Saturday, September 5, 2015

Planting Trees Along Route 66

Route 66 is the Automobile Age's Oregon Trail and Transcontinental Railroad, combined into one.  It has been the symbolic and sometimes the actual route for Americans to migrate westward.  It is a frequent holiday route for Europeans who want to experience main street America - but who do not want to experience the America of interstates or airports.
Route 66 in blue with modern interstates in black.  This map shows how this highway connected the Heartland of the nation with the West Coast (image from National Park Service, Public Domain)

Route 66 was the route the Joads took to escape the Dust Bowl in Tom Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, in which the author called it "The Mother Road".  It is the subject of famous songs by Nat King Cole and again by The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones version is seen below:


A more recent movie (Cars by Disney, 2006) has also highlighted how Route 66 helped small towns along the route of the highway thrive.  Today, as most Americans fly cross country, much has been lost along this highway which once connected the eastern and western halves of our country.  However, we would venture to guess that most Americans have never driven even a small part of this famous road.

Today, America faces many challenges.  Much of our history is being forgotten.  The automobile and by extension this famous highway are becoming viewed more as causes of problems (traffic, pollution, carbon dioxide emissions) rather than solutions to problems.  

That is why an effort is being led by retired General Frank Schober of New Mexico and Pieter Hoff, inventor of the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, of the Netherlands, to plant trees along the famous old Route 66.  The first leg of this effort has been already been completed, with Waterboxxes being purchased for use in Galena, Kansas.  You can see a video about that planting here.

This tree planting effort shows how a great new technology, the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, can allow trees and motorists to develop a symbiotic relationship.  The trees rely on the carbon dioxide emitted by the cars to grow, and the motorists get the fresher air and better scenery provided by the trees.

A schematic cutaway view of the Waterboxx, showing how the tree is planted in the center, rain and dew are collected on the tan lid and stored in the green reservoir, and released via the white wick into the soil below.  From Groasis.com

The Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon® is the ideal technology for planting trees along Route 66.  It collects and stores dew and rain water, and slowly funnels it to the roots of the growing tree sapling.  This forces the tree to grow deep tap roots which allow it to survive droughts, even after the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® is removed.  The Waterboxx PlantCocoon® can then be removed and reused to plant other trees for up to ten years.  We hope to plant many long lived trees with this device along Route 66 and in other deforested places.

If you own or care for land along Route 66 and would like to plant trees with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®, it is available in business order sizes here or consumer order sizes here.

We would love to hear your comments below.

Friday, September 4, 2015

How Many Trees Are There On Earth?

A new study out in the Journal Nature states that there are almost 3 trillion trees on the Earth, or over 400 trees for every person currently living.  As trees are vital to our atmosphere (using carbon dioxide and producing oxygen), serving as the counterpoint to animals (which of course use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide), the large number of trees is good news.  However, the study showed a far more concerning fact - we are cutting down 15 billion trees a year, and replacing only 5 billion, for a net loss of 10 billion trees per year.  Humans have cut down almost 50% of all trees since the advent of civilization, a staggering fact that may explain much of the drying out of whole regions (as trees can make it rain).

A farmer who harvested a field and didn't replant it would soon starve or become bankrupt.  So, why are we cutting down so many trees and not replanting them?  The reasons are many - some of the land is turned to grazing, some to agricultural production, some to urban development.

It is unlikely that we would ever turn good agricultural land back into forest -especially with increasing food prices and an increasing number of mouths to feed on the Earth.  It is just as unlikely that we will demolish houses to plant trees.  However, trees' role in pulling carbon from the air and storing it for long periods, potentially millenia (in very long lived trees like sequoias) in their trunks or centuries (in wood used for construction) cannot be overstated.  So, what are we to do?  Don't we lack the land needed to grow new trees?  As we cannot demolish our neighborhoods, where are trees to be planted?

