Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sequoia Progress in Indiana with the Groasis Waterboxx




We have always been interested in big trees, and have planted several (4) Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) outside where we live in Indiana, only to see all of them die.  When we started Dew Harvest® LLC, we decided to use one Groasis Waterboxx to plant a Giant Sequoia, hoping that the Waterboxx would overcome the dry Indiana summers that killed my previous 4 trees.  The Sequoia is very water loving, and does not tolerate long periods of drought.  Below you see pictures of both the Sequoia immediately after planting in mid May and progress since then 6 weeks later (for reference, the lid of the Waterboxx is 20 inches in diameter).

The Sequoia seen laterally at initial planting (again approximately 2 years old).  Some brown is evident from winter die back.

Sequoia after 6 weeks growth with the Waterboxx (almost doubled in size) while the grass around the Sequoia has died back from lack of rain.  No water was added to the Waterboxx except that added by dew and rain naturally.  Note: Orientation of photo is flipped 180 degrees as evidenced by blue cap in Waterboxx lid position.  The lighter blue green color is indicative of new growth.

The Sequoia after 6 weeks with the Waterboxx (approximately doubled in size in 6 weeks, after 2  years of slow growth).  Again, the  grass around the Groasis Waterboxx is dying back from lack of consistent rainfall.  Again, the lighter blue green is new growth, and no brown is evident.
The Sequoia after approximately 2 months, continues growing in height as well as width.  The large amount of light green indicates the rate at which the tree is growing.  The box will be left on over winter, as it provides a blanket of water which will only slowly change temperatures and protect the base of the Sequoia from drying out.  The design of the Waterboxx means that it will not break when the water in it freezes, but may loosen the lid (the ice will expand upward, not outward).



Sequoia after approximately 2 months of growth with the Waterboxx and no external watering (no water has been added to the box except dew and rain, which have kept the box completely full).  You can see that the surrounding grass continues to die back from lack of water, but the irrigating and cooling effects of the Waterboxx keep the sequoia growing without any browning.  This tree will soon be able to grow on its own, but we will leave the Waterboxx on it over winter to prevent the drying winter winds from killing the young tree.


The water level is only down approximately 1 cm (in a ~25 cm high basin) after one whole month with less than 1 inch of rainfall.  The morning dew is funneled into the basin, and this prevents the basin from emptying even though it continues to water the healthy growing tree (Photo from August 28,2013)



The Sequioa 3 months after initial planting with the Waterboxx.  The tree remains green even though the surrounding grass has died from lack of rainfall.  

Besides a very dry summer, we had the harshest winter in living memory.  Just as the Waterboxx provides consistent sustaining water in the summer drought, its basin protects the trunk of the tree from drying winds.  The image below shows the Waterboxx on January 10, 2014, during the Polar Vortex (with temps down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit).  




As you can see, the Waterboxx is wonderfully effective at growing water loving trees (or trees in dry areas) even if there is not enough water to sustain such plants as grass.  The Waterboxx accomplishes this by storing dew, collected almost every night, in its basin and slowly releasing it through a wick into the soil below.  The basin serves as a type of plastic mulch, preventing evaporation of the water during the day.  The Waterboxx will need to be removed before the Sequoia is too large to fit through the central opening, which will likely be next spring.  The Waterboxx can stay around the tree overwinter, and will not break if the water inside it freezes.  In this way, it will also form a blanket for the Sequoia, which is susceptible to drying winds (most experts advise burying the Sequoia in straw in the winter). 


The images above show the health, size, and continuing growth of the Sequoia in the late spring, approximately one month following removal of the Waterboxx.  The Sequoia generally browns out in early spring (see brown above) only to add significant new growth later that same season.  The Sequoia is now ~2 feet tall (23 inches) and about 20 inches wide in this photo.




