Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sequoia From Planting Through Growth

Since we were a child, giant sequoia trees have held a great fascination for us.  Several years ago, we saw some giant sequoia trees in small containers at our local botanical garden, and decided to try to grow them.  They grew fairly well potted inside our apartment, but each and every one died during transplanting outside.  Even with frequent watering, the roots seemed to dry out and we were left with a dead tree.  This continued for several unsuccessful attempts, that is until we planted our first tree with a device we read about online - the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  We planted this tree with the Waterboxx, watered it once, and never watered it again.  The tree not only survived, but thrived, and is now growing without the Waterboxx or any other intervention.  

We wanted to make sure this success wasn't a fluke, so decided to plant another sequoia, this time somewhat farther to the south, and transplanted at an earlier age.  Below, you can see the results of this test planting.  

The following photos will document the whole growth of a sequoia from its initial planting outside to removal of the Waterboxx.

A small sequoia barely sticks out of  the central opening of the Waterboxx on July 3, 2013, the day of its planting.

The same sequoia on August 24, 2013.  Already after 6 weeks you can see significant growth with even the limited light reaching the central opening.  It has not rained for approximately 2 weeks as of this photo.   

As the sequoia was so small initially, it had a great deal of trouble getting enough sunlight for rapid growth.  However, as more of the sequoia needles reached above the Waterboxx lid, the sequoia began to grow more rapidly.  Remember, we never added any water to the sequoia or the Waterboxx after planting.

Here you see the approximately doubled in size Sequoia on September 7, 2014 (with some dried grass on the Waterboxx lid).
The same sequoia on August 13, 2015.  This tree has dramatically filled out, and we will be able to remove the Waterboxx PlantCocoon after the winter.  The tree will then be able to grow without watering due to its deep, Waterboxx induced root system.

3 Years' growth of a sequoia - from tiny sapling to 2 foot tall tree - no water was ever given to the tree and the Waterboxx was left in place over winter.  

As long as the central dumbbell shaped opening is oriented along an East-West Axis, then the seed or small tree will get enough light to grow.  The Waterboxx cost 7 million dollars to develop, and works so well because of its multiple ingenious features.  It funnels dew into the central basin, and then allows that to drip to the roots of  a growing plant.  You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon here..  We buy our giant sequoias from  

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  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Growing Melons With Almost No Watering

Home grown melons are one of nature's most delectable foods.  There is nothing quite like a cantaloupe that has gotten so ripe that it has fallen off the vine.  Homegrown watermelons too are delicious, but as all seeds are concentrated in the center of cantaloupe, they are much easier to deseed and enjoy than homegrown Watermelon.  Melons, however,  require a huge amount of watering, and therefore work - deterring most people from growing them.  This shouldn't be the case.

We must admit that after three tries at growing melons, in our raised bed/Square Foot Garden, we were about through.  We would get at most one to two melons, but this required watering every other day.  We did at least find our favorite varieties, the cantaloupe cultivars "French Hybrid" and "Ambrosia" - two melons that were so sweet right after picking you wanted to forgo all other food.

We finally decided to try growing melons one last time - but this time in a large enough quantity to ensure pollination, and with the Waterboxx to ensure watering.

Pollination is obviously vital for melons - if you don't have at least two different melon plants of each variety, it is unlikely you will get a particularly large crop.  Bees should be encouraged(we also bought blue orchard mason bees which promptly flew away but did sometimes return).

To ensure watering, we used a brilliant invention called the Waterboxx.  The Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, or Waterboxx for short, is a device for watering trees and garden plants.  It collects and stores rain, dew and other condensation and slowly delivers it to the roots of a growing plant.  In many climates with regular rainfall throughout the summer, the Waterboxx never needs to be refilled.  In drier climates (of the southwest, for example), the Waterboxx needs only to be refilled every week, at most, with 4 gallons.