A giant sequoia, growing over two years with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon in Indiana.  This tree was never watered after planting with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon, not even after the Waterboxx PlantCocoon was removed.
First, in most areas where new homes and businesses are built, very few trees remain.  These construction sites are called "greenfield" for a reason - they are generally fields when construction is underway.  If you have a new home with a barren yard - congratulations - you get to choose the trees you plant there.  This is especially important for very large yards, as your tree choice will affect your home value more than almost anything else.  Throughout this site, we have tree recommendations for longevity and other virtues.  If you live in a fairly wet, temperate area in the United States and want to plant trees that will counteract your lifetime carbon emissions, may we suggest planting giant sequoias on large plots of land.  This may sound outlandish, but this tree grows throughout much of the U.S. (and the world), and has been planted from Scotland to New Zealand.  Small sequoias can be bought here and are much more likely to survive if planted with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon, sold here.  


Second, large parts of the western half of the United States is considered desert or near desert - and indeed it is by rainfall totals.  Little is thought to be able to grow there, so it is not used as agricultural land.  However, trees that establish deep roots are able to survive where other plants cannot.  The problem is that it is very hard for trees to get established in desert areas, especially as most rain falls in a short period and then there is no precipitation for many months.

The Algodones Sand Sea desert in California (Photo from USGS, by Peter Kresan, public domain).  Surely no tree could ever grow here - except with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.
This dry spell once meant the death of any planted trees - until, that is, the invention of the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  This device, which is best described as a intelligent plant incubator or a self-refilling water battery for young trees, collects dew and rain water, stores it in a reservoir, and slowly releases it to the roots of a growing tree sapling.  This tree is allowed to grow for about a year, when its roots will reach much deeper capillary water.  Once this happens, but before a tree gets too large, the Waterboxx PlantCocoon is removed and reused for other trees.  In this way, large areas of desert land can be planted with trees, providing shade, wood, habitat for wildlife, and potentially foliage for grazing animals (depending on tree selection).  You can see how the Waterboxx PlantCocoon works in the video below:



So, has the Waterboxx PlantCocoon ever been shown to work in the desert.  In fact, it has.  88% of salt cedar trees planted with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon survived in the Sahara desert, as seen below.

Salt Cedar trees growing with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.  

 Ghaf trees (really more shrub or bush like plants) planted in the Kuwaiti desert with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon thrived after the Waterboxx PlantCocoon was removed.  These plants will completely change the character of the land over time, adding humus to the soil and allowing life to flourish.

Ghaf trees planted with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon in Kuwait - surviving after the Waterboxx PlantCocoon is removed.  
We hope you are as excited about planting trees in new locations as we were when we first saw the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  We recommend you find trees that are growing somewhere in your area (you can find drought resistant broadleaf and evergreen tree suggestions on this site), and plant them with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  You can find out more about the Waterboxx PlantCocoon here.

We would love to hear your comments below.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Growing Giant Sequoia Trees From Seed

Giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are the largest living things on Earth.   They can live for thousands of years, reach almost three hundred feet in height, resist droughts and forest fires. The single largest sequoia tree now living, General Sherman, has sequestered over a lifetime of carbon emissions by the average American.   What is more, giant sequoias can grow throughout much of the world in temperate regions, including most of the continental United States, so long as they have sufficient water.

Establishing sequoias is very difficult, and we didn't have any success until we started using the Waterboxx PlantCocoon to grow sequoias for the first few years.  Since starting to use the Waterboxx PlantCocoon, we have had 100% success, detailed here and here.

As sequoias proved such fun to plant and are so beneficial to the environment, we wanted to know if we could grow sequoia trees from seed.  We had tried this before, but had very poor germination rates (around ~1%), and many of our trees that did germinate soon died.  We were determined to try again, but to follow the best advice available for growing these seeds.

We bought 500 giant sequoia seeds from MySeeds.co, on Amazon.com here.  Sequoia seeds need a very specific process mimicking their natural environment to germinate (including a wet "fall" and cold "winter"), so we tried to replicate that in as short a period as possible.  We laid our seeds on a paper towel and moistened them with water.




