Moisture crystals

Glendale/Parks, AZ

Would you use moisture crystals in an organic veggie garden?

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

That would depend on the material from which they were made. I would not use polymer or other synthethis crystals in an organic garden. I once saw some made from tapioca. These would eventually break down into the soil. Haven't seen them in a long time, so perhaps they were commercially viable.

As you build up the organic matter and biological activity in your soil, it will do a better job of retaining moisture without the need for moisture crystals.

Glendale/Parks, AZ

Thanks garden-mermaid. I concur. Just wanted to see what others thought.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

rtl850nomore, I'm so glad you asked this question because I, too, have wondered if I should use the Polysorb or similar crystals on veggies. After reading that the newer ones are supposed to be non-toxic because they contain potassium which is added to the soil when they biodegrade, I almost participated in the present Polysorb co-op. But then I read they are still made from petroleum so decided against it. After much "googling" I discovered "Quench" (manufactured by Zeba). These crystals are made from corn starch and seem perfect for organic gardeners (I hope, since I am not a real expert at organic gardening but do my best). In any event here are a couple of links which offer detailed information and prices. I would love to hear what others think about this product. I am very tempted to try it.

Manufacturer's site which provides information about the product:

This was the cheapest site for buying the tea bags with the ORGANIC fertilizer. Amazon and others are offering it with the 10-10-10 formula, but it's not organic!

This site offers the plain large jar (52 oz) (no fertilizer) for the best price I could find:

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

The Zeba product looks interesting. My only concern would be if it is made from genetically engineered corn. I sent an inquiry to the company asking this question. We'll see if I get a reply.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

If the corn is genetically engineered how will the corn starch made from it affect the veggies that we grow using it? Will the veggies then be materially changed so that they are not as safe to eat? Forgive my ignorance. This is really an interesting question! I will be interested in hearing Zeba's response!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

If it's genetically engineered I doubt if it could be considered organic. I don't think cornstarch from genetically engineered corn could have any impact on things you grow using it, but many people who are trying to be organic also are opposed to genetic engineering of plants, so on principle would want to avoid contributing to the market for genetically engineered plants.

Glendale/Parks, AZ

Well said ecrane3. Thanks so much for this discussion guys and gals.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Here is the company response to my initial inquiry:

"Yes, to your question below [Is Zeba made from genetically engineered corn?]. But, it’s a bit more involved, as the question suggests there is cause to believe there would be residual GMO components in our final product. This is not the case.

In the process of producing the cornstarch, we use what is known as a wet milling process. In this method, the soaked corn kernel is put through a series of separation steps where the protein of the kernel is physically separated from the starch component to the point where there is no more than .4% of the protein on a weight on weight basis to the starch. This wet starch is then placed on a drum dryer, which is heated to temperatures greatly in excess of 150°C, to dry the starch. The importance of this is that at such high temperature, the genetics of any remaining protein are destroyed.

When we take this cornstarch to produce Zeba, we put the cornstarch through a series of production steps that have a large impact on any impurities that could still be in the starch. How we do this is proprietary, but it degrades any GM material if there would still be any present at this point. Also, when we dry our Zeba product to its final specifications, the temperature is again at over 100°C and would have the same eliminating effect on any GM material as when the starch was initially heated and produced.

Perhaps your question goes to whether *if* there were GM components in our final product, whether the protein/DNA from one generation of biotech plant (our cornstarch) being incorporated into another generation of plants. Again, this doesn’t refer to our Zeba product, owing to the above steps, but it is our understanding among peers that any GM genetic material in a (generic) cornstarch cannot be incorporated into other plants and would likely be degraded by soil microbes. We’re advised there is no peer-reviewed research suggesting otherwise.

We would be happy to answer any further questions, particularly if there are helpful clarifications before any postings.

Again, we would also appreciate your sharing with us any forums discussing Zeba. We can always improve through feedback and concerns from our customers."

