Singing in the Coir: Evensong

This is the second of three posts in which I rabbit on about coir. The first post can be found here. In this post I look at ways to buy coir in its different forms – “pure” and mixed with other stuff – and look at how different sellers brand their offerings and, more importantly, how they price them.

Bales, Bricks, Bags and Pellets

Bales, bricks and pellets have one thing in common – they’re all dehydrated (dry), compressed forms of coir. So they’re light and don’t take up much space. For example a bale is about a foot square and around 5-6 inches thick; when you add water you’ll end up with around 70 litres of coir. A brick’s around the size of a house brick and will produce around 9 litres of coir when wetted. Note that although bales are of a consistent size, bricks can vary a bit and some may yield 10 litres of compost whilst others could be as low as 7 litres. Pellets are little round things, sometimes in some form of biodegradable netting,which means they can be “self-stainding”, and sometimes not, which means they need to go into some form of tray. About an inch in diameter, when wetted they will grow in height from something under half an inch to about an inch or so tall. Often they are made with a soft centre which is just right for sowing a seed or inserting a tiny seedling. This softer centre promotes initial root growth or, if sowing seeds, makes it easy to simply “pinch” the top of the pellet to cover the seed.

You’ll understand, I’m sure, that whatever form of dry coir you buy, you need to wet it before you do anything else.

Bags are generally coir that’s been rehydrated for you and then allowed to dry to produce a fairly light bag of nice friable compost. Bags may contain pure coir (more bulky than bales etc., and because some of the work – wetting – has been done for you, more expensive) but more usually will be coir plus something. This may simply be some form of plant food/fertiliser or something like vermiculite (added to make a seed compost) or vermiculite plus something else which provides “weight” and nutrients to form a potting compost.

It’s your choice, at the end of the day, as to how much you want to do for yourself. I usually start with the dry stuff, wet it and add in whatever I need for whatever I intend to do though I do buy premixed seed and sometimes potting composts, simply to save myself having to buy bags of vermiculite or whatever and mix it all up by hand.

Of course, you need something to rehydrate in. For a bale, you could use a plastic dustbin (without holes) or a wheelbarrow (as long as it’s watertight). For bricks, something like a large plastic container will do. Pellets can simply be stood in a saucer of water or popped into a cell tray to be wetted.

Wetting a Bale

It’s simple. Read the instructions to see how much water you need to add. Pop the bale into your whatever and away you go. This is how I do it.

Dry bale in the barrow. The label at the back is for the brand I was using when I took the photo. Other brands are available.

 

This particular brand advises addition of 18 litres of water. At this stage, I would add 15 litres with a wetting agent and fertliiser mixed into the water.

 

After a while, break the now enlarged lump up with a fork and turn it over a bit. Not every bit has re-hydrated – the lighter bits are still dry. Now I add the remaining 3 litres of water, again with wetting agent and fertiliser mixed in.

 

A bit longer and another turn with the fork and I have a barrow load of lovely compost.

 

Adding a wetting agent to the water speeds up the process. How long the wetting takes varies from brand to brand (see below) but without wetting agent, it’s going to be several hours (even overnight). I use Wet-n-Grow (one bottle will last me a few years as you don’t need much) but there are other brands. Big hint, though, fill the watering can (which I guess you’re using to measure the water) and then add the wetting agent and mix in. If you add before you fill the can, you will end up with an overdose of foam everywhere.

I also add a fertiliser to the water (it’s OK to put this in the can first as it doesn’t foam; indeed it mixes in better if you do). Bear in mind that if you’re planning to use the coir to sow seeds you should skip this step. Options which I’ve found work well are:

  • Richard Jackson’s Flower Power Premium Plant Food – in its granular form, dissolve in water at double the recommended strength. This is a well balanced mix of nutrients but is not organic. One downside is that it is only available from the QVC shopping channel (www.qvcuk.com). It’s an all-round plant food and in tests produced, for example, better tomato crops than well-known brands of tomato food. Also available sometimes in liquid form which works out more expensive. The granules dissolve readily.
  • NuGrow Feed – this is perfect for coir, both at the hydration stage and as a general feed thereafter. I get it from Fertile Fibre.