This photo was taken on July 18, 2014, 3 months after Waterboxx removal.  This Sequoia has not had any irrigation or artificial watering of any type (it did have a pan around it, not shown in this picture, to funnel water to the base).  It is now almost 30 inches wide and about as tall.  It clearly will survive now due to the deep Waterboxx induced roots.  




The Sequoia is seen above on October 4, 2014.  Here you can see it is over one yard tall now (about 38 inches in total height.  It has continued to have new growth throughout the late summer. 

The tree, of course, continued to grow, all without any manual watering.  Below, we show it in September, 2016.   The browning of the lower limbs is normal - lower limbs die off as they receive less sunlight.  This tree has less sunlight than most as it has a fence immediately to its south.



Growing up in Indiana (where the tallest tree is rarely 100 feet tall), we became intrigued with the idea of Sequoias that can grow 300 feet tall and live for thousands of years.  We were disappointed with our consistent failure to establish one of these trees - until we tried the Waterboxx.  We now hope to be able to establish small woods with Sequoias, sequestering carbon and adding incredible beauty to our Hoosier landscape.  

Be the first in your area to start growing trees (including perhaps Sequoias) with the Groasis Waterboxx. As always, you can learn more about the Groasis Waterboxx and buy one (or several) at Dew Harvest® LLC.  

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We buy our Sequoias from our friend Joe Welker at Giant-Sequoia.com.  We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments". 

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

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 Groasis.com

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.

We will be releasing our E-Book, The Waterboxx Gardener on Amazon.com February 2017 which will provide detailed instructions about how to garden with the Waterboxx.

We would love to hear your comments below.

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 Groasis.com
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 dewharvest.com.  We recommend buying 5 Waterboxxes for a 4x4 foot garden or 10 if you want your only personal garden plot as well.

We would love to hear your comments below, especially of any family members helped by their Waterboxx garden.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Plant Transpiration

Humans have a process through which they release water in their blood vessels to the air around them - called perspiration.  Plants have a similar system, where water drawn up from the soil is released through stoma - called transpiration.

Transpiration is very important in plants, as it one of the processes that allows lifting of water from the soil up the vasculature of the plant (the xylem).  Without transpiration, neither water nor other nutrients would be lifted to the canopy of the tree where they are needed.
Clouds formed by transpiration over the Amazon Rain Forest - from Wikipedia/USGS

Transpiration is a reason why areas with heavy vegetation (forests) tend to be more humid than regions with little vegetation (deserts).  Transpiration can be significant enough to contribute to rainfall.  Transpiration is also tightly regulated, higher in low relative humidity, and higher on warmer days and in higher wind speeds.


Because transpiration is an invisible process, a simple demonstration can help convince yourself that this process is taking place.  Below you see images of an indoor jade plant (Crassula ovata).  This plant is then watered, and has one of its branches covered with a clear plastic bag.  The jade plant is then placed outside on a warm, sunny day.  The bag quickly fills with droplets of water.  This is transpiration in action.





While plants do have a system to regulate how much water they transpire, slowing of transpiration slows the growth of the plant.  This is why a consistent water supply to the roots of the plant is important.  The Groasis Waterboxx is the best way to ensure this consistent supply of water.


A cut away view of the Waterboxx - showing how water is stored, and funneled through a wick to the roots of a growing plant - from Groasis.com 

The Groasis Waterboxx is a self-refilling water battery that provides a consistent source of water to a growing plant.  The Waterboxx contains a water reservoir, filled only once (at setup).  The water is then slowly released through a wick in the base of the Waterboxx, around 50 mL (10 teaspoons) of water per day.  Daily dew and occasional rain refill the Waterboxx.  Because the Groasis Waterboxx delivers water to the growing plant every day, the plant can remain metabolically active and growing, not dependent on irregular rainfall.  The Waterboxx can be removed after about one year and used again.  The Waterboxx can be bought from Dew Harvest in the United States. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".



