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Amended this area with Coir when I seeded fall beets in my spring Swiss Chard Bed. I took out all the summer annual plants that had passed their prime and made room for fall veggies. Coir is helping keep the bed moist during times we have no rain.

I am open to change because without change we never grow. I only keep the same habits if they produce great results. I never take the word of anyone. I have to check things out for myself if I can. I have been reading a lot about Coir or Cocotek ( organic brand I used this growing season )  which  is the natural fiber from the husk of the coconut. It is used to make a wide variety of products as floor mats, rugs, ropes, brushes, doormats, mattress filling and upholstery to name a few and  it is considered a renewable resource. I have been amending my soil on our city lot for years, but this year I did not want to continue using peat.

Here are the steps I took to amend soil and start fall seedlings in our succession plantings through the growing seasons

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place the coir in a container large enough for it to expand
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Fill it with water to the edges and watch it grow! Some people worry about the salt content in Coir, but Cocotek is a bit lower sodium which I did not rinse more than just soaking in the water. I did not have any problems when I added it to the soil. The plants did fine. I did rinse it in a bucket with holes when I added it a bit thicker. I just squeezed the water out which was not difficult.
I weeded an area where I wanted to start a new fall vegetable bed…then I use newspaper as the first layer
spread the coir on top of the newspaper
I love the texture of coir it blends in the garden well
I love the texture of coir better than peat it blends in the garden well
It does not take long for the seeds to germinate and take off…

Through my research I have found we are depleting our peat bogs and they are in threat just as much as our rain forests. Peat is not an excellent choice for those wishing to create a sustainable garden for it is not considered a renewable resource. Due to this fact, I decided to quit using peat on our city lot and wanted to implement the use of Coir in all the phases of our urban potager from starting seeds, growing seedlings, and amending the soil structure.

A large bush was in this area and we took it out in hte middle of the summer so now we have only one large Rose of Sharon growing which will be reduced in size soon.
A large bush was in this area and we took it out in the middle of the summer so now we have only one large Rose of Sharon growing which will be reduced in size soon.

Most people do not realize that peat takes hundreds of years to form. Coir comes from coconuts and it does not take many years to form which means it is considered renewable.I have been reading arguments on “peat vs coir”  for the past few years. I have been sitting on the fence about this issue and did try a variety of growing mediums this year for seed starting. I have found peat moss not to be a good seed starting medium. I have had problems with it getting too soggy, some seeds did not germinate well and I also found a lot of sticks, rocks, and bulkiness in the medium which hindered the development of the young seedlings.

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This area was shaded by the large bush we took out but now it is a new site to mix annual vegetables, flowers and herbs with perennials in our Urban Potager

I tried a variety of organic (OMRI certified)seed starting mediums that were all mixed with peat at various percentages this spring and fall. I found that  many of the different seed starting mixes had a lot of pests in the soil after I used them in my pots! It was a horrible year with little bugs crawling out of some of the organic soil starting mixes I used. I  finally tried coir for seed starting and had great results. It was very clean and no bugs were crawling out, but you have to remember once the small seedlings have their first true leaves to provide them with the nutrients they need for proper growth. I use Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fish/Seaweed Blend Fertilizer  on my seedlings to provide the nutrients after the first true leaves form. I will be working with coir and Neptune fish-seaweed blend to see how the seedlings grow this next spring. I have started many of my microgreens in a thin layer of coir and it is working out quite well. They sprout in a few days and since they are harvested before the first true (cotyledon) leaves form I have had no problems. Great germination when I use Coir( some people mix other growing mediums with coir, I used straight coir for germination, but realize I need to add something to the soil to supply nutrients for the plants. That I am still experimenting with this year.

Love to mix french marigolds with kale
Love to mix french marigolds with kale

I finally decided to do my own experiments this fall in my new garden beds with coir. We took out a  bush that was getting too large for the space and really not doing too well since the drought of 2012. Cocotek does not have as much salt in it  as other sources for coir so I only rinsed it when I soaked it. My plants are doing fine so far, but we shall see as they grow.Once I cleared the garden beds of debris and weeds I placed a sheet of newspaper on top of the garden soil. I then spread the coir on top of the newspaper,seeded my fall crops densely, and lightly covered the seeds with a thin layer of earthworm castings. I built several new beds Wednesday + Thursday last week and was away for the weekend.  I returned Sunday and all my beds were filled with germinated seeds! I consider that pretty amazing.I was a bit surprised that they germinated that soon. I have to admit some of the success could be quality seeds which I am sure helped, but I have never had my seeds germinate that quickly in the late summer garden!