I have also asked if they have studied the effect of the zeba product on the soil microbes. They said they would send info on the residual effect of the product tomorrow. I will post it when I receive it.

Larry at Zeba also stated the following:
"Yes, we understand the importance of GE corn issues. We’ve spent a great deal of time working through this to our satisfaction. Our charter/mission from our founder is to be ‘one of the good guys.’ Zeba is a benign, environmentally-friendly way to increase quality and yield, using less of our precious water supplies. Much of the core technology from the USDA is extremely well understood. William Doane, Ph.D., is on our consulting team. He was the original founder of superabsorbents at the USDA and is recognized as the country’s pre-eminent starch polymer chemist. We have an office back at the ARS facility in Peoria , for on-going starch research and maintain two research and development agreements with the USDA."

to be continued......

Gilroy (Sunset Z14), CA(Zone 9a)

Wow---at least they responded, and seem to be making the effort! I might be looking for their product next time I need water crystals. Thanks for pursuing this!!

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Wow indeed! Much food for thought! Thanks for getting the info from Zeba, Garden-mermaid. I wonder why they don't just use non genetically engineered corn or would that make it more expensive? (Sorry for my ignorance again!) I guess I need to do some reseach for myself on the problems of genetically engineered products. I thought it was still a very controversial subject both for and against. But I would like to hear input from those who have actually used this product as to its effectiveness. Also looking forward to hearing about how it affects the microbes! Thank you all for your input.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

They are probably just buying the corn based on price. So much of the US corn crop is now contaminated that exports have been significantly reduced as other countries refuse to take it. It's also impacting our beneficial insects, as the genetically engineered bT corn kills off 50% of the green lacewings that feed on the pollen. Ironically, a farmer could spray bT on a "regular" corn crop and the lacewings would not be harmed. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the soil microbe studies with the zeba product. In theory it should be neutral as they are only using the starch.......but then, a lot of theories around GMOs have proven false.
The note I received today said they needed to get the information requested from the scientists. I'll keep you updated as more info comes in. Maybe I should look for bulk pricing on fish eye tapioca and try those! LOL!

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

If the tapioca would work, why not? Are you talking about tapioca as in tapioca pudding? Thanks for the clarification on the genetically engineered corn. I didn't realize it was so harmful to the lacewings.
Would tapioca hold and release water repeatedly? The Zeba company maintains that their product releases the water better than the petroleum based crystals. I hope these corn starch crystals turn out to be totally safe as I can really use them in my Earthboxes and other containers. It would help reduce the amount of watering required. I am also thinking of trying them in the strawbales as I would like to experiment with strawbale gardening this summer but the bales require a lot of watering. Looking forward to you next installment , garden-mermaid!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Here is the additional response that I received from Milan Savich, the President and CEO of Absorbent Technologies, Inc, who manufacture the ZEBA product. I think it speaks volumes for the company that the president of the company is interested enough in consumer concerns to personally answer my questions.

"You ask some very important questions regarding Zeba and its effects on microbial activity in the soil. We at ATI have always looked at Zeba as a food source for microbes in the soil due the fact that we use cornstarch as the framework for producing Zeba and with the cornstarch being available to all types of microbes.

When organic matter such as Zeba, is added to the soil, to a degree the natural organic matter content of Zeba increases food source (carbon) availability for beneficial soil microorganisms. Beneficial soil microbes eat carbon. The vast majority of soil microbes require organic carbon compounds to oxidize for energy and development.

Zeba is a very large organic compound, having a molecular weight of 800,000 to 1,000,000. Because of this great size, beneficial microbes break down this organic compound into smaller units enzymatically for digestion by the microbes. This microbial activity releases many nutrients and makes them available to the plants. Because the application of Zeba on a per acre basis (7 ½ lbs/acre) is very small as compared to normal field fertility applications, the opportunity for Zeba to effectively increase directly the organic matter content in soil is also very small.

