Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gardening During Flood and Drought in Austin, Texas

The citizens of the Austin area are well known for their love of Mother Nature.  Mother Nature doesn't always return the favor though, with erratic and often harsh conditions that can make it very difficult to garden in Austin.  Just this past year of 2015, the month of May brought far too much rainfall (13.44 inches), damaging many local garden vegetables and causing split tomatoes and melons.  This was followed just two months later by a July with essentially no appreciable rainfall.  Add to this that the average high during June, July, August, and September in Austin is over 90 degrees, and you see the extreme conditions that confront gardeners in the Austin area.

So, the Austin area has variable rain, sometimes with not enough rain and sometimes with flooding.  Also, the time when trees and garden plants could benefit most from water (June through September) due to the increased sun and heat, the little rainfall can be 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 has been used for planting trees for several years in the Austin area by a local community group, but it can also be used for gardening.  What is the Waterboxx exactly and how does it work?  Well, 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 splitting and a bountiful harvest just beginning in the photo 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 Austin.  

The Waterboxx can help residents of the Austin area to stop spending hours in the hot summer sun watering their garden plants and just enjoy the fruits of their labor.  The Waterboxx was designed with insights garnered from nature, and can help you better co-exist with nature.   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.  


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