China Aster blooming wiht marigolds and Kale
China Aster blooming with marigolds and Kale

This approach to seeding a fall bed is a new approach for me and it will be interesting to see how using coir benefits the garden soil. Will it make it lighter? Will it help retain water during times of drought? I like to  experiment and see if something is a better approach. I read a lot about what others are doing and then take a bit from everybody and adapt it to my growing area. Sometimes it works and sometimes it flops! Part of creating a sustainable garden is to find ways that nurture Mother Nature so we need to experiment sometimes to learn what works best.

succession planting is learning to make room for new crops as older ones slow down…here is purple pole beans slowing down and fall /winter salad greens are sprouting near by to keep food production going throughout the seasons…

 I am curious to see what I can learn about this renewable product and how it  will contribute to our urban potager. At this point in time, I would say it gets high marks for germinating seeds, but how does it work with older seedlings in the spring. I also am curious how well it amends the soil, helps it retain moisture, work with older seedlings and what I need to add to the coir to get nutrients to the seedlings….this will be the year I discover + learn about this renewable resource for gardening.So this year will be the ” Year of Coir”….

 

Lavatera trimestris ‘Pink Beauty is another plant I enjoy mixing in our vegetable beds….

update: Coir is not the same product as Cocoa Mulch. Here, is an article to explain the confusion of the two products. Hope this helps since Coir is not poisonous to dogs.

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

56 comments

  1. Hmmm, this is the first time I heard about Coir… looks like it has a nice touch to it… your chard looks so healthy, and your garden so lush… and the asters so, so pretty…

    1. HI Lrong:-) Your Molokhiya seeds you sent me are growing great. I will be eating it soon since it is large enough now. I am a bit nervous that I will not do it right, but eager to try it out. It is exciting to try new veggies. I had heard about Coir before with the use in hydroponics, but I am finding it useful for our garden. We have drought in our area + it made me ponder..would it work to help our soil? Well, worth the try:-) I started that Chard in the spring that is why it is so big. I did not start it in the garden. The critters would eat it , but when it is started in spring it does great by this time of year. I love the Golden Swiss Chard ( French Heirloom). It handles the cold the best. I love this time of year with all the fall blooms and fall salads!

  2. I just LOVE LOVE your Potager! So beautiful. I have not spent enough time in mine (sigh). I use coir seed starting mix and it works wonderfully! I also use fish fertilizer. I haven’t used coir in my beds or coconut husks because I read they are poisonous to dogs? I’ll just continue to pile on the compost come Fall. Those beans, everything, looks luscious!

    1. Thank you for making this comment since it needed to be addressed. They are two different products and I had no idea people might confuse the two, but they do:-)YIKES….I knew about cocoa mulch , but for a second there I was not sure-lol..but I checked it out to make sure. They are two different products. phew…( long sigh). Found that wonderful blog post by a blogger on the difference..thank goodness! I have dogs so I would not want them to be harmed!

    1. To us it is a place to escape from stress when it gets a bit crazy some days:-) It does calm one so in away it is our paradise…some other people may feel a bit stress in our garden since I like a more natural look + they might like neat rows etc-lol.They use coir a lot in hydroponics + after my bug infestation from some other organic soil starting mixes, I decided to try something new. I am just learning about it myself. It is an interesting medium to grow with:-) We shall see how it works in different situations:-)

    1. Hi Wendy:-) shoot it is expensive:-( that would stink. Here you can get it pretty cheap:-) I wonder why it is so expensive where you live. They use it in hydroponics here but it can be expensive if you don’t have access to a garden center/place to purchase it. There are things in our country that are more epensive than other places. Did you purchase it special for the ferns? Did they respond to it?

      1. We had pulled up ugly orange tiles to make a fern garden but the ground was hard and horrible. This made the soil beautiful and friable, just gorgeous to use and those first ferns we put in did really well. The second fern garden hasn’t had it and struggles a bit. It $30 a bag here, just out of the question in a garden our size much as we would love to use it more. We get pea straw etc off the farm for nothing so just keep layering that on.

      2. Holy Cow!!! That is expensive! How big is the bag? That is like Rock Dust (up to 30 for 50pounds) that I wanted to put in my soil that stuff is expensive. I wanted to feed the soil that for providing more nutrients to the soil and us but it would of cost me hundreds of dollars to work it into my soil…no way could I do that…sounds like you have a good solution + free!

  3. As usual Robbie you write an interesting and inspiring post! I am always impressed with the amount of research you do and often make little notes which I may or may not refer back to when I am gardening myself 🙂 I usually research after the fact, when it has all gone horribly wrong……. 🙂 I so applaud your move to coir – I know of it but did not know how to use it. Now I do! Your garden is looking like a Paradise!