Friday, July 1, 2016

Dew Point and Condensation - Planting Trees with the Groasis Waterboxx

     Dew Point is an interesting and often misunderstood concept.  Dew Point is the temperature that air must reach (decrease to) in order for condensation to take place - the Point on the thermometer at which Dew forms.  We frequently see this with glasses of ice water.  Imagine two identical glasses - one full of room temperature water and one full of a mixture of ice and water.  Which one will develop condensation (popularly known as 'sweat' although this is a very misleading term)?  Experience has probably taught you that only the glass of ice water will induce condensation, sometimes in significant amounts.  The author has even had a cellphone ruined when it was placed next to a glass of ice water in a humid room overnight.  The condensation produced by the glass created a puddle that destroyed the cellphone without the water ever being spilled. Why does this condensation happen?
     Air can hold water in the form of vapor - and warmer air can hold more water vapor.  When you fill a glass (and a glass works better than a plastic cup as glass is a poor insulator) with ice, it cools the air immediately around it.  This local air is cooled below the Dew Point, and the water vapor from the air condenses.
    This is actually why mountains cause rain - as humid air from plains or oceans has to rise to cross over mountain ranges, it cools.  Depending on the height of the mountain range, it usually cools enough for some of the air to lose water in the form of precipitation (rain or snow).
     Why is any of this relevant to anything?  Well, much of the fresh water available on the Earth is actually in the air.  In fact, over 5 times as much water is available in the humidity in the air as is available in rivers on the Earth.  

There is sometimes enough dew on the grass to thoroughly soak your morning slippers - can we put this to use?

     As so little water is available in some areas where trees and other plants need water, a brilliant Dutchman named Pieter Hoff invented a device to use water from the air to grow plants -  without irrigation.  This device is called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.
    The Groasis Waterboxx acts acts in several ways.  The Waterboxx has a reservoir of several gallons of water that is resistant to swings in temperature due to the high specific heat capacity of water.  There is a small air pocket above the water reservoir and immediately below the Waterboxx lid.  The water tends to be cooler than outside air during the day and warmer than the outside air at night.  When the sun sets and the outside air temperature cools, the air pocket between the water reservoir and the Waterboxx lid is cooler than the outside lid (just like a glass of ice water is cooler than the ambient temperature) causing condensation to form faster and in greater amounts.
Originally from Groasis.com

    The Groasis Waterboxx lid is specially designed with microscopic pyramids on top of a funneled, corrugated form.  This design mimics the lotus leaf, and funnels as much dew as possible to the central siphons.  These siphons direct the water collected as dew into the reservoir, and prevent the water from evaporating during the day.  This water is then slowly released to the roots of the growing plant below by a small wick at the base of the green reservoir.  This whole process can be seen in the video below.
 
     The Groasis Waterboxx will collect dew every night, so long as the temperature of the air falls below Dew Point (allowing condensation to form).  It will take up to a year without any rain to empty the reservoir if it is refilled with condensation, when growing trees.  Dry, arid climates that are most in need of the Waterboxx generally have the biggest swings in temperature between day and night due to lack of insulating cloud cover.  These swings mean the temperature is more likely to go both above and below Dew Point, causing condensation.  The Waterboxx works so well in the desert that when used in the Sahara, 88% of single trees (99% of double tree plantings) planted with the Waterboxx survived even though they were never watered again after first planting.  Only 11% of the weekly watered control trees survived.    You can check Dew Point here if you have relative humidity and temperature handy (available here).

What about areas that are so hot and so dry that dew is rarely found on the ground in the morning - can the Waterboxx work there?  Yes, and here's how:

Trees transpire a considerable amount of moisture, and a Waterboxx planted tree of any size (but especially broadleaf/deciduous trees) transpires water vapor over the Waterboxx lid.  On a windless or nearly windless night, this settles on the lid, slides down into the siphons and replenishes the reservoir.  This would be the case even if the relative humidity elsewhere around the tree was so low that the low temperature wouldn't reach dew point.  If a tree is established as recommended with the Waterboxx (with 10 gallons of water poured at time of planting into the soil), that is somewhere near 10 gallons that can be transpired, collected, and recycled.  This 10 gallons doesn't include the amount in the reservoir at planting and the amount collected from dew and rain.  

