Watersorb in the News
P Allen Smith
|pallensmith.com daily gardening tips
USING WATER RETENTATIVE POLYMERS
the most frustrating things for me about gardening in containers
is that my plants dry out so quickly. Oh I can start out with a
large container like this and that certainly helps, but when the
summer heat rolls in and I put my containers out in full sun it
seems like it is a constant battle just keeping the plants alive.
One of the
ways that I've found to help keep the soil moist in my
containers is to use these little granules. These are water
retentive polymers. You see when they are dry they look like old
fashioned ice cream salt but when they are wet they become soft,
full of water and gelatinous. These granules have already expanded
over 10 times their original size because they are holding the
great for plants that are confined to containers
because as the plants need moisture they can draw from the water
that is held in the granules. It acts like a water storage system.
These polymers are easy to use and little
goes a long way. Just
look how well all these annuals are doing in this container. You
see I only use 2 tablespoons of polymer in a container this size.
Another advantage is that I don't have to fertilize these plants
as often because I won't flush all of the nutrients out of the
soil by watering everyday.
I've even seen these polymers used in the
planting of young
trees by sprinkling some in the hole before planting. This is
particularly helpful when it is difficult to water them.
Now if you're tired of seeing your flower
pots dry out, you
might try some of these water retentive polymers. They can make
your life much easier.
KARK Channel 4 NBC
Made In Hot Springs Kitchen Helps Troops
|Story by Lyndall Stout
||Posted 3/28/2003 8:47:00 PM
U.S. Marines fighting in Iraq will soon
be able to do so, more safely and efficiently, thanks in part
to a product developed by a company based in Hot Springs.
Researchers say the materials help control blowing sand,
whenever a helicopter takes-off, or lands.
Watersorb, Inc. has been developing products
super-absorbent polymers for years. Now, Company President,
Ted Douglas, has helped come up with something that will
likely save the lives of soldiers in the heat of battle.
Ted Douglas knows his way around the kitchen.
Not only does
he make toast in here…but, it's also his scientific
laboratory. "I'm a kitchen inventor. We just started mixing
polymers and putting them together."
Douglas played a key role in developing a
three different super-absorbent polymers...Combined with
water, to form a glue-like substance that sticks to sand.
Douglas says military ground crews can easily spread it on the
sand in advance of helicopter landings. "They will put down
one of the granular forms of the polymer, then they will put
down the second granular form of the polymer, then they will
put the emulsion on top of that and they will lightly sprinkle
that with water, and within 10 minutes, the sand turns into
The process appears to make extremely
landings on the desert sand much easier. Researchers recently
tested the mixture at a Marine base in California. "It
basically turns the sand into jelly, and it congeals the sand,
to where it won't blow."
A kitchen invention that will no doubt
Once it's spread on the sand, Douglas
says the mixture will
last up to six weeks. It can be dissolved simply and quickly,
by adding salt. Then it’s absorbed back into the ground as a
Watersorb recently shipped more than
5,000 pounds of the
polymer mixture to Marines in Kuwait. More orders from other
branches of the military are expected.
Watersorb also makes a special polymer
used inside Cool
Ties, which help keep soldiers from overheating in the desert.
The strip of fabric is worn around the neck, and when dipped
in water, it expands and helps keep soldiers cool.
If you want to make a cool tie for
someone overseas, click
on our instruction pagehere.