    1. Hi Pauline:-) I am not an expert on this stuff since I am just learning but it is very interesting to work with:-)I like the texture and I even like the color-silly me! I would think it would be useful to mix in your containers,too:-) I will be writing more about microgreens this winter + I will show you how coir works great for microgreens! Oh Paradise is going to be turning more brown here soon since our rain is far and few between. They said today we have had 7 days of rain this summer! Very cool weather so I did not pay attention. Imagine if it was 90 degrees and we had only 7 days of rain things would be starting on fire here! Mother nature does work it out though:-) Looking forward to reading about your garden soon as mine retires….fall is around the corner-but asters have yet to bloom!

  4. Great post, Robbie. Thanks for sharing your research with us. Good to know about the high sodium in coir.
    My son just walked in & told me that it inhibits soil microbial activity. Keep us posted on what you see in the garden. The seedlings seem to love it!
    Lastly, I must say that your photo of the lavatera is stunning – you caught its luminescence perfectly!

    1. I really like the lavatera + it is a lovely plant with such a soft pink:-) Interesting with the ability to “inhibit soil microbial activity” which would be good with germination, but not so good for plants later:-)hmmm..need to add nutrients( like hydroponics). I see it as a possible “poitive” additon in small amounts to help the soil retain water( but that needs to be observed:-)….here is more detailed information on coir…

      http://www.hydroponics.com.au/coir-sustainable-growing-media/

      I will add it in small amounts as a top dress layer to fall vegetable seeding + see how it helps with the soil structure. We have such terrible drought here( midwest) so it might be helpful( we shall see)as an interesting additon to our soil. I did find when I added it to the base with worm casting this spring the worms were hiding in it at the base of my plants:-) They loved it!

      1. lol:-) true! I have read it is the best bedding for worm composting due to water retention so that might be why i found them hanging out in it:-)

  5. I always love coming to Palm Rae Urban Potager because your blog is so beautiful Robbie 🙂 Here in Australia we don’t get a lot of peat but we do get a lot of coir. It’s the predominate ingredient in most of our potting mixes. I find that it dries out very quickly and takes a lot of water to keep moist but that might just be our local growing conditions, here in Northern Tasmania we have long dry summers. Not particularly hot, but bone dry and I would need to add more mulch on top of moist coir before I could use it here in our gardens. It would just dry up and blow away. I love your garden. I live vicariously through it 🙂

    1. You are really sweet but today it is so hot out there I don’t want to even be out there! It is starting to dry up and I don’t want to water too much since it would be useless. Things are disappearing and won’t be back until next year:-( Cycle of life… I do understand what you mean about dry. I used the coir on top of the soil ( thin layer) hoping that it would help with soil moisture retention since they say it aids in moisture retention. We shall see:-) hmmm…I always have to try something they tell me will work well since it does not always work for me-lol. I have found it works great starting seeds. They are up within days! I am not kidding:-) I was stunned how well it germinated seeds. I will have to post again after I have seedlings growing a bit to see how they do as they grow before being put in the garden. I will add fertilizer since the coir won’t have much in it for the poor little plants.
      If you grow microgreens it works amazing for small microgreens!
      Your country sounds a bit more progressive than ours since coir is the way they are going:-) We have mostly peat + coir in a few places now.

      1. We don’t have peat naturally here in Australia (much) and we are right smack bang in the middle of Asia so coconut coir was the way to go. I doubt it was anything to do with being progressive, more “cheap and available” ;). We were progressive by default ;). All I know is that potting mix that contains a lot of coir tends to dry out badly so I avoid it like the plague. We have conditions a bit like California here in Norther Tassie but we get rain in the winter… sort of like visiting the Med when you are stuck on the bottom of Australia apparently ;). I have just been researching drought tolerant plants as I am over having my soil redistribute itself down the driveway every year from bare baked hard clay and am going to start finding plants that will grow happily in our conditions rather than trying to get that pretty cottage garden look. There are lots of lovely plants that grow well including echinacea and I might just get seeding ASAP in order to take advantage of their prettiness next year :). Wish me luck…our long dry is only just cusping!

