Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Groasis Waterboxx: Desert Greening, Root Infrastructure Development, Water Savings, Teaching Kids Nature, etc, etc, etc

The Groasis-Waterboxx is a device designed to help grow trees in dry areas. It was invented and developed by Dutch former flower exporter Pieter Hoff, and who won the Popular Science Green Tech Best of What's New Innovation of the year award for 2010.

image - NotCot

Plants on Life-Support
I've never used these Groasis Waterboxx products, but more and more I'm intrigued as I've stumbled across videos, articles and testimonials as to their effectiveness in dryland plant establishment. While the advent of drip irrigation brought hope for saving massive amounts of water and preventing  waste, my dislike for drip systems as a dominant solution practiced by most all professionals came from having the primary responsibility of the maintenance of the system as a landscape supervisor. The various emitter heads easily clogged as a result of the SoCal municipal water loaded with chlorine and it's high mineral content. Not to mention insect intrusion and wildlife desperately chewing and biting the plastic lines in search of a drink. Also,  I've found that many plants become too much dependent on dripsystems and would not mature unless weaned off early and gradually. Many commercial and homeowner urban landscapes have had plants on drip systems for for so many years that basically they are on a life-support system. Disconnect and they do not have the underground infrastructure to survive without it. So training plants as opposed to making them technology dependent interested me more and more. The other drawback with dripsystem maintenance is that the water is always present on the surface which creates damp opportunities for weed seeds to germinate. Mulch helps, but I always wanted to encourage my plants to develop deeper rootsystems into subterranean layers of the earth. This ensures better survival rates, plant vigor and health during the hotter months of the year. Here is what the device looks like.

Image - Goasis-Waterboxx
From the description at the groasis.com website, the waterboxx is quite simply a round device made from polypropylene. The device has a diameter of 20”and is 10” high – about the size of a car tire. The waterboxx holds 16 liters (4 gallons) of water and 75mm (3 inches) of rain is sufficient to fill it 100%. And believe it or not, one box filled with water is enough for an entire year. The waterboxx cocoon is designed to capture both rainwater and dew condensation, which collects in the chamber underneath the cover, and the internal mechanisms prevents the water from evaporating. The cover also helps produce condensation and captures the water by a process of physics. You can plant one or two plants/seeds in the open center pipe sleave in the soil. The water enters the box through the two openings and also the cap can be used to refill if necessary. They have designed optional wind protectors which can be attached if you have an area with strong winds. 

Notice the illustration below of those two pipes which function as a type of siphon and at the same time prevents water in the box from evaporating. There are one or two wicks inside the container on the bottom which then externally tap into the ground beneath the box and drips a small amount of water to the plant daily. After about a year the plants roots should have grown deep enough to reach a subsoil water source on its own (perhaps several feet or meters below ground) you can then remove the box and the plant should thrive on its own. You can reuse the waterboxx multiple times, but the wick must be replaced. 
Image - Groasis.com

This concept biomimics nature in that it forces plant roots to penetrate deeper into the subsoil layers as you can see in the illustration below. Water's movement is dictated by the downward pull of gravity and very little will move horizonally if the soil conditions are right. Even in rocky soils, the water will find the easiest way of penetrating downwards through cracks for which roots will follow. Interestly, some good scientific research has discovered that plant roots actually have a sensory system which will detect the presence of misture, then track water and growing in that direction. Researchers discovered this and published studies back in 2014. They also discovered that providing synthetic fertilizers at planting time in the hole (common science-based planting recommendations practiced by conventional commercial industries) hindered the ability of the plant to develop proper rooting structure. When you find time, follow this link below the illustration here:

Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture & "Infrastructure"

The concept of this Groasis Waterboxx is to biomimic Nature, which doesn´t plant trees and shrubs, but rather but sows seed, by means of birds and animals, on top of the soil. Their manure functions as a type pf protective cover so that a capillary column (humidity column) can develop inside the soil. The seed germinates, develops its root in the capillary column and once water is found deeper in the soil, the leaves will develop and evaporation and photosynthesis can start. The problem is not growing trees on rocky soils or in sandy deserts, but planting and germinating and then bringing the tree through the planting period until it has grown enough to get water from the soil's capillary pore structure on its own. This is the what & how the Groasis Waterboxx apparently solves with these problems.

