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Did not fully hydrate within the suggested time but results are excellent
on 3 August 2013
I have read and heard a great deal about using coir fibre as an alternative to peat. Many claim it to be a far better growing medium as it has a natural coarseness due to the inclusion of small fragments of coconut shell but the fibrous nature of the material itself allows excellent drainage without ever becoming waterlogged. There are not many plants that prefer to have constantly wet roots and this will certainly prevent that. Addition of sand or grit, which may be needed with other growing media, may not be needed with this. I have also read that the medium is excellent for cuttings and seedlings, and I shall try that when I have some cuttings which have been offered.
There are several plus points. The product is 100% natural and organic, a bye-product of the coconut oil industry which is used in cosmetics and soaps, for frying and cooking (especially in Oriental cultures) and extensively in margarine manufacture. Consequently, there is a huge amount of coir which would be otherwise wasted although a small proportion is burnt in order to provide medicinal carbon. If used for potting it saves using peat, which is good for the environment.
On the downside, in this instance, there were real difficulties moistening the product. Although carefully measuring 3 litres of water and adding it to the opened bag and leaving it initially for 10 minutes - twice the suggested soaking time - only about half of the block was hydrated to some degree and a substantial amount was still solid and dry. A further 15-20 minutes passed without any obvious change.
I tried to bring most of the moistened fibre to the top such that the residual dry block was lower down and in better contact with the remaining water. After allowing several more minutes soaking time and with all the water apparently absorbed, a 15mm thick block of dry fibre remained. Another litre of water was added, about 100-150ml at a time and allowing a few minutes between additions, to try to hydrate the remainder. That basically worked although a small dry lump remained which was broken up into very small pieces and a small quantity of water later accumulated in the bottom of the bag which I will leave open in the expectation that some of the excess moisture will be absorbed where needed or evaporates over time. A further 48 hours proved this theory to be true.
A small amount of well-moistened fibre has been used to re-pot some recently received shrubs that arrived in 9cm pots. Other similar plants had been re-potted into 15cm pots and filled with a peat-based medium, where most have thrived and grown on very well and several had since been planted out. It will be interesting to compare results from both batches. After two fairly hot, dry days when peat-filled and coir-filled pots seemed quite dry at the surface, I attempted to water both groups but with the pots filled with coir fibre all the water appeared to drain away which is in contrast with the peat-filled pots which absorbed water although last watered about the same time as the re-potted plants.
The bottom line - the received product did not moisten as easily or as completely as expected and it needs very different watering techniques. There is no advice on the packaging about how to best use the product or specific watering requirements. Probably not a good choice for the inexperienced where a proven commercial product will probably better serve.
POSTSCRIPT @ 08-2013
Since buying this product, a few days' additional storage has dramatically improved its hydration and there are now no remaining dry lumps or free water at the bottom of the bag. I have seen similar, unbranded, versions of compressed coir and they suggest a minimum of 1-2 hours soaking time although some suggest soaking overnight or for up to 12 hours. They are probably more realistic than the few minutes suggested for this.
There is plenty of information about using coir that is available on-line. As a general purpose potting medium, it is best used if mixed in specific proportions with two other ingredients (one of which can optionally be substituted by another that apparently works just as well) both of which I had previously purchased independently and without knowing about the existence of the 'recipe'. I have now mixed sufficient to allow two seedlings to be transferred from 9cm pots to 15cm alternatives and properly filled and has proven very successful for those and other cuttings since taken.
The mixture remains moist far longer than does peat which will have dried out to some depth after 2-3 days. Cuttings placed in it have apparently rooted after 8-9 days and possibly a little less, which is much faster than I would have expected. The re-potted plants have grown on extremely well, one of which was temporarily removed from its pot to check root growth and they were visible around the edges of the much larger pot. It is possible to use the hydrated material as a mulch and as a soil improver. If used alone or in a potting mixture, it is generally suggested that watering needs to be 'little and often' rather than an infrequent but thorough soaking usually needed with peat-based alternatives.
I am extremely impressed with the results obtained, even at this fairly early stage, and it is likely that this will become a permanent ingredient for future plantings despite initial reservations.
POSTSCRIPT @ 10-2013
Since using almost all of my intial pack, I ordered another which I am now about to start using. This time, I used warm water for the hydration as was suggested elsewhere for another brand and brick-sized material which proved to be a dramatic improvement although faster and more dramatic than when cold water was used, it still needed about 10% more to achieve near-total hydration. As previously and to ensure total hydration and evenness of texture, I intend to leave it for a couple of days before use.
I have noticed that pots filled in whole or in part with this material appear to settle rather more, usually in the centre, than they would with peat and they may need to be topped up after a few weeks.