Zeba is not recognized as a fertilizer, it is classified as a soil amendment because of its ability to bind vast amounts of water within its starch framework and make this water available back to the plant through capillary action of the root system. During the manufacturing process to make Zeba, we use potassium hydroxide to neutralize the starch superabsorbent to a pH of 7. The potassium molecule is attached during this process to one of the hydroxyl groups on the starch chain. What makes Zeba so unique is that Zeba is a slightly anionic poly-electrolyte. Therefore, it will readily exchange the potassium molecule with other single and divalent cations in the soil such as calcium, manganese, magnesium and ammonium (from nitrogen based fertilizers).

In plant leaf studies, we have seen a higher level of these cations with plants that have been treated with Zeba as opposed to non-treated plants. This means that Zeba helps through cation exchange, making these beneficial nutrients more readily available to the plants for better root development and plant growth. This is reinforced by the results of Zeba in crop use. With greater plant growth and development, there is matter organic matter to decompose and help produce greater populations of microbial activity due to greater fertility.

So what is the overall effect on soil microbes? Directly, it provides an organic carbon food source for soil microbes to feed on. This can only be beneficial to increase microbial activity as they breakdown and release the many nutrients that are contained in the soil. Simply put, Zeba is good for the soil and plant development. Initial studies and testing have shown this to be true. Long term studies will also show that continued use of Zeba in soil applications will show an increase on the beneficial fungi and bacteria. Phyto-toxicity testing on over 50 various plants have shown that Zeba has no negative effects to the soil or in the plant itself. This can certainly not be said for the use of the synthetic superabsorbents that also represent a water holding characteristic."

The Zeba product is also carried by Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (

Gilroy (Sunset Z14), CA(Zone 9a)

Great information, and PVFS has been one of my favorite suppliers for years. If they carry it, I trust that it's really organic! Thanks so much for pursuing this---I'll be ordering some SOON!~~~

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

If you use this stuff as a top dressing, what happens if a bird eats one or more?


Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Wow, thanks Garden_mermaid for posting that detailed response. Very interesting.
For those planning on pirchasing the Zeba please note that the best price I have found for this product is from A 52 oz (3.2 lbs) jar costs $34.95 plus shipping for a total of $43.44. If you buy a 12 oz jar from Peaceful Valley (it seems that is the only size they offer) it is more expensive than other sites I have checked: $14.95 plus shipping (varies according to Zip Code plus 15% handling). For me the shipping and handling would have almost doubled the cost. Another site,, offers the 12 oz jar for $12.95 plus $4.99 shipping. They also have the Zeba singles with natural fertilizer (as opposed to the 10-10-10 non-organic offered by other sites) at a 20% reduction ($7.06 plus $4.99 shipping). Solutions offers the best price for the 12 oz and the singles. I will probably order the larger jar from Amazon since per pound (about $13.37 per pound including shipping) it is the best deal. With all the above information I feel better about trying this.

Since it is not designed to be used as a top dressing I don't think that birds would be affected.

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

They do recommend topdressing to prevent crusting of the soil surface.


Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Sorry David, I missed that about preventing the soil crusting. I had been reading about how to use the singles in pots and at the roots of regular plantings. So I guess we are back to your question as to how it affects birds if they ingest them! I just won't use them as a top dressing until someone provides as answer! I usually don't have trouble with crusting because I cover the seeds lightly with homemade potting mix or potting soil

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

David, why don't you email the company and ask them?

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

I can't imagine they have done feeding trials or any other type of experiment to test for safety. I would hope not, but they should also be providing a safe prodcut.

The product can hold up to 400x its weight in water. This means the pellet would enlarge as well as become heavier. If it was a dry pellet it would either absorb water from the bird's body or water it was drinking, or both.

I guess I will email and see what they say. I would imagine that these taste better than those petrocrystals.

Edited to add- I have emailed. It was painless. When you suggested it Ii was thinking, "do I have to" said like a kid because I am that lazy on the computer. They made it easy.