Image - Kevin Franck
You need to understand though what Peter Hoff is talking about when he often references capillary pore structure of soils. Interestingly I experimented with an easy to understand capillary action with an old fashioned traditional glass jar and papertowel project (often used in elementary schools) and a seed from a Catsclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii). The capillary action allowed water to travel upwards through the fibers of the papertowel which lined the outer edges of the glass jar with a couple of inches of water on the bottom of this tall jar. Much like the one I did with several different desert seeds to the right here in 2013. In my 1970s experiment, the Acacia seed germinated and for a couple of weeks, a single white taproot immerged and grew straight downwards. At the bottom of the jar the root spun around the glass bottom several revolutions until finally it triggered top growth of a couple of leaves stems. Aside from the physics involved, the plant clearly had encoded programming instructing the roots to grow furiously fast to reach deeper layers of soil prior to sprouting the leaves. This encoded strategy within the plant's DNA no doubt insured the plant's survival in an otherwise inhospitable desert habitat. So again, the logic behind the waterboxx is to “copy” or replicate what Nature does with a seed when it develops its roots before the actual plant starts to grow above the ground by providing itself with water before the water begins to evaporate. When using the Groasis Waterboxx, the same principle applies here if planting a plant instead of a seed. It is therefore imperative that the tree must be as small as possible. The waterboxx does not disturb the soil and therefore maintains the existing capillary pore structure in the soil.

Recommended Seedling container size & notice
the Mycorrhizal Fungi ?

In all soil there is capillary water action happening, but as soon as the sun rises & shines on the soil the capillary dries up, the Groasis Waterboxx prevents this. Every place on earth has some rain season, even the middle of the Sahara, Sonoran, Mojave, Kalahari, Gobi deserts, etc, where the rain falls and evaporates within days and that is all the rainfall most of these places will receive for a very long time. Therefore the problem is not a lack of water but the rapid capture, storage and slow distribution of water over a period of time to the plants. The waterboxx captures this rainwater and distributes it via an ingenious stand-alone system which also  involves condensation. During the night the temperature of the surface drops lower than the surrounding air due to radiation. Due to the temperature difference between the surface of the waterboxx and the air, the air surrounding the waterboxx is cooled below the dew point and the air condenses at the surface of the waterboxx, forming droplets. The waterboxx’s design not only collects dew but enhances the generation of condensation on a daily basis. This water produced is produced and collected by means of physics is then utilized in small daily dosages throughout the year. To avoid evaporation, the waterboxx cover encloses the tree, therefore neither the capillary nor the distributed water dry out.  The buffer in the Groasis Waterboxx functions as an equalizer of the soil. It avoids extreme temperatures and stimulates the root growth. Here is a video they have created to explain how the system works in replication of nature.
(Word of caution. I'm not a fan of the music they use, so turn the volume low on youtube. I would have preferred a narrator. However it's still educational with the text provided)

Recommended Planting Techniques
Image: Ziska Childs
The beauty of using this Groasis Waterboxx is that they encourage and advise starting with seeds, young vegetables, flowering plants, and young trees. The one of the things I love about their recommendation as far as size is something I have always practiced and advised. Use only one gallon or less. However their advice is not one gallon plants which may still have some root spinning in the container, but rather plants grown in elongated tubes with very young seedlings as shown in the photo at the left in the five gallon bucket. Or you can plant a seed such as emerging seedling germination as seen below with it's tap root at about a quarter inch long. But notice also the young plant in the second photo below the two oak acorns. This would be incredibly effective with bareroot planting projects for forest restorations. 

Images - Groasis.com
When it comes to traditional Forestry or Timber company restoration projects, massive amounts of trees are planted with the expectation that a large percentage with not make it leaving only the lucky few. With such a system as this you could increase survival rates close to 100%. The little chart figure below is desert survival when using their Waterboxx and not using their waterboxx. Think of how high the survival rates would be in chaparral or forest ecosystems if habitat restoration techniques employed this product.

Image - Groasis.com
For best results, they recommend that your plants selected plants should be native to the area you are planting. To make the right choice before planting, you would need to look around the area and take note of the oldest species that are thriving. These are the species that should be planted in the area. Once the species are chosen the planting process would be simple. If you use a capillary drill like the one recommended by Goasis, clean the top layer of the soil by cutting away the weeds, but they insist you not get into the soil or pull the weeds – in other words you don’t want to destroy the natural capillary structure of the soil pores. Dig the small planting hole, approximately 5 inches (10 cm) deep and 4 inches (8 cm) wide. Then put the seedling or sapling with the tree’s roots in the hole and fill the rest with potting soil while pushing towards the roots. Pour a few liters of water through the open center of the Groasis Waterboxx, and ensure the tree and its root make good contact with the soil. Now you can place the Groasis Waterboxx on top of it without its top, place stones in the Groasis Waterboxx to prevent it from being blown away. Continue to add water until it overflows and then place the top on the waterboxx and carefully close it to avoid unnecessary evaporation. Add the two tubes in the top openings and add some extra water on top which will go into the open center of the waterboxx allowing for the soil under the box to remain humid.
Plant instructions for the Groasis Technology
Incorporating Mycorrhizal Fungi and NO FERTILIZER (Synthetic or Organic) at time of outplanting is imperative  (My Own Opinion)

