Have you heard of coconut coir yet? It’s one of the most exciting new trends in the world of hydroponics, and is gaining popularity by the day. You may not equate coconuts with effective gardening methods just yet, but there’s something really special about them. Read on to learn about this spectacular material, and how to use it.
What Do Coconuts Have to Do with Gardening?
Maybe you’ve walked past bags of coconut coir at your local gardening centre and wondered what that weird stuff was for. Perhaps you’ve considered whether this is the product you need to really dig into hydroponics. Or maybe the cashier at your local greenhouse mentioned it as an environmentally sound alternative to the peat moss in your cart.
Well, it can certainly help you get started in hydroponics! Coconut coir makes the whole process look and feel less complex, and as such, less intimidating. It can also help you build an environmentally sustainable garden. Of course, there’s much more to coconut coir than that. Are you intrigued yet?
So, What Exactly is Coconut Coir?
First, we need to understand what exactly we’re talking about. What is coconut coir, exactly?
If you’ve ever held a coconut, try to remember what it felt like. It has a hard, thick outer shell, sweet, white flesh within, and creamy coconut milk at its very center. For years, the coconut industry has been harvesting the meat and milk from these spectacular plants. The outer shell has just been a waste product in the goal of reaching the nutritious fruit’s interior.
Thankfully, such wastefulness is now a thing of the past. Coconut coir is the bundle of fibrous outer layers that surround the shell. It’s a treasure trove of hard, inedible material, and we’ve only just discovered its value. Now, instead of discarding the coir, the coconut industry is processing it for use in gardens around the world.
How Coconut Coir Becomes Garden Ready
Once we harvest the delicious fruit out of a coconut, the coir gets ready for its new life in your garden.
First, any residual coconut has to be removed entirely. This involves a soaking process: either in fresh water or in oceanic tide waters. Tidal water leaves a salty residue that needs to be rinsed from the coir before it’s safe to use in gardening. After all, salt can be downright harmful to tender plants.
If you buy coconut coir soaked in salt water, look into the rinsing process the company used. Be certain your coir isn’t hanging onto excess salt. If it is, you’ll have to rinse it yourself to make sure that it’s safe to use. If you’re not really interested in knowing that much about coir processing, just ask around to find a trusted brand. Fox Farms and CANNA are two of the best.
After soaking and rinsing, the coir is dried for over a year. Once it’s dried out completely, it’s then processed into bales to be chopped into chips, or ground into fluffy “peat” coir. Sometimes, those bales wait another year or two before being chopped.
Choose a coconut coir producer that really cares about producing an optimal product. Coconut coir goes through such an extensive aging and purifying process, and a producer that slacks in one area may end up with a tainted product.
Coir is often stored in its bales for a couple years. That storage process can introduce pathogens if the producer isn’t monitoring the aging process carefully.
Fortunately, once you find a reliable manufacturer, you don’t have to worry about the whys and hows of production. All you have do decide is what sort of coconut coir product is best for your garden and how to grow with it.
Varieties of Coconut Coir
Remember when I said the bales of dried coir were either chopped into chips or else finely ground? These two types of coir, as well as coconut fibers, are all sold for use in your garden. They’re packaged individually and in mixes. Which one do you need? Let’s try to figure that out together.
If you’ve been using clay pellets in your hydroponic garden, you’ll definitely want to try coco chips. They provide the same fantastic growing medium as expandable clay pebbles, but in a natural, plant-based material!
Coir chips naturally allow space for air flow while absorbing large quantities of water. This ensures that your plants stay hydrated and have room to stretch their roots as they grow.
These chips are a great addition to heavy soil as well. It helps open up the soil to allow airflow without depriving the roots of moisture.
This is the medium you’ll see most often in articles and videos about growing with coconut coir. Peat coir is the sustainable option you can use to replace peat moss and the fluffy, absorbent “faux dirt” that comforts new hydroponic gardeners by mimicking soil’s appearance and texture.
Coir peat may look like dirt, but it’s entirely lacking in nutrients. If you only grow in coir peat, your plants might drown in an overabundance of water. It’s essential to mix coir peat, either with soil for conventional growing (it helps make a great potting mix!), or else with coconut chips or fibers. The latter option give the roots room to breathe in hydroponic systems.
These long coir fibers aren’t absorbent, unlike other coir products. They’re most often packaged with ground coir to add “breathing space” to your medium. The fibers look like slender roots weaving through your growing medium. They let in air and open space for plants to reach out and grow into.
Since they’re an organic material, the fibers will break down over time. Keep an eye on your plants to make sure they’re still creating enough space for your root systems.
Try All Three!
Use the three types together to create a fantastic growing medium for your hydroponic garden. Fortunately you can buy fantastic mixtures of chips, fibers, and ground coconut coir to save the trouble of mixing your own.
One of the top brands of coconut coir, CANNA, offers a compressed brick of mixed coir media. This is considered to be one of the best products to get you started using the medium.
As exciting as coconut coir is, it does have some drawbacks. Once you’re aware of them, they seem quite small and easily overcome. It’s only when you jump into growing with coconut coir without knowing about these limitations that they can surprise you and leave you feeling overwhelmed and uncertain.
As I mentioned above, coconut coir looks like dirt, but without any of the nutrients found in soil. You’ll need to add those yourself, balance the PH, and keep an eye out for any nutrient deficiency signs.
Remember that if you’re growing in just coir, you’re a hydroponic gardener. You’ll need hydroponic supplements, but don’t worry about getting supplements especially designed for coir. A generally hydroponic blend, ph-system, and calcium-magnesium supplement will be just fine.
Most coir products and mixes are dehydrated. Companies process them this because it makes them easier and less expensive to package and ship. It also means you’ll need to rehydrate them before using them.
This is great in one sense, because you’re not paying for water when you buy coir—just the actual material. That said, it also means you have some work to do at home to prepare the medium for the garden.
When you rehydrate your coir, set aside a couple of days. Most importantly, make sure you have plenty of space. A two-pound coir brick may expand to fill a 20-gallon wheelbarrow. Keep in mind that not all coir products are dehydrated. If rehydration is a hurdle for you, just choose an expanded variety like Fox Farm’s expanded coir.
Unless you’re comfortable mixing your own coir blend, or you’re only using one form of coir, the product can be pricey.
Many companies are offering pre-mixed blends of coir for your convenience. They’re easier to use because they save you all the trouble of mixing, but they’re expensive. Try mixing your own blends instead. It may look intimidating, but with a basic recipe, you’ll find it easy. Who knows, you might just find a new relaxation technique.
Getting Started with Coconut Coir
So, are you ready to get started?
Whether you’re mixing coir into your soil-based garden to lighten the dirt and increase moisture retention, or trying out a less complex system of hydroponics, coconut coir is a great medium.
The easiest way to get started is to just jump in! Buy a top-quality mix or one of the many reliable, inexpensive options like Cocotex and start experimenting.
You can do it! Join the exciting new community of coconut coir gardeners and learn as you grow.