      2. Have found cosmos to be great for drought:-) ( Cosmos sulphureus) is drought tolerant + I used it at the end of my driveway + it survived the drought of 2012. Our midwest is cruel with humidity and drought:-(Cosmos will reseed( or you collect the seed easily) the next year. Do not grow Cosmos bipinnatus ( well just what I have found in my garden) since it did not do too well in the drought here this year + the foliage is a bit shaggy not holding up to the hot days. The cosmos sulphureus leaf foliage is lovely and holds up much better in hot weather. Cosmos suophureus is a lovely yellow, orange + red-orange colors. I have found echinacea to be great for a drought toleratnt area, also rudbeckia, grasses, russian sage, nepta and zinnias have done well in our soil. I mix the annuals and perennials. I do give them an early morning pop of water once every few weeks if it is extremely dry and that is all they need and they even survive if I forget:-) I know what you mean about the cottage garden look. I love that look but I have learned to like annuals /perennials that have the same look but do not fall apart without water. I have found cleome to be a nice one to add to the garden to give that cottage look.

      3. That’s an impressive selection Ms Robbie 🙂 Thank you for that, I am a tree/shrub person and annuals and perennials are a foreign but delicious area of horticulture that I haven’t set foot much in so far. I will take those names and go seed hunting as we are on the cusp of spring here and I am going to let the seed that wants to grow, grow. Much like Masanobu Fukuoka and his gardening techniques. I thought I might make some seed balls and see how that goes in my side garden. I have wallabies to contend with so hopefully these drought tolerant annuals and perennials are not tasty to the little furry munchers 😉

      4. lol…love the idea seed bombs…:-) I have been talking about that with my friend that I bike with and we want to see more pollinator friendly plants along the river. They spray sometimes + we want to see more free flowing native flowers! Yep..seed bombs the way to go!

      5. Let me know we can get you some seeds:-) I can keep some from my plants, but how would we get them to you:-) They would not let them be imported?

      6. If the seeds are not veggie seeds I don’t think it is as hard to import them. I have purchased seeds from the U.S. before…might have to look into it. How amazing would it be if we could all share some of the seed from our gardens with each other and end up with an amazing, eclectic, world-wide garden of greater friendship?! Even if we just sent each other a couple of endemic water wise hardy all purpose native type seeds from our own area in bought packets as they are the most likely to get through customs…

      7. LOL now I NEED a photo of that! You guys could make money…”The seed clown ladies” and you could hire yourself out as dual purpose children’s entertainers and garden planners at the same time. The best bit is that you get to ride around the gardens of others throwing seeds (and party favours…gotta keep the kids happy 😉 ) and then grab your money and go…sort of like Superman but more environmental. “My work here…is DONE!” (now pay me and I shall be gone fine woman! 😉 )

      8. Go on! You could start a whole new career! Healthy exercise, a unique business idea/plan and you could probably get some kind of grant to start it as it satisfies and ticks SO many boxes. Thank me later 😉

      9. I think that annual flower seeds and perennial flower seeds would be much easier to get through customs. We have purchased seed (tree) from the U.S. before and had no problems at all 🙂

      10. HAHAHA! I am always going to think of you as “The Seed Clown” now 😉 I shall return the favour. We have some amazingly strange native plants here that are only endemic to Tasmania. Remember the Gondwanaland idea? Where the world was once all joined up together? Well Tasmania sort of backs up that claim as we have plants here that are only found elsewhere in Chile and if you look at the world map of Chile, Tassie fits nicely into it’s parameters. Amazing stuff :).

  6. Robbie
    Your garden is absolutely gorgeous…. Congratulations!.
    The flowers and green plants make a wonderful team… A dreamlike scenario adorned with magic blends…
    Thanks for sharing. Best wishes and happy weekend ahead to you,
    Aquileana 😀

    1. Aquileana:-)they are a wonderful team:-) Nature and plants work together to create magic. We were outside, late afternoon yesterday + 3 butterflies at the same time (not the cabbage worm ones) but
      beautiful, large black + gold swallowtails. A goal last fall was to build more gardens ( by mixing vegetables and flowers) butterfly and bee friendly plants this year. Have noticed a decline in butterflies in our area so set out to put more host plants + it was magical seeing them float by as bees were humming:-)
      Happy weekend to you too:-)

    1. I am finding it to be useful in the garden, but I know it is hard to find locally somtimes. I have found a few sources. I just mix it in where I want to establish a better water retention:-) I shall see how it works over the next year. I really like it for seed starting:-)

    1. Those are the ones from Monticello Seed shop. I got the seed a few years ago + save it every year. The first year I had some stray pinks( just did not collect thier seed but they were pretty,too:-), but really enjoy the all purple single china aster which are difficult to find. You can get the mixed single bloom china asters, but the single blue/purple. I prefer single blooms since they are better for the bees + other pollinators. They are huge with a lovely golden center. I gree they are vibrant:-)

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