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Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

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boffer
Razed Bed
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Post  Razed Bed 7/11/2015, 2:56 pm

Some of you may have seen advertisements for a cooling towel, where you place this special towel around your neck and purportedly keep it up to 30 degree cooler while working outside.

There are two basic types--a polyester fabric that evaporates and cools, and a polymer fabric that holds in moisture much longer than normal, sort of the human equivalent product of SFG's vermiculite.

I bought a cooling towel at Lowe's Wednesday and came home to try it out in the garden.

What were the results?  I returned it to Lowe's on Thursday, because it only works in lower humidity, something that is as foreign to Nashville as Air Conditioning in Barrow, Alaska.

This morning, rather than purchase the polymer version and probably take it back when it did not work, my wife bought some polymer water beads and some 100% organic cotton cloth.  She placed about a 1/2 cup of the beads on the cloth and sewed it up.

2 hours ago, I soaked the cloth in ice water and then froze it for about 10 minutes.  I took it out and placed it around my neck immediately getting the shortness of breath one experiences when jumping into very cold water.

I went outside to pull some weeds and toss them in the compost, and I walked around looking for pole beans to pick.  I was out there about 30 minutes, and the entire time, the homemade cloth continued to cool.  The only problem was that it fell off three times while weeding.

When I came inside, my neck was actually cold, and the cloth made the A/C feel like an ice box. 

So, if you are looking for a way to keep cool in the hot summer weather, do not waste your money on the polyester cooling towel available at Lowe's, and do not spend the ridiculously high price at places like REI buying the polymer version.

Go to Dollar Tree, Michael's, or wherever you can find the polymer water beads and buy a remnant of cotton (or recycle an old cotton shirt that is no longer acceptable to wear in public).

Sew the water crystals into the rag and voila, you have your DIY cooling towel that actually works in both heat and humidity.


If you live in an area where evaporative coolers work well (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Etc.) then the cooling towel from Lowe's will probably work for you.
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Post  boffer 7/11/2015, 3:17 pm

Thanks for posting; that's very clever.  Cooling Towels 3170584802

I discovered polymer crystals a couple years ago; I was surprised how versatile they are.

Here's one brand sold by True Value, and as RB said, they're available at the big box stores.

http://www.truevalue.com/product/1-Lb-Soil-Moist-Granules/32510.uts
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Post  Dadoo 7/11/2015, 4:15 pm

A more economical version of the absorbent gel can be found in the disposable diapers sold anywhere and everywhere. I will purchase a box with the most economical value and use it as needed.

 For the last 2 years I have prepared any new Mel's mix beds with the absorbent mixed in. I place 5-6 clean diapers into a five gallon pail of water and let them swell as they absorb the water.

Once I have the Mel's mix ready to go into the particular bed, I pull one side of the diaper open and squeeze the absorbent into the growing medium and mix it in.  I fill the bed about an inch at a time and over water to make sure the mix is holding all the moisture it can.  
This is repeated until the bed is filled to the desired height. The grid is installed as well as any trellis and then party plantin' time.
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Post  CapeCoddess 7/11/2015, 4:34 pm

Could you put them in an old cotton tube sock or do you need something wider? Oops I could be tight around the neck so it doesn't fall off.

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Post  Dadoo 7/11/2015, 4:42 pm

Just to be clear, I dispose of the outer diaper and only use the absorbent and fill from the inside of the diaper.  It is the absorbent that is mixed into the growing medium.
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Post  boffer 7/11/2015, 4:49 pm

Very Happy

I considered using the crystals in MM, but I thought it would be cost prohibitive.  If the diaper crystals are that much cheaper, I might re-consider.  

I recently stocked up on vermiculite for next year's use, and for the eighth straight year  the cost has gone up.  I'm glad I almost have all the boxes I need.  But then again, I've been saying that for several years!
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Post  point 7/13/2015, 12:29 am

Boffer, Dadoo,

If SFG's methods are meant to use simple, naturally-occurring materials, why add a polymer to retain water when we insist on not using chemical fertilizers?

I understand the convenience that adding the beads brings to watering.  I'd be happy to try the frozen neckerchief idea. But why use the polymer in our food chain?

Is the polymer safe to use in MM?  I understand that it is petroleum-derived, and is not degradable. Does the polymer leach into the MM or into the plant and its fruit?  

If it does break down over time, is the polymer inert?  As with BPA, which was used for convenient food processing and is now found in our bloodstreams, would we be putting a dubious material into our soil without the ability to separate it out later?  Does it get incorporated into what we're growing?  If there are soil pathogens, do they get into the polymer and continue to get mixed into the soil as the moisture is released?

A diaper-rating article says there's really no evidence of harm to babies using diapers with this polymer.    The FDA and the EPA allow its use for humans: a second article says the polymer's in high-end fertilizers. Even if someone has studied the safety of the polymer for agriculture, does it make sense for SFG?

I'm puzzled.

(Note to moderator:  If this is the wrong venue to ask this type of question, please delete my post.)
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Post  boffer 7/13/2015, 11:20 am

Point,  You've thought it through farther than I have.  

I was introduced to the crystals while making an air deodorizer/cleaner device that I found plans for.  One of the advertised uses for the crystals was as an additive for potting soil to hold and release water as needed, similar to vermiculite.  My first thought was, 'Hmm...I wonder how they would work in MM.'  Taking it a step farther, I realized I would have to experiment to find the right volume to use, and they would probably be more expensive than vermiculite.  The cost made the idea a non-starter, and I haven't thought about it since.

You've asked some valid questions that I don't have answers for.

Aside:  The crystals expand so much, that I have visions of the MM in my TTs rising like a loaf of bread!  Razz
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Post  Marc Iverson 7/13/2015, 12:34 pm

Something that expands that much would cause a lot of soil heaving, so I wouldn't use it.

FWIW, I've now seen water-absorption crystals at the dollar store, both as colored beads to put in vases with flowers and as air dehumidifiers. Still pricier than vermiculite, though.
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Post  Razed Bed 7/13/2015, 4:03 pm

It is proving its worth today.  The Horseshoe Bend Temp at 3 PM was 101.1, and I was outside wearing the cloth around my neck with my big farmer's hat atop my head.

My arms felt rather hot, but my neck stayed cool, and thus, I did not feel that hot overall.

The phone rang, and I forgot to put it back on when I went back outside to replace the hummingbird feeders, and the heat felt like it should--too darn hot.
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Post  Dadoo 7/14/2015, 1:50 pm

To Point's statements: Those are all good points to consider before adding anything to Mel's mix. I assume the risk for my own garden and recommend anyone choosing to add anything to the garden to consider the risk / reward before doing so.

This can also be said when using organic pest controls.  Treated wood frames could also be added to this concern although is is slight.

But this is my limited opinion.  Thanks for the feedback.
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