A cutaway schematic of the Waterboxx showing function - water is collected by the tan lid, funneled down the siphons shown in red, stored in the green reservoir, and slowly delivered via the white wick.  Soil evaporation is blocked by the Waterboxx basin, providing a consistent moist but not muddy environment for the roots of the plant.  Image from

We first decided which melons we wanted to plant - we chose three varieties of cantaloupe and one variety of (seeded) watermelon.  We then prepared a space for these - two full 4x4 foot raised beds, without any overlying trellis.  Melons have very large space requirements - we satisfied this by having a string trellis at the north side of our two beds for some room for growth.  In the second bed, we built an "A" frame for a string trellis.  We also cleared a large section of grass and covered it with weed cloth for the melon leaves to spread out.  This provided us sufficient room (although the melons did somewhat climb our trellis fence).

8 Melons in 4 Waterboxxes with our A Frame support - the area behind the Waterboxxes was also covered with weed cloth to allow growth..  Here you can already see the size difference between the indoor started (left) and outdoor started (right) melons.
With most cucurbits, it is better to start the seeds outside but we have a relatively short growing season, so we decided to try both indoor and outdoor starting. The indoor seeds we started in peat pots two weeks before outdoor planting.  We must say, the indoor started seeds did much better than the outdoor ones.  The outdoor started plants were quickly overrun by ants - who seemed to grow their colony (and aphid livestock) faster than our melons grew.  Our indoor started seeds, when transplanted whole with the peat pot still in place, grew much faster than the ants and were not seriously bothered by them.

Our melons growing quite well mid summer - we did refill the the two Waterboxxes on left once during a dry spell - right after which we received ~4 inches of rain which would have completely refilled them without our intervention.

We placed two plants per Waterboxx.  We then carefully placed the Waterboxx, making sure we had two wicks in each.  After that, there was little to do beside train the vines of the melons to stay off the paths and on the string trellis where we wanted them.  We did fill 2 of the 8 Waterboxxes with more water one time - and then immediately regretted this decision.  Right after the manual filling we received 4 inches of rain in just a few days - enough to refill the Waterboxxes completely.  We are based in Indiana - some areas without consistent rainfall will need periodic refilling (likely every 2-3 weeks).
Our A Frame and string trellis is completely covered with the vines of the melons.  

By mid July we knew our harvest was almost ready.  The great thing about growing cantaloupe on trellises is that they will fall off when ripe - the gardener just needs to check the ground daily for fallen melons and take them inside.

5 "French Hybrid" melons hanging on the inside of the A Frame with the Waterboxx just barely visible.  

Ripe melons will also change colors from green to tan .  It is important to check the garden every day for newly ripened melons because ants and soil organisms also want the sweet melons and can get through the outer skin in about 24 hours.

Here is a single day's harvest of melons from a 4x4 foot bed of Waterboxxes growing melons - with no water manually added for months.  

At its height, our Waterboxx melon garden was giving us 5 (5!) fresh melons per day.  We found we could only eat one to two so family and friends also received Waterboxx melons.

We didn't forget about the Watermelon - grown without any hand, can or hose watering after Waterboxx set up - the scale reads 19.8 lbs

After almost giving up on melon growing, we found that the Waterboxx brought us profound success.  We plan to continue growing melons each year with the Waterboxx - of course rotating the area where we grow them and replenishing the soil with compost yearly.  If you want to try to grow melons with the Waterboxx, you can buy the Waterboxx here or learn more on our website.  The Waterboxx can also be used to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, and eggplants.

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 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gardens for Elderly Family Members

One of the problems family members face when older is limited mobility and dexterity. This can lead to a large number of problems.  One of these is a decrease in the variety and health of their diet.  If people are not able to drive to get fresh vegetables, and no longer able to grow things themselves due to arthritic problems of the legs, knees, and hands.  While medicine has certainly improved over the last 20 years for older people, nutrition most definitely has not.

Is there any way for children or grandchildren to improve the nutrition of their older friends and relatives?  Yes, there is - setting up a small garden with the Groasis Waterboxx.

The Groasis Waterboxx is a self refilling water battery for plants.  It is a device that, without electricity or running water, collects dew and rainwater and funnels it to the roots of growing plants.  The Waterboxx also surrounds garden plants (and trees) and protects their root zone from competition from weeds.  In this way, the Waterboxx eliminates most of the work of gardening.

