Some people may say coco coir (made from the husks of coconuts) is relatively new on the scene while others may state it has been here for a while – but one thing is for sure – it is an alternative for potting up your plants or starting seeds, and it is growing in popularity.
As he continued to talk about coir and how to use it to my friend, I noticed another person walked up and was observing. My senses told me, this person is the owner of this product, so I walked up immediately and shook his hand to introduce myself.
There was probably an air of excitement in my voice because I want to learn more about coir. It is being added to potting mixes (as an alternative to peat moss). You may also use coir in its straight form, sold in compressed blocks which are soaked in water to expand for use as a potting media. Once expanded, it looks almost exactly like peat (as shown above in the photo taken at the garden show).
During my garden presentations on container gardening, I highlight some of the new options for potting mixes on the scene, and there are many to choose from – it can feel overwhelming at times, but it is all good news because many new potting mixes are geared towards sustainability and incorporating organic materials, and coco coir is one of them.
As I discussed the benefits of coir with the distributor of the coir product, Sam Ahilan, President of FibreDust LLC, decided to invite me to see how they process their coir product at his facility in Cromwell, Connecticut. And of course, I responded immediately with a yes to his generous invite.
This is what I saw yesterday at their facility located in Cromwell:
Shredded coir bundled up for distribution to customers were first on the tour list. There were many ready to go sitting on pallets awaiting the skid loader. These are processed via a large production machine, shown below, where coco blocks are shredded and water is added.
Here it is nice and fluffy for bundling up in the bales above. Sam was kind enough to have the machine turned on by his crew to show me how this is done in their production facility. I have to say, being a container gardening lover, it was difficult to not reach my hand in to feel the coir – it is very light, fluffy, airy, and soft – and it looks very similar to peat.
Sam is working with a local grower of tomatoes to grow tomatoes in his coir cubes. Here they are lining up their cubes and getting them set for irrigation and planting soon. Fortunately, for me, the sun was shining so it was a moment of “ah” in a greenhouse. Nutrients are added to the coir later in the process as the plants grow. The grower told me he has people taste the tomatoes along side of homegrown tomatoes in the garden, and many can not distinguish the difference. I wanted to tell him, I would have to do a taste test with my father’s home grown tomatoes, but I believed him. Why not? They are being grown in the warm sun of a greenhouse with correct temperatures and in a growing medium which has the similar qualities of peat.
In another larger warehouse space are miles of coconut fibre based products – from mats for landscaping or basket lining purposes to cubes for potted plants. Coir is used in many fashions, and not sold just in blocks or cubes. There are small round disks available to start seeds, which if you are into seed growing, I’m sure you have seen before.
I asked Sam to hold a sample of a coarse form of the coconut husks which may be used as to increase pore space per Sam. I took many more photos, but I plan to share those at my garden talks and workshops this summer, so I’m saving some for my attendees. This is just a sneak peek!
More About Coir
As I noted above, coir is becoming popular because it can be used as a substitute or alternative for all peat moss based soils, reducing the use of valuable wetlands where sphagnum peat moss is usually harvested and used as a base in many potting mixes. Peat moss is more porous than coco coir and has been used for centuries in the gardening industry for its stability and consistency for growing plants.
However, I wish to note that I don’t think using peat moss is totally all bad and why I feel this way is discussed during my garden presentations – I believe the key is finding a balance, trying out new products which are more sustainable, and testing how they work for your gardening needs to see the results for yourself.
Coir also has attributes such as a good water to air ratio, which is needed in container gardens and patio pots especially because oxygen is required in the root zone for plants to grow. Healthy roots are a result of a balance of water and air, another topic highlighted in my garden presentations.
And speaking of water, coir holds water well, which may be good for reducing watering routines in patio pots – but as I mentioned, I prefer to test it out because it drains and dries out slower too. I will see how coco coir works for me with my container gardens, and share my findings with you along the way. This is one of my goals this year in particular.
Per my readings about the coir products on the scene, the pH is usually neutral, but because the source of the product varies, it should be checked, at least for high production scenarios. Also, nutrients must be added to this product as your plants advance in growing. Unlike some potting mixes for container gardening which often have a pre-charged slow fertilizer added to the soilless mix for you.
One really cool thing about using coir, is they are taking a waste product from the production of other coconut based products, such as doormats and brushes, and reusing it in a new way. It is always a good thing and a bonus when we accomplish the goal of renewing a resource. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
And because coir is compressed to reduce shipping costs, and is easily restored to a fluffy consistency, it saves on shipping expenses, thus reducing more waste. Additionally, it stores well for a long time and all it takes is some water to expand it into a huge portion for use in your pots – if not as a straight growing mix, but maybe as a filler, again something I’m testing out this year. It is great for starting seeds too.
One thing I also like about the coco blocks used as a potting soil (called Sponge Ease) is how easily they are to carry, store, and use. They come in 7 x 7″ blocks (small enough to fit in a purse!), but expand to an amount substantial enough to fill a small to medium sized pot (10 quarts) by putting the block in a bag and filling it with 3 quarts of water. Plus they are packaged with biodegradable labeling, again reducing waste like the big plastic bags which are used for soilless mixes.
You will most likely see these coco coir products in garden supply magazines, some nurseries, even perhaps your grocery store – and of course, for sale at my workshops on container gardening and patio pots, where I will demo the whole process and how to use this potting soil. If you would like to purchase some, feel free to contact me (email is below).
Oh, and by the way, coco coir is used with hydroponics growing systems (growing plants in liquid – sometimes with some soil media and sometimes without) – which is another whole subject I’m exploring – Why? Because hydroponics is a hot topic today too, but it is a bit complicated or requires some solid knowledge of the how to’s.
Bottom line – It was a real treat to see the coco coir production process, various growing coco coir products, and meet the President of FibreDust LLC. I appreciate Sam giving me the tour yesterday, and will share more all with you this spring and summer. Stay tuned.