We covered these seeds with another moist paper towel, and them put them on a portion of a paper plate.  We then put these in a sealed plastic bag.  This simulated our wet "fall", in order to reawaken the seeds.  For our winter, we placed this plastic bag in the vegetable crisper in the fridge for 30 days.


After 30 days, we removed our seeds.  We had over 500 seeds, but given our poor germination rate before, we didn't expect most to produce anything.  We took about half of these seeds to be planted.  We set up a cone-tainer rack filled with 98 soil holding cone-tainers.  We filled these full of potting soil.  For about half of the cone-tainers, we also added some vermiculite, which is excellent at holding moisture.  We then took the very small seeds, and added them to the top of the soil mixture.  For half of the cone-tainers, we used only one seed, and for the other half we used three to four.  We pushed the seeds down slightly into the soil, but we did not bury the seeds.

Our 98 cone-tainers in a tray, with our seeds just planted.  The vermiculite containing cone-tainers are white on top.

We waited about two weeks, but didn't see any of the promised germination.  We thought that perhaps nights were getting too cool (sometimes into the upper 50s Farhenheit), so we put a cold frame we had previously built over the sequoias seeds.

The cone-tainers in our 2x4 foot cold frame.
Within two days, we started to see germination of our tiny trees.  Our biggest challenge now will be keeping the trees moist without over-watering.

Tiny sequoia trees, just growing from seed on August 31, 2015
We hope to see these sequoias grow to the point they can be transplanted outdoors with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.  They will need to be about 8-10 inches tall at that time.

We will continue to update this post with our sequoia from seed progress.  We would love to hear your comments below.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Choosing Good City Trees for the Midwest

Trees have many benefits, detailed throughout this blog.  They reduce stress, reduce flooding and erosion, and increase rainfall, to name but three lesser known qualities.  However, choosing the correct trees ensures happiness with your (or your organization's) investment.  Below we have our recommendations for excellent city trees to grow in the Midwest, the area we define as between the Appalachians in the east and edge of the Great Plains in the west.

Our first and probably favorite choice is the Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triancanthos form inermis).  This tree has it all.  It is fast growing, very drought tolerant, and has a downward pointing root system (meaning it generally won't buckle sidewalks with shallow, sideways spreading roots).  It grows in zones 3-9, We generally recommend buying these trees as smaller (and much more affordable) saplings from the Arbor Day Foundation and planting them with the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon to ensure adequate water during the first year.

A airy Thornless Honeylocust providing shade for a picnic table along a well maintained walkway.  This path is actually a converted rail line called the B-Line Trail.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is an incredible tree, tolerant of city pollution and many adverse conditions.  This tree is something of a contradiction, a deciduous evergreen that loses its light needles in the fall.  This is the famous tree of the Louisiana swamps, which grows broad "knees" when planted in swampy conditions.  However, it can grow far north of its original habitat (in zones 4-10), especially if planted with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  Although slow growing, it can grow up to 70 feet high as seen below, but looks verdant, light and airy within a few years of planting. It tolerates swampy conditions well making it well suited for planting along river greenways.  These trees are also drought tolerant.  It can be purchased here.

Mature Bald Cypress in the background, with a more recently planted Bald Cypress in the foreground.  We recommend this tree for medians and river greenways.  

Ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba), also called maidenhair trees for their unique leaf shape, are very interesting.  They are dioecious, meaning that each tree is either male or female.  It is very important to get male trees as females produce foul smelling fruit that is to be avoided.  It has a moderate rate of growth, but reaches up to 50 feet in height and has a 25 foot horizontal spread.  It is drought tolerant, and tolerates almost any soil conditions.  It will grow slowly initially, but does much better if given a consistent supply of water with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.


A younger Ginkgo tree in a city park along a busy street in Indianapolis.

A more mature Ginkgo tree on a college campus in southern Indiana.