This message was edited Mar 28, 2007 1:14 AM

Olympia, WA(Zone 7b)

Well, if you're selling live chickens by the pound...

Maybe I'll take some Zeba with me the next time I go fishing and need a trophy bass. (smile)

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

david, the hazard you describe is why rice is no longer thrown at most weddings. Guests receive bags of birdseed instead. I would imagine that the crystals would be less of an issue if you fully presoak before you use them as a top dressing, but I can see where it could be a problem if they were not kept saturated.
Please do post the reply you get from the company.

Austin, TX(Zone 8b)

Hey Everyone,

Good news. I am still not sure on need Zeba, but it appears safe. The second email is first, because I copied both and the first is at the bottom:

Email response:

David, sorry, I responded hurriedly and also just realized that you also asked about birds…

Interesting in that we coat grass seed for some of the leading companies. The birds don’t seem to want to eat the seed when it’s coated (and golf course superintendents love this benefit). Frankly, we’re not sure why, but I don’t think we’ve ever witnessed birds eating Zeba. However, again, the digestive system of the bird would ‘cut’ the starch’s ability to retain water. So, there would be no effect or ability of the starch to ‘drain’ or absorb the internal moisture of any animal.

Also, my language got tongue tied, below, when I meant to say in the last line of the first paragraph… “Similar to not absorbing water, the starch would not absorb the stomach acids.”

An interesting related point… Zeba gently holds water. There is a very loose hydrogen bond between Zeba and water, and there is no chemical reaction. This is how, similar to a ‘net’, we just gently reach out and ‘grasp’ water as it flows down through the soil profile. The root suction of a plant is stronger than Zeba’s ability to hold water, so the water is gently released back to the plant as desired by the plant. This is different from water crystals (polyacrylamides). They have a strong binding effect and a chemical change, which is why they hold water tightly (baby diapers) and the plant competes with the crystal for water. Zeba can hold and release over and over again on a consistent basis (400X and 95% back to the plant) throughout a growing season. Polyacrylamides start to lose performance very quickly and if they totally dry out can become hydrophobic. So, although they claim a life of 5 to 7 years in the soil, the product isn’t actually performing during this period. And, in fact, in some studies, after only a few cycles of hydrating and re-hydrating, the polyacrylamides fall off rapidly. (Okay, maybe more than you wanted to know, but it’s the lack of chemical reaction inherent with Zeba and gentle holding of water which also explains how stomach acids would quickly cut the absorption.)



From: Larry Logan
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9:28 AM
To: '[email protected]'
Cc: Jennifer Kirby
Subject: FW: Contact Form


Zeba is made from cornstarch, and it has been approved by the FDA for internal surgeries. (However, our facilities don’t manufacture to ‘medical quality’ at this point.) Basically, the stomach acids break down the starch quite quickly, and there isn’t the bloating one might suspect. Nor does would the dry granules absorb the stomach acids.

We’ve had teenagers drink a glass of Zeba on a dare, with no effect. We work with the ASPCA as we’ve had several cases of dogs getting into Zeba. Again, with no ill effects (but certainly concerned pet owners.)

I confess we haven’t heard anything on fish, but in this instance the fish wouldn’t be eating a granule, but instead a fully hydrated ‘hydrogel’. Because each hydrogel (derived from a granule) can hold 400X its weight in water, the fish would basically be swallowing ‘water.’

Hopefully this helps, and I’ve tried to keep this in layman’s language (me being the layman). However, our ‘science guys’ here can provide deeper ‘molecular stuff’ if for some reason you require a deeper explanation.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

If anyone is still interested in trying the Quench crystals the following site is offering them at half price (Buy 1 Get 1 free). This is the best price I have found anywhere including The Website doesn't seem to want to give you more than 1 free so if you want more than 2 jars total you have to call the 800 number. I was able to get 4 jars for the price of 2 - a great deal!

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