Saturday, May 23, 2015

Preventing a New Dust Bowl with the Groasis Waterboxx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While it is best to plant trees in the fall or spring, the Waterboxx increases tree survival when they are planted in summer as well.  Please visit Dew Harvest if you would like to buy the Waterboxx.  We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gardening in the California Drought

California is in the middle of a multiyear, perhaps decades long drought.  Governor Jerry Brown is imposing the first mandatory water conservation restrictions ever for the state.  The Sierra Nevada snowpack, from which a third of the state gets its water, is at 5% of normal after a nearly snowless winter.
Photo of Trinity Lake, CA taken on 04 February 2014 showing the impact of the drought on water level.
From USGS - Trinity Lake Reservoir, completely dry, usually holds up to 2.5 million acre feet (or 797,684,293,296 gallons) 
This is a shame for the county's most populous and biggest agricultural state.  More water in California is used for irrigation than for any other purpose.  However, in the large urban areas in southern and central California, water is primarily used directly by people.

U.S. Drought Monitor forCalifornia
From U.S. Drought Monitor - Darker red areas are in more severe drought

Over 37 million Californians (over ten percent of the country) have been affected by the drought.  Those who like to garden or landscape have likely been more affected by this drought - with no end in sight.

So, what is the plant lover to do without sufficient water?  The answer is to use water more intelligently, and to do this by using the Groasis Waterboxx.

The Groasis Waterboxx

Most water poured into the soil is not directly used by the plant.  It either flows away through the soil or evaporates into the air (especially in hotter climates).  There are multiple techniques to prevent these losses (planting in containers, using mulch) but these have serious drawbacks (cost, easy drying out of roots, poor evaporation blocking ability of mulch).  The Groasis Waterboxx deals with all of these issues, as explained below.

The Groasis Waterboxx was initially designed to plant and grow trees in the desert, with water only added at planting.  In this it has been remarkably successful.  In a Saharan Desert planting trial, single trees planted with the Waterboxx had 88% one year survival (vs. 11% survival for trees watered once weekly but without the Waterboxx).  The survival rate for at least one tree increased to 99% when two trees were planted in the Waterboxx as intended.  When planting a tree with the Waterboxx, 10 gallons is poured into the soil before planting, the bare root tree is planted, and then the Waterboxx is filled with 4 gallons of water.  No water ever again needs to be added as the Waterboxx collects dew and rain water and slowly releases it to the growing plant through a wick in the base of the Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx is left in place until the tree outgrows it and can be reused for up to ten years.  The Waterboxx planted tree is then resistant to drought because of its deep, capillary water fed roots.

What about gardening?  Well the Waterboxx can be used to grow many fruits and vegetables as well.  Generally, since vegetables require more water than trees, we recommend inserting a second wick into the base of the Waterboxx for water loving garden plants.  If this is done, water generally needs to be added to the Waterboxx every 3-4 weeks - again 4 gallons.  However, as the Waterboxx prevents evaporation of soil moisture immediately beneath it (by acting as a type of impermeable evaporation barrier, a far better alternative to mulch), the roots of the plant won't dry out. Below you can see results of a customer growing tomatoes with the Waterboxx (with extra wicks inserted) in Hemet, California in late 2014.

Three weeks growth of tomatoes with the Groasis Waterboxx by a gardener in Hemet, California

Can the Waterboxx also be used to grow greens rather than traditional vegetables?  Yes.  The same avid gardener in California ingeniously found a way to extend the reach of the Waterboxx by adding 3 extra wicks, adding water permeable material to each of the wicks and then spreading these out into the soil raised bed.  The gardener then planted 27 greens on either side of the Waterboxx, and placed a evaporation cover over them as they began to grow.  The customer found that the greens grow great with only 2.5 to 3 gallons of Water per week (all poured into the Waterboxx), and no need for overhead watering.  He is able to enjoy fresh greens every day now.

