The spring presents itself as a good time to tend to your garden and re-pot your indoor plants that have been taking it easy over winter.
As a gardener or house plant owner, you’ll know the benefit of a good compost for soil health and plant nutrition.
Well, let us introduce you to a new type of compost that you may have heard about: Coir Compost.
Coir compost is made from 100% waste coconut product and natural ingredients. It’s an alternative to peat moss and other less sustainable types of compost and is quickly becoming a favourite among eco-friendly plant enthusiasts.
I’ve used coir compost recently from For Peat’s Sake* and I’ve been very impressed.
But what is coir compost exactly, and what are the biggest benefits of using it in your garden and for your house plants?
Disclaimer: This blog post does contain affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission on any sales. Please rest assure that everything included here is balanced and genuine.
What is coir?
Coir is the natural fibre derived from coconut husks, the rough brown shells that surround coconuts.
Sometimes referred to as simply coconut fibre, the material presents a rough, straw-like consistency that is quite easy to weave into all sorts of items. You can get fabrics like rugs and ropes made from coconut fibre.
Coconut coir is derived through a process called dehusking. This is where fully mature coconuts are first harvested before the fibrous layer of the fruit is manually or mechanically separated from the hard shell.
After collecting the fibre, the entire husk is soaked in water to soften the strands and separate the longer, more elastic bristles from the shorter ones. This allows the material to dry before tieing everything together into bundles.
How is coir compost made?
When it comes to manufacturing gardening compost, the coir has to go through an additional treating stage. This is because the fibres alone won’t be enough for enriching the soils with the nutrients it needs.
The coir can be enriched with key nutrients like calcium and magnesium.
Here the coconut coir is treated with heat and often compressed into blocks.
Currently, India and Sri Lanka are the world’s biggest producers of coir. While the coconut fibre is far from widespread in the world of gardening and composting, it is gradually becoming a lot more popular and accessible!
The benefits of using coir based compost
So, why is coir compost becoming so well-known among sustainable gardening enthusiasts?
Coir can be used as both a potting soil and as an ingredient you can add to potting mixes. It’s the perfect sustainable substitute for peat moss, the more popular soil conditioner on the market.
Peat, derived from sphagnum moss, is a growing medium that helps soil retain water, and in turn, retain more key nutrients for healthier and fast-growing plants.
Peat moss is definitely one of the most efficient mediums to use for your gardening needs, but it comes with a heavy environmental cost.
Sphagnum moss is mainly harvested in Canada, where unsustainable harvesting rates have become a real problem.
Peatlands store as much as a third of the world’s soil carbon, and as they are harvested and used, their carbon dioxide content is released — the leading greenhouse gas behind our GHG emissions and climate crisis.
On top of that, it takes centuries for sphagnum moss to grow enough to fill a bog, making peat moss a non-renewable resource!
In comparison, using coir compost for potting, bedding, or even for growing house plants can give you all the same water-retaining and nutrient-boosting benefits, while being (at least when it comes to carbon emissions) a lot more sustainable.
Coir breaks down a lot slower than peats, thanks to its high lignin content, providing additional soil structure and retaining moisture for a healthier garden.
Is coconut compost really sustainable?
The reason why this alternative is thought of as sustainable comes down to what coir compost is – a by-product of the versatile coconut tree.
Coconut trees are used for a wide variety of industries, as the hardwood can be used in construction and the fruits for a number of products like coconut meat and coconut water.
A great advantage to coconut trees is that they can easily be grown organically without the need of extra chemicals.
But there are some who doubt these eco credentials. Coconut tree plantations have been associated with troubling environmental consequences themselves, namely deforestation and habitat loss.
When it comes to coconut oil production, for example, figures report that coconut production affects more native species than any other oil crop, including palm oil! You can read more on coconut wax sustainability here.
And when it comes to coir production, we also have to consider the impact of transportation and the resources needed during the treating process, especially water use.
Currently, however, there are no studies diving into the carbon footprint of coconut coir production, leading conscious consumers to believe that using coir compost in place of peat compost is still a more eco-friendly choice.
How to use coir compost for your garden?
So, how can you start using coir compost in your garden?
Coconut coir, such as that from For Peat’s Sake, comes as a dried block of coco peat. This means you need to hydrate it first before spreading it in and around your plants.
It takes roughly 15 minutes to hydrate a coir compost block where it’ll grow in size by multiple times.
Since coco coir tends to retain a lot of moisture, you might only want to use it on plants that need high moisture levels all year round. If you want to keep your compost versatile, you might want to add in natural aerators like pumice stone, perlite, soil grit or I even use broken crockery and pots from the kitchen that I’ve smashed up to create smaller bits.
Once the compost is ready, you’ll be able to use it as a 100% organic fertiliser for your plants.
Coir compost is an efficient, natural, and sustainable way to provide better aeration, water retention, and drainage to your plants!
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.