Image 1: A schematic cutaway view of the Waterboxx - rain, dew, and other condensation are captured by the tan lid, funneled to the siphons shown in red, stored by the ~4 gallon reservoir shown in green, a slowly released as needed by the white wick to the roots of the plants (shown in yellow) - photo courtesy of
Only small areas are needed for Waterboxx growing - the side of a deck or a few sunny feet next to the house.  It is possible to set up the Waterboxx in a few minutes, and a raised bed takes about 30 minutes to assemble, depending upon experience.  We do recommend a raised bed garden as this elminates all tilling each spring and won't be invaded by grass.

Follow our steps to setting up a small garden for a family member below:

  1. Confirm that the family member would like to have such a garden and find out if their plant selections grows well with the Waterboxx
    1. The Waterboxx can be used to grow tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, melons, squash, pumpkins, and eggplants easily, perhaps with some lettuce or other greens in the space between Waterboxxes.  The Waterboxx doesn't fit beans or peas and these would probably need to be watered like a traditional garden.
  2. In the fall or winter, find a spot in the lucky person's yard with at least 8 hours of sun per day that is large enough for at least 1 Waterboxx
    1. The Waterboxx is 16 inches in diameter at bottom - we suggest a raised bed at least 20 inches on a side.  It is best to use more than one Waterboxx (2-4) as less wood framing will be needed per plant.
  3. Get the required non-treated lumber to build a raised bed - for a 4x4 foot bed, two quantity 8 foot 2x6 inch non treated boards will be needed.  Have these cut at the lumber store to be 4 feet long each.
  4. Screw the 4 boards together at their corners, like 4 dogs all running after each other in a circle, so each edge is the same length (see image 2 below)
  5. Attach weed blocking cloth to the bottom of the wood frame - not plastic.  
  6. Fill the frame with 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 potting soil.  Each spring and fall the bed will need fertilizer, preferably in the form of compost
  7. Set empty but assembled Waterboxxes on the soil to determine spacing - snug up against each corner (see image 3 below) and one in the center (for a total of 5 Waterboxxes).  There will be space between each Waterboxx for lettuce or other greens.
    1. Note: We do recommend an extra wick in each Waterboxx for most plants - see instructions when ordering
  8. Plant pre-started plants (either grown yourself or bought) from peat pots - this works well for most plants except squash and pumpkins which need to be direct seeded (see image 4)
  9. Place the evaporation cover carefully around the plants, then place the Waterboxx and fill with water
  10. Let your family member follow the growth of their plants.  They can check the water level in the Waterboxx and add water if their is no rain, usually at most every 2-3 weeks.  In much of the country outside the Southwest, no additional water may be needed except during very dry spells.
  11. Have your family member pick fruits when ripe and enjoy all summer.
  12. At the end of the growing season, remove the wick from the Waterboxx and turn it upside down - it can be stored outside if desired, even in cold climates, if upside down.  
  13. Next spring, insert new wicks into the Waterboxx and repeat steps 7-11, after fertilizing the soil.
Image 2: Put three outdoor (deck) screws into each corner - each board should have three screws in its long end, parallel to it and three screws perpendicular to it. 

Image 3: Use an empty Waterboxx to determine spacing - press it down into moist soil to show the "Figure 8" central opening where plants will be placed.  
Image 4: Plant pre-started plants (eggplants shown here) in each end of the "figure 8" - most Waterboxxes do well with 2 plants and 2 wicks.

If you follow these instructions, and assure that the plants have sufficient room to grow and be supported (especially for vine plants like indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash), your family member will soon be enjoying the fruits of your labor.  There are few better gifts to someone who has helped nurture and support you.  Get grandchildren involved for a special treat.

Cucumbers and tomatoes growing in a small Waterboxx garden set up for a family member - no weeding and no watering required all summer.
The Waterboxx is sold in the United States at  We recommend buying 5 Waterboxxes for a 4x4 foot garden or 10 if you want your only personal garden plot as well.

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