If you want to start gardening with the Waterboxx (or growing trees), please visit our main website,  There you will be able to see many other garden plants growing with the Waterboxx, including zucchini, cucumbers, watermelon, pumpkin and eggplant.

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

Image Sources:
Trinity Lake Image:  
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey,
Department of the Interior/USGS
Photo by: Tim Reed, USGS California Water Science Center Supervisory Hydrologist; taken February 4, 2014.

California Drought Map:
US Drought Monitor
  The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Can Trees Grow in the Desert?

Deserts make up about one third of the Earth's land area, an incredible amount considering that 70% of the Earth is covered by ocean. This desert area, defined as that which gets less than 10 inches of rain a year, cannot produce much of value for mankind or for wildlife.  In many of these deserts, there is sufficient rainfall for well adapted trees to grow, but that rainfall all falls over a very short period (sometimes in one monsoon rainstorm).  Most previous efforts at growing trees and other plants in the desert have focused on collecting water in large reservoirs and distributing it via canals to crops and trees.  This method is as old as civilization itself, but it is very wasteful and inefficient (as most water in open canals is subject to evaporation, and that within pipes frequently requires electricity to move).  Also, in many places (like the Sahara and increasingly in the southwest U.S.), there is not enough water to widely distribute continuously.  So is there a way to grow trees in the desert without continuing irrigation - yes, with the Groasis Waterboxx.

The Deserts of the world are tan on this map from

The Groasis Waterboxx was invented by Pieter Hoff, a Dutch tulip exporter who retired to find a way to help green the deserts.  After copying the best concepts nature had to offer (from the lessons of bird droppings to the Lotus Effect to capillary water), Mr. Hoff had developed the Groasis Waterboxx.  This device, which is initially filled up with 4 gallons of water, with another 10 poured into the soil where the plant is to be planted, is a self refilling water battery for trees and other plants.  The tree is planted in the central opening of the Waterboxx, and its roots grow straight down to access the soil water column released by the Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx collects dew whenever present and is completely refilled by just 4 inches of rainwater.  The whole process of the Waterboxx is explained below:

The Groasis Waterboxx has been tested in several deserts around the world.  Its first large scale test was in the great Sahara Desert in Morocco.  Below you see the initial planting of Tamarix (salt cedar) trees in a land of nothing but dry sand.  This planting took place in 2010 initially.

october 2014
Setting up a Groasis Waterboxx to plant a Tamarix Tree in 2010 - From

These trees thrived.  Using the Waterboxx, tree plantings in Morocco had a 88% first year survival rate, compared to 11% with the non-Waterboxx trees, which were watered weekly.  When two trees are planted per Waterboxx (as intended) the chance that one of them survives is 99%.  The Waterboxx was left in place until the trees outgrew them, and the results are seen below.

grote afbeelding
The same Tamarix trees 4 years later in 2014 - also from Groasis

Tree plantings in the desert of Ecuador were even more impressive.  Below you see over one year's growth of a Beechwood tree planted with the Waterboxx.  Because deserts tend to be in areas with more sun (due to location and less cloud cover), once the critical shortage of water is solved by the Waterboxx, the desert can truly bloom.

14 month growth of a tree with the Waterboxx - compiled from photos at

So yes, trees can be grown in the desert with the Groasis Waterboxx.  The Waterboxx was initially designed to stop the spread of the deserts, planting trees along desertifying lands like the Sahel region in Africa.  We formed our company Dew Harvest because we saw the potential of the Waterboxx to change the American landscape, allowing many very dry areas in Western U.S. to have trees and other plants without irrigation.  You can buy the Waterboxx in the U.S. from Dew Harvest.

If we can establish enough trees throughout the world (for whatever reason - from lumber to nut and fruit production or shade or simple love of nature), we can not only improve the value of nearly worthless desert land to ourselves and wildlife, but we can sequester huge amount of carbon dioxide.  The Waterboxx was designed for this purpose.  Please send us your Waterboxx success story to

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nut Trees for a Mediterranean Climate

In another post, we discussed good fruit trees for those lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean climate.  Here we will discuss the best nut trees for the same climate.

