I’m spending this week in Palm Desert, CA for a little R&R in the sun. In the morning, with my pot o’ Earl Grey, I read the local paper (The Desert Sun). Last Sunday’s paper provided me with an article about an “intelligent water incubator” (all material in quotes was taken from the article). Pieter Hoff, a “Dutch scientist, author, and major exporter of lilies and flower bulbs” has invented the Waterboxx, which “produces and captures water from the air through condensation and rain.” He claims a four year test in the Moroccan Saharan desert showed an 88% survival rate for fruit tree saplings “grown without irrigation.” He now wants to test his invention in the Coachella Valley desert “to create a money-making business model with trees” and of course to help save the environment.
The Waterboxx is a plastic rectangular box, but we’re told the inner technology is more complex. The box is put around the seed or sapling and provides water “in small doses.” It also “protects roots against sun, wind, weeds, rodents and some animals.”
I visited the web page and you should too. The technology section is fascinating. It includes an animation explaining how the box functions; apparently the box was designed to protect seeds in the same manner as bird poop. I was interested to see that the box requires 4 gallons of water when it’s set up; not exactly a “no irrigation” methodology. And that a wick inside the box releases about 50 ml of water a day to the soil below the box. The last frame tells us “with the waterboxx we can transform most of the deserts into forests.”
I won’t test your patience by dissecting all the silliness in this article and the web site. As you might expect, there is no peer-reviewed science on this product, nor even a research report. The plant and soil science is marginal; the ecological science is horrific. The box effectively prevents water from reaching the soil around the seedling, doling it out in miniscule doses instead. Not only could a decent organic mulch layer do the same job (and do it better), but I question the “greenness” of creating yet another plastic product with a limited lifespan. This system is so removed from reality that it’s incredible that anyone takes it seriously – yet it’s been out there for several years now and has won several awards.
Oddly, there’s little specific information about the inventor. All I could find definitively is that he comes from a bulb-raising family in The Netherlands and has written a book: CO2 – a gift from heaven (under the name Petrus Hoff).