POPSCI: Innovation of the Year

This morning’s blog post comes straight from the geeky, guilty pleasure mag Popular Science, and is courtesy of my gadget-loving boyfriend. Unlike many new innovations, this one does more than trigger your, “Whoa, that’s cool!” impulses. It could also help the world’s arid lands (which have become less productive because of deforestation and overfarming) be fertile again. It’s called the Groasis Waterboxx, and it’s a bucket designed to assist plants in surviving long enough to make it through soil’s dry layers to fertile soil several feet below the land’s surface.


Drylands actually have enough water to sustain trees for decades, but it’s several feet beneath the surface. Because rain and irrigation evaporate quickly, many young plants die before their roots can tap that reservoir. The Waterboxx, shaped more like a doughnut than a box, helps plants survive long enough to make it through that layer of dry soil. Place the tub around a freshly planted seedling, and fill the evaporation-proof basin—just once—with four gallons of water.

The Waterboxx does the rest. At night, its top cools faster than the air, collecting condensation to supplement those initial gallons. The tub drips about three tablespoons of water a day into the soil, sustaining the plant while encouraging its roots to grow deeper in search of more water. Once the plant reaches the moist soil layer, usually after a year, the farmer lifts the box off the plant and reuses it on the next sapling. Each Waterboxx is expected to last 10 years, and, for about a buck or two per tree grown, is cheap enough to use in poor nations.

In tests in the Sahara, 88 percent of Waterboxx-sheltered trees survived, versus 10 percent of trees with traditional cultivation. But the mighty tub’s inventor, Pieter Hoff, still isn’t satisfied. He’s working on a biodegradable version that decomposes to feed the plant too.

$275/10 boxes; groasis.com