The Mediterranean climate, also known as a dry summer subtropical climate, is characterized by warm summers and mild, wet winters, with temperatures rarely dipping below freezing.  Only a few portions of the world outside the Mediterranean basin have this climate, including parts of South Africa, Chile, Australia, and southern California here in the U.S.

From Wikipedia
The Mediterranean climate can be wonderful for those wishing to grow fruits and nuts due to its mild winters.  However, the lack of summer rain can make establishing trees very difficult - that was until the advent of the Groasis Waterboxx - a self refilling water battery for trees that slowly irrigates the roots of the young plant.

What nut trees grow best in a Mediterranean climate?  There are several, including many that are popular in the U.S.

This wonder food, Carya illinoinesensis is probably best known as a pie topping, but if eating this nut alone it is remarkably healthy.  Pecans are very difficult to establish because they have a true, deep taproot that means their roots need to be constantly wet when planting - a job perfect for the Waterboxx.  It is important to get pecans suited to your area (see here for California).  The pecan is originally from the Mississippi Valley, so it does require water during the summer months.

Carya illinoinensis.jpg
Pecan, grown for shade - From Wikipedia, By Bruce Marlin [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Walnut, or Juglans species, are very interesting trees.  Renowned for the quality of their wood, their nuts are also highly desired.  Walnut roots produce a chemical called juglone which prevents growth of nearby plants so any walnut groves need to be isolated from other plants and trees.  Although walnuts are monoecious (both male and female flowers on one tree) you need more than one for proper pollination due to differences in timing between shedding of male pollen and receptivity of female flowers (in other words, they are called dichogamus).  Walnuts need well drained soil.

These can be somewhat difficult to bring to full production because they do need watering during the summer nut ripening period.  Also, it is very important to properly process and store the nuts because a cancer causing chemical called aflatoxin can be produced by a fungus on improperly stored shells (as it is produced in many other plants under improper conditions).  These trees are also slow growing - taking a minimum of 5 years after planting grafted trees to get any nuts.  If you are patient and in for a challenge with a great reward, pistachio may be for you.  You will need one male tree for every 9 female trees.  Male trees do not produce the nuts.  Here is a list of nurseries where you can buy pistachio trees.  Planting with the Waterboxx can give the roots more consistent water and better growth early in the tree's life, potentially decreasing time to nut production.

Ripening Pistachio Nuts - From Wikipedia, By Paolo Galli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Prunus dulcis, almonds are actually a stone fruit that is treated like a nut.  These trees are superbly suited to a Mediterranean climate, and in the U.S. grow best in southern California.  They bloom in February, and need consistent watering after planting, best provided by the Waterboxx. Of note, it is very important to never eat wild almonds as they contains the chemical amydalin which can be converted into hydrogen cyanide, a very deadly poison.

Castanea species, these are the only nut that contain vitamin C.  These trees can be harvested in October.  Chestnuts are very drought resistant once established, and the Groasis Waterboxx is the perfect device to establish deep roots without continued watering.  These trees prefer a soil pH of 4.5-6.5.  You will need at least two chestnut trees to have production of nuts.  More detailed instructions on planting chestnuts can be found here.  Chestnuts are generally cooked in aluminum foil until one pops - then the rest are eaten.  Without cooking they can be quite bitter.

Planting nut trees with the Groasis Waterboxx
Areas with Mediterranean climate can be wonderful places to live, garden, and grow trees - if the trees can get deep roots established.  The Groasis Waterboxx solves this problem, and ends the need for irrigation of young trees, by slowly releasing stored water to the roots of the growing tree.  The water is also prevented from evaporation by the Waterboxx, meaning a column of water will grow directly beneath the tree, inducing the tap root to grow straight down to deeper capillary water.  The Waterboxx refills itself from rare rain and morning dew, funneling it into a reservoir for later use.  The Waterboxx is explained in the video below:

The Waterboxx can be reused for up to 10 years, and used for planting multiple different trees.  The Groasis Waterboxx can also be used for growing annual garden plants.  The Waterboxx can be purchased from Dew Harvest here.