Any discussion of city trees would be incomplete without mention of oak trees.  These trees are renowned for their beauty, strength, shade quality, and wildlife value.

The Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is a beautiful, straight, and fast growing tree well suited for Midwestern cities.  In our experience, it grows as fast as Silver Maple, but without any of Silver Maple's many problems.  It grows in zones 3-8, tolerates many soils, and has a beautiful fall color (hence its name).  It can be purchased here.

Northern Red Oak

Bur Oak (Quercus marcocarpa) is a great, drought resistant oak tree.  This tree will grow farther west than most other oaks (one exception being the Texas Escarpment Oak), but does tend to be slow growing.  It is large, growing 80 feet high with an 80 foot spread.  It grows in zones 3-8, and can be purchased here.  As this tree is slower growing, we strongly recommend planting it bare root with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon, which will provide consistent water and allow faster growth.

A beautiful Bur Oak, with two paths diverging under it.

We have mentioned the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon throughout the above tree recommendations - so what is this?  The Waterboxx (for short) is a ingenious device for growing trees without irrigation or staking.  The Waterboxx consists of a basin for holding water, a special lotus leaf inspired lid to collect dew and rain water, and a capillary wick to slowly trickle water to the roots of the growing tree.  It is placed around a tree right after a tree is planted as a sapling, and provides all water needs for the tree for the first year.  The Waterboxx can then be removed and reused for other trees.  You can see a schematic view with a corner removed below.

A schematic, cut-away view of the Waterboxx PlantCocoon.  Water is collected from dew and rainwater on the tan lid, funneled into the green reservoir, and slowly released to the roots of the growing tree by the white wick.  The tree is induced to grow deeper roots because of the Waterboxx and is more resistant to drought in the future.  


Two trees we would strongly recommend against planting (despite their popularity currently) are Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Bradford Pear (Pyrus callerycana).

The Silver Maple has many problems.  It is fast growing, which is its main (dare we say only) good quality.  However, this growth is accompanied by weak branches and a large number of sticks on the ground after high winds.  It also has very shallow roots which trip people and buckle sidewalks, and are also hit by lawnmowers.  Finally, it is not a strong or long lived tree, and will need to be replaced within a few decades.
The very shallow roots of a Silver Maple

These shallow roots of a Silver Maple have cracked the nearby sidewalk, allowing weeds to grow in the cracks and posing a safety hazard.  
The other tree we strongly recommend against planting is Bradford Pear.  This is also a fast growing, picturesque tree.  However, this tree is fantastically weak, and will split is light winds.  It is a waste of money to plant, and it pains us to see it planted in so many suburban driveways and yards.

This Bradford Pear collapsed in a light rain - no wind to speak of.

If you have any questions or suggestions for other excellent city trees for the Midwest region, please leave a comment below.  If you are interested in buying a Waterboxx, you can find them here in the U.S.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Planet's Lungs: Planting Giant Sequoias To Combat Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is increasing.  This is not controversial.  Global warming has been cited as the most dire problem from this increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, but other problems (like ocean acidification) clearly exist.  Almost all of the proposed solutions to this carbon dioxide increase have been foolish and harmful to human prosperity - limiting driving, flying, air conditioning, home sizes, etc.  Few are discussing a much better solution that improves rather than worsens our living standards- planting very long lived and massive trees to absorb and store carbon dioxide.
Mauna Loa CO2
Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii.From NOAA, available at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/.  The sawtooth pattern of the graph likely reflects the absorption of carbon dioxide by vegetation throughout the year.
The largest tree (and living thing, for that matter) on Earth is the giant sequoia tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum), specifically a single tree called "General Sherman".  We wished to calculate how much carbon dioxide a sequoia tree could conceivably sequester or "lock up" in a best case scenario.  Sequoias are ideal for sequestering carbon dioxide because of their great volume, extremely long lifespan (several thousand years), and the wide range in which they can be grown.  We are currently growing two giant sequoias in Indiana, which is hardly native habitat for the sequoia (native habitat is a small portion of California's Sierra Nevada).  We had planted 5 sequoias outdoors previously in our state, but saw all die during the summer dry spell - even with frequent watering.  We finally decided to use a device called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon® to grow our sequoias outdoors, with 100% success, in two different parts of our state.