Land managers, EC specialists, and
seed producers grapple with the question of native
By Janis Keating
market-driven economy, there's always a push toward "new
and improved," and the seed industry is no exception. Seed
producers continually develop mixes designed for better
yields and less work. On the other hand, since Executive
Order 13112 of 1999, which directs the planting of native
species on federal lands, the seed industry also develops
"old and approved" products for sale, and the business
concepts of looking ahead and looking back have, at least,
A new glyphosate-tolerant grass mix,
Aurora Gold, is being used
for numerous applications requiring soil stabilization and
weed-free areas. Offered by Turf-Seed Inc. in Hubbard, OR,
the hard fescue is the result of natural breeding and
selection conducted by Pure Seed Testing, a Turf-Seed
affiliate. Rutgers University studies showed Aurora Gold
tolerated up to 16 oz./ac. of glyphosate with less than 8%
damage, even with repeated applications. Such tolerance
makes the mix a highly effective component in controlling
annual bluegrass on golf courses; glyphosate spraying
would keep the bluegrass in check until Aurora Gold became
established and crowded out the invasive plant. The mix
also serves as an effective cover crop to prevent soil
erosion and water runoff, conserving rainfall or
irrigation water; it has good drought and shade
performance and requires minimal (once or twice per year)
|A berm before polymer application (above), then
after 90 days (below)
blend has been developed in response to erosion control
professionals' frustrations with existing blends. Platinum
EC blend seed, from IKEX in Middlesex, NC, had been in
development since November 2001 and became available
earlier this year. "So many contractors have been using
80% to 50% fescue and 50% annual rye mix for their
applications, and that doesn't work as well," observes
Jerry Kallam, IKEX geotextile manager. "We have three
different blends, combining native and erosion control
grasses, and seven to 10 varieties of permanent grass seed
mix. Even if a contractor's planted "temporary' - even for
just two years - Platinum EC will help hold and control
erosion." A 40-lb. bag of Platinum EC sows a half-acre,
and the mix might be slightly different, depending on
where it's being used. "Our goal for Platinum EC is to
make a blend that will grow well just about anyplace in
the [United States]," Kallam continues. "However, we're
adding some native grasses to our Maryland formulation -
crown vetch, big bluestem, switchgrass. We're also working
on a Rocky Mountain mix, which will include Prairie June
grass, but as it's expensive, we won't be able to use a
lot of it, just enough to offer erosion control and
coverage. The mix includes a Barcole variety bunch grass
with a deep root system; the Rocky Mountain area
especially needs mixes that will outlive droughts. We "overdesigned'
the mix - even if a contractor goes light on his sowing,
it should work. Of course, we'd rather have everyone do it
right the first time."
To help seeds
germinate, water-absorbing polymers are available that
retain moisture in the soil. Watersorb of Hot Springs, AR,
distributes polymers, similar to those used in baby
diapers, in several forms. The super-absorbent polymer, a
cross-linked polyacrylamide (that, when watered, looks
like gelatin), holds up to 400 times its density in water,
then slowly releases the water - along with any added
fertilizers/nutrients - to the plant roots. In some
regions, the polymers can save up to 50% on irrigation.
The super-absorbent will work in the soil for five to 10
years, at which time it then slowly breaks down into its
component parts of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and water,
with no residual toxicity. Watersorb uses potassium
polymers, which are better for plants than polymers
Tom Hunt, of
Allgreen Environmental Inc., a hydromulching company
located in Carbondale, CO, has been using Watersorb
polymers for a little over a year. "We've used PAM
[linear-linked polyacrylamide] and Watersorb's
super-absorbent," Hunt reports. "The granular PAM works
better in our machinery; when watered, it's the
consistency of a thick soup. We've also used liquid PAM.
We can put wood mulch, PAM, and soil amendments into the
mix for easy spray-on application. PAM really helps get
our added nutrients into the soil and keeps them there."
PAM also allows Hunt to meet job deadlines. "Most of the
time, for things to work into our program, we have to
produce results in 30 days - and with PAM, we have been
able to show results. It's remarkable - for about $10 an
acre you can retain nutrients in the root zone for six
weeks, depending on the soil, of course. The slurry PAM
creates actually aids in our pumping too. Of course, you
need to meter the dosage."
discovered Watersorb when investigating ways to improve
large-scale remediation projects. "Some of our work is
remediation processes for larger fires - last year's
Hayman fire [in Colorado], for example," Hunt explains.
"In traditional remediation work, you stabilize the
hillside and put out fertilizer and more seed than usual.
