Coconut Fiber (Or Coir)….What is it and how do we use it? Coconut coir is the byproduct of the husk from coconut shells. Its ground, pulverized and manufactured into bricks that the modern gardener can rehydrate into a soil-like substance. Its had a great structure, moisture retention, drainage, aeration, and is of neutral pH.
In this article, I’ll show you how to use coconut coir in your garden and how to amend your soil mixes. Stay tuned until the end where I demonstrate how to use it, combined with compost, for the ultimate seeding, potting, topsoil, and container mix that money can’t buy!
Benefits of Coconut coir
The most active soils in our garden particularly topsoils, potting soils, and seeding soils all have specific properties to function properly.
They’re light, loose, airy, drain well, but are particularly good at holding moisture, ph balanced, and have a relatively high cation exchange capacity. Which is simply the soil’s ability to grab and hold onto nutrients.
The addition of rehydrated coconut fiber to a substrate mix does all of these things and as a bonus, it does all of this as a byproduct of agriculture, not as an extracted resource from sensitive ecosystems like peat moss.
Where does Coconut coir come from?
Like the name implies coconut fiber or coir comes from the fibrous husk of a ripe coconut.
In years past the coconuts would be stripped of that outer husk, packed for shipping or sale with everything else discarded but it was quickly found out that when shredded both coarsely and fine that the husk had amazing soil-like properties and thus a new industry was born.
As is normal in the industry it soaked for a while to break it down somewhat, dried, compressed, and then shipped in bricks making an already economical product even more so.
How is Coconut Coir used?
Like we mentioned coconut fiber is very light. Holds moisture but drains relatively well and is pretty much ph neutral. This makes it a perfect additive for soil both to incorporate into the topsoil of your gardener-raised beds as well as to make killer potting mixes.
Coconut coir prep is simple as simple can be let me show you how.
Literally, you just add water, when you add water to a coconut fiber brick, almost instantly it starts to absorb it and when it does it swells up to many times its dry state size.
It’s pretty amazing to witness actually and you can see why gardeners like it so much.
Breaking coconut fiber apart in its rehydrated state reveals a light, fluffy soil-like substrate. Now if you’re really in a rush use hot water for this as it’s literally twice as fast as cold water.
I use about four liters of water per one pound of coconut brick but you can always add more if it’s too dry or strain off the excess if you added too much.
Once the coconut fiber’s cooled down it’s ready for use. Now some people do wash it at this time as coconut coir in the past used to come with high salt content.
But I’ve never had a problem with salt using this stuff in all the brands that I’ve tried over the years. Leading me to believe that the stuff that’s sold now for horticultural purposes has already been washed.
Incorporate the rehydrated coconut coir directly into your topsoils, potting soils, or even seeding mixes.
Now do note there’s no inherent nutrition in coconut coir, so wherever you apply it nutrient levels may be diluted depending on how much you proportionally put in.
But really that’s okay because its function is a structure not fertilizing. Mix some coconut fiber with tough compacted clay or sandy soils for near-instant results.
On that same note, heavy or cheaper potting soils can really benefit from a 20 to 30 percent ratio of coconut fiber. Immediately changing their properties and the growth potential.
But the real advantage and next level unlock for coconut coir is to use it to make your own soil blends.
Use 50/50 with straight compost, add in about 10% more in the way of clean sand and you have a fantastic homebrew potting mix for a fraction of the cost, especially if you’re using your own compost.
I never really store this mix for more than a week or two but if I do I simply put it in a tote with a lid or in a plastic sealed bag to hold in the moisture.
This is great and will most certainly be better than any commercial mixes that you have available but can we take it a step further.
Steps to make an ultimate potting soil mixture using coconut fiber
Can we make an ultimate potting soil mixture using coconut fiber, compost, and some readily available inexpensive amendments? You bet we can. Roll the music and I’ll show you how.
No matter what soil I’m making and regardless of the growing goal at hand my base mix is always the same 50/50 composting coconut fiber with an additional 10% clean sand for added structure and drainage.
For longer to germinate seeds and slower growing seedlings I stop right there for a seating mix. But for quick sprouters and growers you know say like tomatoes and lettuce I’ll add in about five to ten percent alfalfa meal just for a little boost but nothing more.
Topsoils and potting soils however are a different story, here is where I supercharge most of my mixes, and that is why I can get away with so little additional fertilizing throughout the growing season.
I have numerous amendments that I use but the four main ones that make it into every single mix are alfalfa meal, canola meal, rock phosphate, and Epsom salt.
Alfalfa and canola meal are both slow-release nitrogen sources, rock phosphate is literally the best source of phosphorus that you can buy and Epsom salts are composed of two necessary macronutrients magnesium and sulfur.
At a 10% strength application, it’s going to ensure that the soil is chock full of goodness without any danger of burning or over-fertilizing the plants.
Just eyeball the measurements no need to be precise here. The mix I’m making here is to transplant some potatoes and it’s quite moist.
Normally my mixes tend to be slightly drier and much easier to work with.
So don’t fret if yours looks a little bit different than this. In addition to the previous amendments if my goal is also a ph adjustment I’ll add either elemental sulfur to lower the ph or dolomite lime to raise it. A very small amount, five percent of the total volume or less.
Now if you’re making big batches you can switch to a wheelbarrow for more space and ease of mixing. Commercial tumblers and soil mixers do exist but trust me they ain’t cheap.
Coconut coir is an amazing byproduct of an industry that could just as easily throw it away. The sustainability aspect coupled with its ability to enhance the soil’s growing properties makes coconut fiber an obvious choice when we’re looking to level up our garden.
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