We went through a fair amount of effort to determine how much carbon dioxide a giant sequoia can sequester.  We will spare you the details of this calculation here, but please see our footnote for our sources and calculations.

The "General Sherman" sequoia tree in California is the largest living thing on Earth by volume.  Its volume of 52,500 cubic feet, or about 1486 cubic meters, contains over one million kilograms (and over 2.2 million pounds) of stored carbon.  This volume of stored carbon pulled over 1400 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Americans, on average, produce 16.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year (although this number has been decreasing recently due to efficiency gains).  The General Sherman sequoia is so large that as a single tree it has stored about 86 years worth of a person's carbon emissions.  In other words, one very large tree has been able to counteract over a lifetime of carbon emissions for the average American.

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park.
The General Sherman  Giant Sequoia Tree, from National Park Service, found at http://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/nature/sherman.htm, public domain

These facts about the largest giant sequoia would be interesting but not particularly actionable if not for one simple fact.  The giant sequoia can be grown in most of the United States - not just California.  We ourselves are growing two giant sequoias in Indiana, both started with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.  The sequoia's main requirement is sufficient water, and its water needs can be significant.  However, the need for consistent water is most critical during the first few years of a sequoia's life outdoors.  We have found that due to soil evaporation, we could not manually water sequoias enough for them to stay alive.  Some other system was needed to prevent evaporation and ensure sufficient water available to the roots.  It was our interest in planting sequoias in a better way that got us interested in the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.  One of our sequoias has now graduated from the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® - meaning the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® has been removed and used for other plants.  The tree is doing well even though we haven't manually watered it, even once. It takes about 18-24 months to establish a small (6 inch) sequoia with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® in our state.  You can see our two sequoias in the pictures below.  Neither of these trees has had any water from us or any sort of irrigation after initial planting and set up with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.


Our giant sequoia was planted just outside Indianapolis, with these pictures above showing two years of growth.  This tree is now over a meter tall, with no watering at all after planting with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®.  Even after the Waterboxx PlantCocoon® was removed, no watering was needed due to the deeper roots established by the tool.

This giant sequoia seen above, planted in Southern Indiana, was smaller when transplanted outdoors with the Waterboxx PlantCocoon®. In the 25 month time span seen in the photographs, it has dramatically increased in size, and will soon be able to survive without help.  
Regardless of your stance on global warming, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere poses other risks (like ocean acidification mentioned above) as well as some benefits (like faster plant growth).  We can take advantage of both of these by planting giant sequoias.  If every set of grandparents came together to plant one sequoia each for every new grandchild in their family (for a total of two sequoias per child), that child's carbon dioxide emissions would likely be offset by the sequoias, and the carbon would be stored for thousands of years.  Also, we would find our neighborhoods more stately and shaded from these monumental trees.

If you are interested in trying to grow a giant sequoia, our preferred source is Giant-Sequoia.com.  To buy the Waterboxx, visit us at DewHarvest.com.

Footnote: Our Calculations and Sources 
Note: we use American mathematical nomenclature here (commas to separate 1000s, periods to indicate decimals)

When calculating carbon dioxide sequestered by a sequoia, it is first necessary to have the density of sequoia wood.  We were only able to find this information with great difficulty here after much searching.  We did also receive a generous sample of sequoia wood from our friend Joe Welker at giant-sequoia.com (where we bought our sequoia trees).  The measured density for a small piece of sequoia wood containing bark was approximately 0.48 grams/mL.  We obtained this by measuring a small piece of sequoia wood (36 grams) on a very accurate postal scale.  We then submerged this same piece in a graduated cylinder, which displaced 75 mL.  36/75 = .0.48g/mL which equals 0.48 g/cc as one milliliter is equal to one cubic centimeter, by convention.