Results are often mixed. We wanted to come up with a
thicker slurry, something that aided the ground, to allow
better germination. We do soil testing to discover what
will actively help the soil, then we add mycorrhizal
inoculant, bacteria, and fertilizer. For best results,
you have to add bacteria. It takes two years of drought
to knock bacteria soil levels to the 10% mark, and we've
been finding only 4% bacteria where we have tested."
Something Old: Native Seeds
In 1999, in
an effort to check the spread of invasive plant species,
President Clinton signed legislation that, among other
things, decreed that all public lands (federal land as
well as certain cemeteries and historical sites) needing
replanting after fires, drought-caused die-outs, and so on
should be sown with native species. However, the
legislation did not offer a decisive definition for the
term "native" and thus left it open to a wide
interpretation. Does native mean only North American, not
South or Central American, species? Does the designation
differ from region to region and US Department of
Agriculture zone to zone? Would native species be those
growing on these soils before 1620, before 1492, or before
nomadic Asians crossed the Bering Strait some 10,000 years
ago? No matter what date might be selected, did anyone
perform a plant-species inventory at the time?
movement today among different groups - government and
environmental groups - to reseed the West with native
seeds, to put the land back to the way it was before white
men got here," points out Don Hijar, president of Pawnee
Buttes Seed in Greeley, CO. "Unfortunately this is not the
same soil it was at that time. In essence we made a big
mistake plowing up this land. We fractured ecosystems and
grasslands, destroying an extreme diversity of plants that
also helped animal life."
legislation definitely caused change. "Different states
started making lists of species that they considered
invasive, and some plants that ended up on those lists -
orchard grass, timothy grass, perennial rye, Kentucky blue
- are what we have used for years for reclamation," Hijar
continues. "Indeed, a lot of money has been put into
improving these different species. There are good reasons
to use native but, it seems, bad interpretations on when
to use them. People have gotten on this "emotional ship,'
if you will - "If it's not native to this area, we don't
want to use it anywhere.' If you use a strict
interpretation of what's not native, you quickly run into
introduced species we couldn't do without - wheat, for
guidelines inhibit consumer choice? "If someone asks to
plant timothy - he's the customer, I want to sell it to
him," Hijar explains. "I haven't done anything illegal,
immoral, or unethical. But some would say, "But timothy
has spread over the mountains - taken over!'"
has been in the native grass industry since 1974, points
out that the West isn't just one homogeneous environment,
and the same plant species might vary within a relatively
environmental group's answer is to plant native grasses.
That's fine, but just in this region alone there are
varying precipitation levels that would have an impact on
how those grasses survive," he notes. "Kansas, for
example, is mostly farm country; the eastern and central
thirds of the state get more precipitation than does the
western third, which only gets 17 to 22 inches of rain
yearly. A thin, 5-mile-wide area of Colorado gets 17
inches a year; most of the state, including the Denver
area, gets about 14 to 16 inches. However, certain parts
of eastern Colorado only receive 7 to 11 inches, and go
over the mountains and it gets really dry."
Region's Native - Another's "Introduced"?
governments, environmentalists, and ecologists recognize
such regional differences, orders often are made for
subspecies or ecotypical seeds - which might or might not
grasses - big bluestem, bluestem, and Indian grass - grow
throughout the nation," Hijar states. "However, if a New
York customer wants big bluestem, he might not want Kansas
seed, but seed from growth 10 miles away from
his site - local ecotypes. How important is that? What's
the limit of an ecotype? Some scientists say it has to be
harvested within 3,000 feet of the intended planting site.
That's not always possible."
of Granite Seed Company in Lehi, UT, points out two very
important words in the legislation: "When practical, one
should use natives when seeding on public lands. Of
course, there's no consensus on what "native"' is native
to what? The city? County? State? Planet? Some insist on
not just the species, but the exact genetic makeup.
There's a similar idea when talking about fish populations
"genetic pollution" occurs when you move a trout from one
area to another. But since seeds are carried by animals
and the wind, plant populations travel all over anyway."
services the 13 western states with native seed. "The
majority of our stock is native grasses," Bermant reports.