Harvesting and Storage
As mentioned above, improper harvesting and storage of some nuts can lead to contamination with aflatoxin, which is potentially lethal due to liver damage and cancer causing properties.  The University of California has an excellent resource on how to harvest and store many of the nuts discussed above.

Try Out The Waterboxx
The Groasis Waterboxx is available for purchase from Dew Harvest in the United States.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here.

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Grow Trees in the Desert With These Five Tricks From Nature

Biomimicry is the process imitating the wisdom of nature to solve human problems, and it rightfully has received a great deal of attention lately. Nature's organisms have been struggling to adapt to and live in inhospitable environments for millenia, while modern human engineering attempting the same feat is only a few hundred years old. The most famous example of biomimicry is probably Velcro, which mimics the hooks of burrs to become adhesive to fabric and hair.  However, a more complete and just as useful example of biomimicry is the Groasis Waterboxx.

The Groasis Waterboxx is a brilliant device to grow trees and other plants in the desert without any continuing irrigation.  The Waterboxx uses multiple ideas from nature to accomplish this task - in fact, the Waterboxx is so effective that it allows up 88-99% of trees planted with it to survive in the Sahara desert.

Bird Droppings
Birds are like humans in that they can see in color (some can actually see into the ultraviolet spectrum) - likely to be able to pick out brightly colored flowers and berries from surrounding green leaves.  Plants have evolved bright colors for their fruits in order to have their seeds eaten by birds, have the outer coating of the seed digested, and then having the seed deposited far from the parent plant in a bird dropping.  Bird droppings cover the seed planted on the soil, allowing the seed to be in contact with the existing capillary channels of the soil, thus allowing capillary water to reach the seed, ensuring is survives after germination.  The droppings themselves cover the seed, preventing drying out from sun and wind.  The Waterboxx copies this ability of bird droppings to plant trees and other plants - allowing capillary channels in the soil to remain intact while preventing soil moisture from evaporating into the air - similar to how a stepping stone will always have a wet underside as that soil moisture can't evaporate either.  You can see an overview of the Waterboxx mechanism, including the bird dropping inspiration, in the video below.

Skin Dew Drinking Lizards
Lizards in different parts of the world have developed an amazing ability to literally drink dew off of their skin.  The Australian Thorny Devil and the Texan Horned Lizards both collect small amounts of rain water and much more frequent dew on their skin, which is then channeled into crevices between their "horns" or skin spikes.   This water is then conveyed over to the lizards' mouth to be drank, sustaining the lizards in very harsh and dry environments.  Because there is dew most days even in the desert, the lizards are able to survive.  Similarly, the Groasis Waterboxx collects dew and rain water along its lid, and is channeled into a 4 gallon reservoir where the water is protected from evaporation.  This water is then slowly released into the soil beneath to nourish a growing plant's roots.  The lid is even corrugated, mimicking the horns of the toad, which increases surface area on which water can collect.