This density of 0.48 g/cc is within the range of densities reported by Wolfgang Knigge in his scientific paper Giant Sequoia in Europe,  http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr151/psw_gtr151_06_knigge.pdf) . His reported densities found average values of 0.345 g/cc in European giant sequoias and 0.369 g/cc in California giant sequoias.  Our density of 0.48 g/cc converts to 480 kg//m^3 (the math for this conversion is 0.48g/cc x 1,000,000 cc/m^3.  This result is then multiplied by 1 kg/1000 g, equaling 480 kg/m^3).

Next we need to calculate how much mass the largest living sequoia tree, General Sherman, contains.  According to the National Park Service, the General Sherman sequoia has a volume of 1,486.6 cubic meters (http://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/nature/sherman.htm).  To get total mass of this tree, we multiply 1486.6 m^3 by 480kg/m^3.  This gives us a total mass of 713,568 kg for General Sherman.

This mass is of course not all carbon - much being oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements.  Most trees are about 50% carbon by mass.  However, as giant sequoias have more heartwood (more durable wood in the center of the trunk) than sapwood, and heartwood has a slightly higher carbon content, this value may be too low for sequoias.  According to Sean Thomas in his Paper Carbon Content of Tree Tissues: A Synthesis (See section 4.1, available here: http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/3/2/332/htm), giant sequoias are approximately 55% carbon by mass.  When we multiple our calculated mass for General Sherman of 713,568 kg x .55, we get a carbon mass of 392,462 kg.

We next need to convert the mass of carbon into metric tons, so we divide 392,462 kg by 1000 to get a value of 392.4 metric tons or carbon stored in General Sherman.

However, carbon is not the same as carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms per molecule.  Trees absorb the carbon when growing while (mostly) emitting the oxygen.  The atomic weight of carbon is 12.001115, while the atomic weight of oxygen is 15.9994. So the total atomic weight of CO2 is 43.999915.  With a little algebra, we see that since the ratio of carbon dioxide to carbon is 43.999915/12.001115 or 3.6663 units of carbon in the tree for every unit of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.  We obtained this information from the Broward County Florida Climate Change website (https://www.broward.org/NaturalResources/ClimateChange/Documents/Calculating%20CO2%20Sequestration%20by%20Trees.pdf) as well as contact with Richard Campbell from Save The Redwoods).

We can thus multiply our total mass of carbon, 392.4 tons by our conversion factor 3.6663 from above to get 1438.892 total tons of CO2 removed by the General Sherman giant sequoia.

Americans, on average, produced 16.6 metric tons (or tonnes) of carbon dioxide per year in 2013 (the most recent year available) according to the Netherlands Envirornmental Assessment Agency (Table A1.2, page 49 found at http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/news_docs/jrc-2014-trends-in-global-co2-emissions-2014-report-93171.pdf).

When we divide 1438.892 metric tons of carbon dioxide removed by General Sherman by 16.6 metric tons, we get 86.7 years of CO2.  That is 86.7 years of carbon emissions sequestered in a single tree!  We find this number so impressive that we checked our math several times.

Caveats:  General Sherman is the largest sequoia now living, and any trees planted would be unlikely to get quite this large.  We chose this tree as good data was available on its volume, and as a vivid example.  Also, it likely took several hundred years to reach this size, with more carbon absorbed at larger sizes.  So any sequoias planted are unlikely to absorb a whole person's carbon dioxide output for several decades.  However, adults emit considerably more carbon dioxide than young children, so the growth and sequestration of a sequoia may roughly mirror a human's emissions.  

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 Groasis.com  

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. Groasis.com

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


Image: Desertification Vulnerability
Accessed from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/nedc/training/soil/?cid=nrcs142p2_054003 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.

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