"Some mixes also contain shrubs and forbs, which are used
mostly for fire-area reclamation, or right-of-way
vegetation, or wherever there's been drastically disturbed
ground. Our biggest order lately was the 5 million pounds
of seed sold to reclaim the areas in Arizona decimated by
fire in 2001."
agrees that some orders are harder to fill than others.
"From a supply standpoint, the greatest challenge for us
is being able to meet specific demands. If customers say,
"Seed must come from only a certain distance away' -
perhaps 200 miles east or west of the site - that's not
such a problem. But if they specify seed from the same
county, that's not always possible. For example, to
reclaim the Rodeo, Arizona, fire - how could we possibly
find site-specific seed? Nothing survived!
"A lot of
people don't understand the problems with offering
site-specific materials," he continues. "Like the Hayman
fire last year: Originally they wanted local native seed
for reclamation. We told them it was just not available.
Instead they just stabilized slopes with annual cover
crops and hoped the natives in the soil would come back."
Allgreen Environmental concurs. "Most of what you're
dealing with out here never came from here in the first
place. When you're bringing back a site, sagebrush comes
back in two years. As for the problems of fires, prior to
200 years ago, the native tribes planned controlled burns
for hundreds of years, and sagebrush and scrub oaks
survive burns. Idealism doesn't have much to do with our
seed selection; we just have to make sure we don't pick
something that will take over. It can be difficult to find
a reputable seed producer. Some native seed is
microscopic, and there's no testing procedure with some
suppliers. Are you really getting only the seed you want?"
Harvesting By Hand
does do custom seed collections, but Bermant notes, "That
can be 10 times more expensive [than cultivated seed]
because we will hand-collect, and collecting seed from
nature is always a challenge. First, it has to be
economically viable to do so. Of course, it also depends
upon whether the species set seed this year. With some
plants, you'll get a crop only every other year, and if
you get there too late, the seed is on the ground, or
sheep ate it, et cetera. A lot of times we will inform
customers before we agree to custom that we'll go out and
see if the seeds are even available."
points out that changes in the environment have an impact
on how native plants establish and grow. "As we move
forward in time, plant populations change. Nature is not
static. Everyone has a different reference point for
what's native. Plus, some customers want results in a
year; others understand it might take five years for the
native plants to establish. Introduced plants have also
changed a native's chances of survival. For example,
cheatgrass, an introduced species, an annual grass
originally from the Mediterranean, is a big problem. Since
1972, I have seen it take over thousands of square miles.
It has actually changed the ability of natives to
establish. Cheatgrass grows similar to a cool-season
grass; it steals moisture from native plants and
outcompetes them. Cheatgrass is a drought-tolerant
species, surviving in cold-desert areas, and it's also
able to survive fire. You hear of rangeland fires that
destroy shrubs, grasses, and forbs - sometimes the
cheatgrass burns first, which knocks out the shrubs, then
cheatgrass comes back the next year. It's difficult to
establish natives until you eliminate the cheatgrass
first. Some people are first putting in prostrate kochia
or other desirable introduced species until that crowds
out the cheatgrass, then they put in native
inventory has been geared toward natives since 1975. "We
see everything - from people wanting ecotypes, for which
we do site-specific collection, to bid requests without
any declaration about what type of seeds," relates Bruce
Berlin, erosion control line manager for the Carpinteria,
CA, company. "I'd say "native' is not well defined, but we
do see increased demand for trying to match what's on the
customer's working site. When filling an order, a lot of
our concern stems around how much water the site gets."
defining native plants within its home state, S&S depends
on a preferred reference book: Willis Linn Jepson's Manual of the Flowering Plants of California (now also
named The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California,
University of California Press). "It's a huge book of
flora from different plant authorities," Berlin explains.