One word from the wise. When it comes to rehydrating coir, a lot of sellers will offer you accompanying granular feeds which don’t dissolve and which you mix in as you would any slow-release fertiliser pellets. Avoid these and always go for either a liquid feed or one which you know will dissolve in water.

Coir Pellets/Coir Discs

Depending on where you shop, you may find these called “pellets” or “discs”. Essentially the same as Jiffy7 discs save that they’re peat free. If you find someone who sells “Jiffy Coir Pellets” double check that they’re referred to as “Jiffy7c”. Jiffy7 means it’s peat and Jiffy7c means it’s coir. Just stick them in a tray or dish of water for 10 minutes, with or without wetting agent added. If you’ll be using them for seeds then don’t add any fertiliser. For cuttings/seedlings you can add one of the above feeds but not as strong!

How Much Does It Cost?

The price depends on what you want and where you go. Bales work out cheapest, bricks are more expensive litre for litre, pellets/discs are the most expensive of the compressed coir options. Bags of pre-hydrated coir will generally cost somewhere in between bricks and pellets but if things are added then the price goes up, of course.

But if you’re not careful, you could end up paying 50% more in one place than in another. A lot of this is down to what I think is blatant marketing. I’ll concentrate on bales for this comparison. My current favourite supplier is Fertile Fibre. All their prices include delivery. If you want a single bale the price is £12.00 all in. But will you just want one bale? Just 70 litres of finished compost? Two bales will set you back £17.00 (£6.50 a bale). I usually order eight at a time and the price per bale is £6.25. And what you end up with is a fine compost. For me it’s perfect. Fertile Fibre also sell bags of coir composts of varying types and a good liquid feed (see above) so it’s a convenient one-stop shop. Because the fibres are so fine, the dry bale is far more dense than many others and so will take longer to wet. I usually let things run their course overnight.

I used to buy from a seller (Elixir Gardens) on ebay. They’re cheaper at £9.99 for one bale or £6.13 a bale if I were to buy eight. But what I got was inferior to Fertile Fibre’s offering. The fibres were far more coarse and much longer and there were often many strands of plastic wrapping in the mix. If convenience is an issue, Fertile Fibre will deliver next day; Elixir will deliver in a week or so. On the other hand, as this is a coarser product, the dry version is a much looser thing and will wet more quickly than, say, Fertile Fibre’s offering.

Then let’s look at a company called Coco and Coir. Their product is branded “Coco Peat”. It’s the same thing, 100% coir, pure and simple. There’s no chocolate in it and no peat. A single bale is £12.99. My eight pack would work out at £10.13 a bale. Delivery is usually within 5 days.

Coco and Coir were simply unlucky that I chose them as an example. I’ve never bought from them so cannot speak for the quality of their product or how it compares fibre-wise. But, in general, if a seller gives their product a fancy name, then it will come with a fancy price.

If you want pellets, I would suggest Green Gardener. Pellet prices don’t vary too much between different sellers and the advantage of this source is you can get your pellets and a whole host of other green products from one place.

(All prices are as at March 2019. Where I recommend a particular product/company this will be on the basis that I’ve used the product and/or bought from the company and am happy to recommend. I do not accept any incentives whatsoever in return.)

Chunky Chips

No, not the potato variety but another form of coir. This is simply the same coconut by-product which hasn’t been ground down into fine fibres but, rather, is in chunks. Available in various pack sizes but, as with coir compost, a bale works out cheapest. You’ll find it sold as orchid growing medium amongst other guises. You still add water to wet it though it’s unlikely you’ll want to add any fertiliser.

No, I’m not Noah. The rain came too early and it wasn’t ready. By the time it was ready to use it was swimming. But this won’t be a problem.

 

How much you wet this isn’t really an issue. I use it as a mulch and as a soil conditioner (ordinary coir is too fine to achieve anything by way of conditioning my clay soil). Spread across the soil surface, this rather wet-looking barrowload will do a good job (and the surplus wet won’t hurt the soil either). If I were looking too dig a bit deeper, these larger chunks will initially break up the clay and will then rot down to help aerate it.

So ……

I’ve now covered what it is, where you might get it and how you make it. Next week I’ll get more personal and show you how I use it on an ongoing and long term basis.

 

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