As many here reading this blog know, I am adamantly pro-mycorrhizal and almost zero fertilizers. Mt preferred brand in the United States is Mycorrhizal Application Inc's products under the MycoApply label. Interestingly, on my last visit I contacted PHC's distributor, Lebanon Turf , for all Plant Health Care Inc's products which I used in the past, but they informed me last month when visiting my mother in California that the State did not allow their products inside of California. I was actually looking to test their PHC Tree Saver product (which is mostly P.T. Mycorrhizal spores), but it never happened. No matter, the MycorrApply works great. I'm sure Europe has a collection of good brands available here. Below is a good video example on how dedicated the Groasis folks are to the strict use of mycorrhizal fungi. Below that I've provided a link to their entire mycorrhizal advice and testomonials Library:

Without listing all the videos on using Mycorrhizal Fungi along with the Groasis-Waterboxx, here is one of their Youtube accounts called Groasis Vegetables which contains the entire series of tutortorials of incorporating fungi & beneficial bacteria with the plants
Groasis Vegetables & Mycorrhizae - Video Library
Is it possible to use one gallon container Shrubs/Trees with the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoon ??? 
Most certainly, but you'll have to do a bit of plant root pruning prep to make sure the tree or shrub will form a proper deep rooting infrastructure which is ultimately the goal here. This video below is an excellent ilustration of what to do with container nursery grown plants prior to planting where the root system has a spin around problem. I've used this technique without using the Groasis Waterboxx for decades now and it does not hurt the plant. It simply encourages resprouting  in a downwards movement as you will see with a Mango tree where after 20 days has put on straight downwards growing roots 80 inches deep into the subsoil. Wonderful testomonial video on just how quickly and deeply the root systems are encouraged to grow.

Some Reading References on Perfect Root Infrastructure
How to create the perfect tree: We teach you how to repair destroyed primary roots 
Groasis Waterboxx Removal after one Year
After about one year the plant primary roots should have grown deep enough to reach the underground water and have become strong enough to survive without the help of the waterboxx. This stage becomes evident when the trees exhibit a strong growth phase. When this happens, the polypropylene waterboxx can be removed and used for a new planting. The claim by Groasis is that the polypropylene waterboxx can be reused 15 to 20 more times. This lessens the cost of the box over time. If you haved used model that has a double opening for two or three plants, and more than one plant has suvived, this is also the time to cut the weakest of the plants and leave the strongest one to grow. Below is one of two Groasis Biodegradable Plant Cocoons. The one below is for "Orchard and Garden" while the other which you'll see in a link I'll provide below of both is to be used in remote outplanting projects like "Reforestation and Habitat Restoration" projects. 

Image - Groasis Waterboxx
Introduction of the Growboxx plantcocoon®
Some Groasis Waterboxx Success Stories & their are hundreds, but here are just a few

Image - Groasis-Waterboxx

Sequoia gigantea (Sierra Redwood)
DewHarvest: Sequoia Progress in Indiana with the Groasis Waterboxx

Image - Groasis Waterboxx
This is an Anti-Desertification Project in Kuwait where the plants on the left were drip irrigation and on the right grown with the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoons
Coachella Valley Habitat Restroation Projects and teaching School kids
Image - Groasis.com
Desert Springs Middle School Pipe Canyon Project
Raymond Cree Middle School - Whitewater Restoration Project
Desert HotSprings High School - Dos Palmas Oasis Project
Palm Springs High School - Whitewater Land Reserve
San Isidro Ski Resort in Spain
This video below shows the plantation of trees in rocks. The plantation is in San Isidro ski resort Spain. The planting is above the tree line. The tree line in San Isidro is at 1,800 meters (6000 feet). In winter there is one to two meters of snow on Waterboxxes and their the saplings. The Groasis Waterboxx protects them well. Over 90% of the trees survive. The other kool things is that both mycorrhizal inoculation and companion planting of different trees and shrubs is discussed. The idea is to increase protection from avalanche potential.

The nasty rugged terrain and soil conditions remains me of many of the regions I come from in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs California.
Image - Groasis.com

Image - Groasis.com

Image - Groasis.com
There are lots more things to talk and discuss, but the website is a treasure trove of many other ideas, techniques and successful restoration programs going on around the globe. Click on their website and learn more. I merely tried putting things in logical order and touched on some scientific research here and there which back up some of the ideas they have which even they may not be aware of. Just one more word on subterranean water and plant's preference for this type of water. I've written about this before because of my fascination with hydrological minerotrophic systems. Todd Dawson has spent massive amounts of time research hydraulic lift and redistribution. Here is a link to a post I did and research he did on findings of streamside trees hydrating themselves from deep subsoil layers as opposed to surface waters.
Todd Dawson's Lab - Streamside Trees that do not utilize Streamside Surface Water
Recent Related posts I've published this week associated with Groasis Technology, Companion Planting, Mycorrhizal Fungi, and Habitat Restoration in remote locations
Positive Interactions and Mutual Dependence between two Desert Plants
How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should
Is it safe to plant & water California Natives Plants in Summer ?
Some Further Important & Interesting Research References

Researchgate Report: the Groasis waterboxx © - La Primavera Agricultural Cooperative - Italy
Groasis Waterboxx Main Youtube page
Groasis Vegetables & Mycorrhizae - Video Library

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