 Also, the Waterboxx planted tree may lower the daytime and therefore nighttime local temperature slightly (due to shade and humidity), and the local air may reach dew point that way.  Finally, in the beginning of the summer, the water in the reservoir is likely to be cooler than the average air temperature.  This will likely cool the small amount of air in the Waterboxx (the air resides beneath the cream colored lid but above the black midplate), making the surface of the cream colored lid cooler and closer to dew point. So, because the Waterboxx planted tree changes the local environmental conditions, the Waterboxx can be replenished even if the surrounding environment is too hot or dry.
A Waterboxx lid with significant condensation.  This water beads up due to the microscopic pyramids on the Waterboxx lid.

A note about published Dew Points.  We find these to be quite frequently inaccurate.  We have been camping and have had our tent (and the surrounding ground) covered with dew when, by published temperature and dew points, there shouldn't have been any condensation.  Dew Points can be highly local (due to differing local water sources) and the only real way to measure Dew Point is to record the temperature outside when dew begins to form on the ground (or other objects).  

If this all sounds a bit complicated, well, unfortunately that's because it is.  That is likely why a device like the Waterboxx, deceptively simple as it appears, was never developed before.  You can find out more about the Waterboxx on our parent website, Dew Harvest.  You can also buy the Waterboxx here.   We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments". 



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Growing Huge Eggplants Without Watering After Planting

Eggplants are renowned for their deep purple colors and unique flavor.  Eggplants, just like tomatoes, tend to taste much, much better when home grown, rather than when bought from even the best store. Even if store bought produce is grown and picked when flavorful, it frequently travels so far and for so long that when available in the store it is less than appetizing. This is probably never more true than with eggplants, which can be leathery and foul tasting having had to travel long distances.

Produce or "consume" from a local grocery store - this hardly makes us want to eat our vegetables
The solution to the flavorless store bought eggplant is to grow them yourself, in your own garden.  Growing eggplants can be a great joy, if done correctly.  We, however had years of disappointment growing eggplants in our raised beds.  It always seemed like something was off, something always conspired to keep the eggplants from producing well.  Some years the transplanted seedling would barely grow, other years the larger plants wouldn't set fruit.  Finally, even when the plants did set fruit well, like in 2015, the plant was so bogged down that the fruits touched the ground and were soon eaten by ants.

Eggplants have very specific requirements for good growth, detailed below:
  • Rich soil, such as that provided by well composted humus
  • Even and consistent water to its roots
  • Consistently warm temperatures
  • Minimal wind
First, let's discuss the soil.  We strongly recommend composting - in fact we have made a podcast on how to get started composting (listen to all our podcasts here).    At the end of every growing season, you should be working your composted humus or organic matter into the soil by hand or with a spade or soil knife.  If you include pureed (yes - put them in a second hand blender and press puree) eggshells and decaying plant matter from many different sources, your compost should have all essential nutrients.  Listen to our composting podcast to hear what you should and should not put into your compost.  As long as you rotate crop locations each year, adding fresh compost really should mostly take care of any nutritional deficiencies the eggplants are likely to have.  We have not had  nutrient deficiencies causing poor growth, using compost.

The next three problems seem somewhat out of a gardener's hands.  How do you make sure consistent water is provided to the eggplants, especially in raised beds which dry out quickly?  A gardener could of course water their garden every single day (a significant time commitment) but then how do you prevent splitting of the eggplant after heavy rains?  

Also, how do you keep the eggplants warm on cool nights?  Finally, how do you shield eggplants from wind, especially when the seedlings are young and fragile?

