford Texas in 1935 - from Wikipedia
The grasses that had inhabited the Western Great Plains prior to farming had very deep roots, and this allowed them to survive periods of drought by tapping capillary water in the soil.  During the 1920s, the rainfall was sufficient for farming, even when the native grasses were removed.  However, beginning in the 1930s, drought again began - and the top soil began to blow away.

What can be done to prevent such erosion in dry periods while still utilizing farmland or grazing land.  One simple answer is plant trees.  This is what the Civilian Conservation Corps did in response to the Dust Bowl with considerable success and popularity.  The CCC was disbanded during WWII due to need for manpower to fight the war.

In this map from the USDA, areas in yellow and red are at high risk for desertification.  You can see that much of the Western U.S. is in this category.  
How can trees be planted in an area too dry to sustain other plant life?  With new technology, specifically the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Groasis Waterboxx was designed in Holland by a tulip and lily breeder, who while traveling the world, became deeply impacted by the spreading deserts in the countries he visited.  He wanted to reverse this process.  He sold his bulb business, and spent half of the proceeds (approximately $7 million), developing a self refilling water battery for trees - the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx both collects and stores water.  It is set up around a sapling tree (or other plant), ten gallons of water are poured into the soil, and the Waterboxx itself is filled with 4 gallons.  The Waterboxx then is able to be removed and reused for up to ten years.

How effective is the Waterboxx in helping trees survive?  In a Sahara desert planting trial, 88% of single trees survived to one year when planted with the Waterboxx, even though water was given only at planting.  The survival percentage for one tree increased to 99% when two trees were planted with the Waterboxx and the weaker one removed at one year.  This compares to only 11% survival of the same tree (salt cedar) when they were watered weekly.  You can see the results from this trial below.
Three years growth of a Salt Cedar with the Groasis Waterboxx.  From  

Trees planted with the Waterboxx will survive even when the Waterboxx is removed.  This is because the Waterboxx releases water straight down, inducing the tree roots to grow to deeper moist soil.  The tree can survive off the water held in capillary channels here during drought.  This concept is explained in the video below.

Another example of the Waterboxx turning desert into green space is Kuwait.  Here Ghaf trees initially planted with the Waterboxx survived and are thriving eight months after the Waterboxxes were removed.

Ghaf trees with no watering after planting - in the last photo the Waterboxx have been gone for 8 months and the trees still survive.  This land is now protected against dust storms and can be used for grazing.

Won't trees planted with the Waterboxx be eaten by wildlife?  Possibly, but there is a solution for this as well.  The Growsafe Tree Protector allows light and air through to the trunk, but protects the tree from hungry herbivores.  Several can be combined end to end to prevent tree damage until the tree is old enough to survive on its own.

While it is best to plant trees in the fall or spring, the Waterboxx increases tree survival when they are planted in summer as well.  Please visit Dew Harvest if you would like to buy the Waterboxx

If you would like to learn how to grow plants without watering with the Waterboxx, the best resource is the book The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden available here on 

Image: Desertification Vulnerability
Accessed from on 5/23/2015; public domain

Growing Dwarf Apple Trees (without watering) and with the Groasis Waterboxx

In early Spring 2013, we bought and planted 4 bare root dwarf fruit trees purchased from Stark Brothers nursery (online), including a dwarf apple tree.  The site for these trees was carefully selected to be in a full sun area at the bottom of a hill where water would reach them.  All of these trees are capable of growing well in the zone in which they were planted (Zone 6) After the first year, we were quite disappointed with the lack of significant growth of these trees, so we decided to add the Waterboxx to each of their bases.  Here we will focus on our dwarf apple 2-in-1 hybrid (a Stark Double Delicious Apple Semi-Dwarf).  The tree pre-Waterboxx (in late winter) shown below looks very similar to the tree when is was planted (showing the very minimal and disappointing growth first year even with weekly watering).

Here our tree is shown one year after planting on February 22, 2014.  There has been almost no growth from the previous year despite frequent watering.
We wanted to enjoy the fruits of our tree and the fruits of our labor, just with a lot less labor. Watering the tree every week was very tiring.  The Groasis Waterboxx was carefully placed around the central trunk of the tree before budbreak.  It was then filled with 15 liters (~4 gallons) of water.  No further watering was given the tree or the Waterboxx - ever.  The Waterboxx was refilled from near daily dew and occasional rainfall.

Here is the Double Delicious Apple tree on April 27, 2014 after the Waterboxx has been placed.  The Waterboxx will slowly and consistently release water to the roots of the tree, helping it to grow.  

Most trees' growth occurs in the early spring, as was the case with our apple tree as soon as we placed the Waterboxx.  Below you can see less than one months growth of the canopy with the consistent water and base temperature provided by the Waterboxx.

Here you see the same tree on May 18, 2014, with less than a month of the Waterboxx in place.  The canopy has increased significantly.  
We let the tree grow for the rest of the summer without intervention.  In early spring 2015, we applied dormant oil before budbreak to kill off any overwintering pests without harming beneficial bees (which weren't yet active).

Here is the same tree almost one year later, on May 19, 2015.  We put the bright green Growsafe Tree Protector around the trunk of the tree due to rabbit damage to a neighboring fruit tree.  The canopy has doubled in size and we have some apples growing.  
Above you can see that the tree has become so big that is has outgrown the Waterboxx!  This variety of grafted apple tree is self fertile, meaning it has two fruiting varieties grafted onto one tree so bees can pollinate without other apple trees nearby.  Also, it is a semi-dwarf, meaning it will only get 12-15 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide, meaning it can be picked by hand or with a short ladder and will fit in most suburban yards.  You can see that it already has little apples as shown below.
A close up of our apples growing on May 19, 2015.  We will expect to harvest these full size apples in late August or September.  
We will update this post with the apples throughout the growing season, and we hope to have enough for both pies and eating this fall.  We believe that the Waterboxx provided such consistent water and base temperature control that it allowed us to get fruit one whole year earlier.  

Be the first in your area to start growing plants with the Groasis Waterboxx Buy the Groasis Waterboxx here.

If you would like to learn how to grow plants without watering with the Waterboxx, the best resource is the book The Waterboxx Gardener: How to Mimic Nature, Stop Watering, and Start Enjoying Your Garden available here on