Australian Thorny Devil - From Wikipedia, By Bäras (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lotus Effect
Lotus leaves have an incredible ability to repel water, called superhydrophobicity by scientists and those fond of large words.  Lotus leaves have developed this ability in order to slick off dirt, bacteria and fungus which may damage the leaves of the plant.  This ability, called the Lotus Effect, is due to microscopic pyramids on the surface of the leaves which prevent small water droplets from attaching tightly to the surface with hydrogen bonds. The lid of the Groasis Waterboxx also has tiny pyramids which allows water to slide off the lid and down channels into the reservoir below for later use by the plant.
Graphic by William Thielicke showing pyramidal structure of the surface of the Lotus leaf.  This surface guarantees that water won't stick to the surface of the lotus leaf, or the Groasis Waterboxx lid that has similar microscopic pyramids on its surface.  
The Lake (Water) Effect
Water has incredible power to resist changes in temperature, referred to scientifically as high specific heat capacity.  This is very important in helping our planet (the surface of which is two thirds water) resist the massive changes in temperature of other planets like Mercury and the moon.  On a smaller scale, vessels of water can have a warm surface while still having a cool lower level of water.  This is familiar to almost anyone who has went swimming in a calm lake in the summer - the top most level of the water is warm, only to get much cooler farther down near a swimmer's feet.  This property of water can help a great deal in insulating plants against rapid changes in air temperature. Small plants still near the ground and the roots of larger plants are insulated from the heat of the sun in desert climates by the water residing in the Groasis Waterboxx.  In the photos below, you can see the how cool the Waterboxx keeps the soil below.

Yellow is hot, blue is cooler - the Waterboxx keeps the soil and roots of the plant cool even on hot days - from

Tree Trunk Effect
Trees are able to get water to their upper most leaves, even if several hundred feet high.  How do they do this - the don't have an electric pump at their base and running water.  They use capillary action, or the ability of water to pull itself up the sides of narrow tubes.  The Groasis Waterboxx takes advantage of this property in two ways.  First the Waterboxx slowly releases water from the reservoir to the soil beneath via a braided wick, similar to how torches slowly move oil for burning.  This allows a consistent supply of 10 teaspoons (50 mL) of water to be distributed to the roots every day.  Secondly, the Waterboxx planted tree takes advantage of capillary action to pull capillary water up from deep in the soil, preventing the death of the plant during times of drought.  You can see capillary action below in water rising up a paper towel.


The Groasis Waterboxx is a wonder of biomimicry - using many insights garnered from nature to increase nature - to plant trees and other plants on dry, fallow ground.  You can buy the Groasis Waterboxx from Dew Harvest  in the United States, with discounts on large orders.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grow Your Own Local Firewood Using the Groasis Waterboxx

The U.S. has entered another cold snap, even before winter has officially begun.  This, after the fact, that for much of the United States, the 2013-2014 winter was the coldest in recent memory.  We are spending a great deal of money and non-renewable fossil fuels to heat our homes.  This wasn't always the case.  Humans first tamed fire and heated homes with firewood, an affordable renewable resource.  With the recent interest in biofuels and cost saving (which is always popular), many have a renewed interest in humanity's first fuel.

Firewood can be an excellent heat source during winter, and of course does not add any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (all carbon in wood was pulled from the air during the tree's growth).  However, it is very, very important that any firewood you use be grown very close to the area you plan to use it.  Transporting firewood across any distance can allow invasive and destructive insects and other pests to invade new trees, threatening whole forests.  The number of invasive insects alone -Asian Longhorn Beetles and Emerald Ash Borer to name only two in the author's area- is long and keeps increasing.  Firewood must be grown close to the site of its use.

However, many areas do not have a great deal of naturally occurring trees, and many of those alive in such areas are too valuable to be cut for firewood.  What can be done in this situation?

The answer is simple - plant fast growing trees with the Groasis Waterboxx, stagger when you harvest the trees, and use these trees for firewood.  What trees are both fast growing and suitable for firewood?  The five we recommend at Dew Harvest are the poplar (Populus species), the silver maple (Acer saccharinum), the Red Oak (Quercus rubra), the thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) and the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

First, the poplar is extremely fast growing, with some hybrids growing up to 8 feet per year.  The poplar grows straight, with relatively short branches, allowing these trees to be packed densely.  Huge tree farms 25,000 acres large have been planted with nothing but hybrid poplars.

Poplars can also be grown from cuttings (vegetative reproduction).  This means several poplars can be started from cuttings every year.  This is remarkable simple, and can be done with the Groasis Waterboxx as well.