These three problems - water, warmth, and wind, are all addressable with a single device, the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon, or Waterboxx for short.  The Waterboxx is an intelligent plant incubator, inspired by nature, that allows gardeners to grow eggplants (as well as tomatoes and other plants) without continued watering after planting.  The Waterboxx, seen below, collects dew, other condensation, and rainwater,  stores it in a fifteen liter reservoir, and slowly releases this water to the roots of a growing plant, like a tree, tomato or eggplant.   


A schematic cross sectional view of the Waterboxx: water is collected on the corrugated tan lid, funneled down siphons shown in red, stored in the green reservoir, and slowly released, by hygroscopic capillary action, into the soil below through a white wick.  
The Waterboxx releases water through one or two wicks only when the soil is dry, so only when it is needed by the plant's roots.  The Waterboxx will almost never run out of water if only one wick is used, and even with two wicks is likely to need watering very rarely.  With two wicks and two eggplants per Waterboxx, we have never needed to add water manually - natural sources provide enough.  After all, it takes only 4 inches of rain to fill the Waterboxx.  

When your garden does receive heavy rain, this can flood the soil and cause the eggplants to split.  The Waterboxx prevents this by storing most of the water that would be going directly to the plant roots and funneling the rest at least 10 inches away from the plants through an overflow spout.  This prevents the roots from getting water logged and prevents the eggplants from splitting, even after heavy rains.  

What about the need for minimal wind but for consistent warm temperatures?  Well - the Waterboxx provides this as well.  When eggplant plants are small (less than 20 inches) they are mostly shielded from blowing winds by the Waterboxx.  As the plant grows (and grow it will given the consistent moisture from the Waterboxx), the Waterboxx still protects the base the plant stalk and keeps it from blowing over.

Water is very good at providing consistent temperatures.  This is why some areas along the coast, like San Diego, have mild climates throughout the year almost irrespective of the season.  This also applies to the water in the Waterboxx, although on a much smaller scale.  The water in the Waterboxx reservoir resists changes in temperature, keeping the plant cool during the day and warm at night.  This can be seen below in infrared photos showing how the Waterboxx cools the soil and roots on even a very hot day.

On these infrared photographs, cool is purple and hot is yellow.  Although the ambient temperature is near 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius),  the Waterboxx keeps the soil closer to an ideal room temperature - all without any electricity
So, even if the theory is sound, how effective is the Waterboxx at growing eggplants?  Well, we have the biggest eggplant plants we have ever seen, growing with the Waterboxx, all without any watering after planting and Waterboxx set up:

Two eggplants growing in a Waterboxx in a late June in central Indiana.  To judge scale, the white lid of the Waterboxx is 10 inches tall, so this plant is almost 40 inches tall currently, and it isn't even close to done growing!
Okay, so even if the Waterboxx has a strong theoretical basis for working and it grows the eggplant plants large, that doesn't mean this leads to more or better looking eggplants.  Well, our friend Bill McNeese in Hemet, Southern California was able to keep harvesting beautiful, large eggplants up until December of 2015, as seen below.  As you can see, the Waterboxx also keeps the fruit off the soil, preventing premature decay.  

Eggplants being harvested in December 2015 in southern California 
So, the Waterboxx has both a theoretical basis and proven results for growing large, prolific eggplants.  We recommend planting two eggplants per Waterboxx, one in each end of the figure "8" shaped central opening, leading to better pollination and more fruit.  When using two eggplants a second wick should be inserted into the Waterboxx, and the water level in the Waterboxx checked every other week.


A single day's eggplant harvest - from two plants in one Waterboxx, all with no watering after Waterboxx placement - certainly more appetizing the those available in the store, for a much better price, all told.
The Waterboxx can also work for other garden vegetables with a compact central stalk like tomatoes and peppers.  You can find out more about the Waterboxx here or buy the Waterboxx here.  Please visit our main website, www.dewharvest.com, to see all the Waterboxx's awards as well as a video of how the Waterboxx functions.  

We would love to read your comments below.