"It defines native and non-native and also lists a number
Many of S&S's
mixes are a combination of grasses and forbs. "For native
shrubs, we do a fair amount of seed collection by hand,"
Berlin explains. "We clean them up, get them ready to
resell - it's very labor-intensive. We do some
pretreatment of seeds; we have to scarify, or nick, some,
and for others we do some chemical pretreatment to promote
germination. Although we sell to customers nationwide, our
end users pretty much are located in the Southwest. They
buy our product for cover crops, restoration projects,
erosion control, and other projects, including turf
grasses for ball fields."
carries more than 1,500 native species in stock.
"Three-quarters of them are literally hand-collected,"
Berlin points out. "This takes a lot of work. Even the
most efficient person probably gets only 20% of the seed.
For some items, we need special permits to get the seed -
for anything growing within state parks, for instance. But
most of the picking [we do] there is for that site;
if you pick it, the state parks demand a percentage of
readily understands some customers' requests for plant
ecotypes: "Indian rice grass is a great example. Although
it goes into many states, we do a thorough tracking of
where our seeds come from because we see a big difference
between coastal plants and those that grow at a higher
elevation or inland. Because of different moisture levels,
and the salts in that moisture, a coastal plant wouldn't
work well inland, and vice versa. Yet you might be able to
use something from the desert on the coast and it might
work well. We work closely with botanic gardens and
universities to match the best plants to a site."
With Their Own
In 2000, in
part because of the confusing standards (or lack thereof)
for native plants, Dawn Southard established the Native
Seed Trade Association (NSTA). Located in Washington, DC,
the organization strives to provide field-tested
information to policy-makers.
this organization because I saw a lot of policy
emphasizing the use of native plants, but no one from the
industry was helping write or influence the policy,"
Southard recalls. "Each federal agency is making their own
policy on native seeds. Our workshop this past February
helped agencies design demand; we were "educating the
first challenge: helping NSTA members and their customers
define their terms. "The Executive Order on invasive
species does not specify what type of native seeds should
be used, and it didn't make any guidelines. In today's
market, the definition varies; "native" can mean ecotype
seed, which is very site specific. There's also "straight'
native seed, which is raised from wild-harvested seed
stock. There are also native cultivars, which have been
improved by selective breeding. Now there's no empirical
evidence that ecotype is better than native seed, but if
you put it in terms of land management perspective - if
I'm managing a pristine wilderness area - I am well within
my rights to ask for an ecotype if I want to maintain my
area. Some facilities are making their own seed just for
that reason, because they don't want to pollute
agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, are very
flexible when choosing native seed," Southard continues.
"They know what they want, but when they can't find it,
they ask what is available. But there is a trend
toward ecotypes, and that's not generally a good business
model for most native seed producers. Because ecotype seed
must be sold within a narrow geographic region, the
producer becomes slave to wild fluctuations in merely
local demand. Producers usually can't survive in this type
of market. Overreliance on ecotypes also minimizes the
supply available to any agency installation since it can
only draw on seed produced within a limited area. Ecotypes
can be profitable crops when the market is designed
sensibly. This is one of the objectives of NSTA."
"Native plants also struggle to reproduce. A lot of our
native insect pollinators are no longer here. European
pollinators, such as honeybees, have taken over. Also,
invasive species tend to bloom first; insect pollinators
do their work, then move on, leaving native species
unworked. Yes, some species self-pollinate - and others
are wind-pollinated - but, forbs especially, 95% are
problem for the native seed industry: Making customers and
policy-makers understand that producing native plants
is nontraditional agriculture." It's not an annual
crop that's sown in spring, harvested in fall," Southard
explains. "If a customer decides he wants thousands of
pounds of some plant seed, and no one knew there was a
demand, they haven't grown it! Native seed producers are
truly pioneers in nontraditional agriculture. They have,
however, spent lots of money in [research and development]
to discover what they can do."
there remains one variable the Executive Order didn't
mention when addressing invasive species: "Man is an
invasive species," Pawnee Buttes Seed's Hijar quips.
"Ecosystems change, and man has influenced that change; we
can never turn the ecosystem back to how it was in
Keating is a frequent contributor to Erosion Control
For More in the News see