Because the poplar is so fast growing, it is not very dense and doesn't store as much energy per volume of wood (around 16 million BTU per cord) as other hardwoods.  As a comparison, natural gas currently costs $9.50 per million BTUs, while propane is $33.00 per million BTUs, and electricity is around $24.91 per million BTUs)  Because of this lower energy density, you can use poplar for kindling or starting a fire, and then chose another tree for its longer burning properties overnight.  For this, we recommend silver maple.

Silver maple is also very fast growing (the author has personally seen silver maple grow six feet in a year between a shed and fence with limited sunlight), but doesn't have quite as compact a form as the poplar.  Silver maple has branches that can spread out up to 40 feet, and will take slightly longer to reach maturity.  Silver maple, however, contains about 19 million BTU per cord and doesn't spark as much as poplar.

A third option for much of the country is red oak (Quercus rubra).  This oak is almost as fast growing as silver maple but gives 21.7 million BTU per cord.  Red oak grows in zones 3-8 (all but the most southern part of the country) and have some drought tolerance, improved when planted with the Waterboxx.   This tree can easily grow two feet a year even without the Waterboxx, and more with it.

A very drought resistant tree with a high energy density is the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis).  This tree has 25.8 million BTUs per cord, light smoke, and is easy to split.  It is so drought resistant that it is easily grown in most parts of the country if planted with a Groasis Waterboxx.  Buy the Thornless Honeylocust.

Slightly less drought resistant but a very tough tree is the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).  This tree grows in zones 3-9, withstands some drought, as well as strong winds and pollution.  It has 21 million BTUs per cord of firewood, doesn't spark, doesn't smoke, and is easy to split, making it and ideal firewood tree.   Buy the Hackberry here.

When growing these or any trees for firewood, you must obtain the young trees for a good initial price and ensure that they survive to adulthood.  Poplars are not generally available from garden centers; buying maples from these stores will be both expensive and futile since their roots are so malformed that they will grow very slowly.  Because of these issues, we recommend buying bare root trees from the Arbor Day Foundation.  With a ten dollar membership, bare root trees cost around five dollars each, and can be ordered in large quantities for significantly cheaper than that.

However, if these trees are planted and not cared for through a dry summer (another recent phenomenon in most of the country), they will be a wasted investment.  That is why the Groasis Waterboxx is used.  If you plant young bare root trees using the Waterboxx, you increase their chance of survival greatly, and increase their rate of growth.  The Waterboxx funnels dew and rainwater to the roots of the growing tree, ensuring the roots reach deeper for water and allowing them to survive future droughts.  In a Sahara planting trial, trees planted with the Groasis Waterboxx that received water only at planting had an 88% survival rate, versus only 11% survival for the trees watered weekly.  The Waterboxx is reusable for up to ten years, allowing you to plant trees year after year and harvest wood indefinitely.  Finally, the Groasis Waterboxx allows you to establish trees in areas that may be too dry for trees to start growing otherwise, harnessing the sunlight of summer for heat in winter.  The Groasis Waterboxx can be purchased from Dew Harvest.

The Groasis Waterboxx with an oak grown from seed.

Depending on your firewood needs, a set of five to ten Waterboxxes and as many young poplars or maples planted each year will likely keep you warm indefinitely, once the trees have had time to get established (three to five years). Since the Waterboxx can be reused, only the trees need to be purchased each year, not the Waterboxx.  This system will almost certainly be cheaper than electric or propane heating and will of course be better for the environment as no net carbon is released.

Buy Hybrid Poplar from Arbor Day

Buy Silver Maple from Arbor Day

Buy Red Oak from Arbor Day

The Groasis Waterboxx can be purchased for around fifty dollars from Dew Harvest, with discounts on orders of five or more.  The Waterboxx can be used to establish new trees for any purpose (such as landscaping or to prevent soil erosion), not just firewood growth.

You can see all our blog posts about planting trees with the Waterboxx here. We would love to hear your comments below - to leave one, please click on "Comments".

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