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What Is Coco Coir? 7 Reasons We Love It Plus a Few Dislikes

What is coco coir, and why do we love using it so much?  Coco coir comes from the brown pith around the white coconut meat, not from the coconut’s fibrous outside covering.

The coconut industry has found or made a product out of waste. Although, making coco coir from coconut waste is not an easy or straightforward process.

That video is one of the best we could find because it shows all of the processes (except one) separating the fiber, grinding the pith, composting the pith, and packaging the products for export. 

We’ll discuss this process more later on in the article.

What is Coco Coir, and How Is It Made?

Using coco coir in gardening and growing crops isn’t new. It was being used in the 1800s, but it was not widely exported because of its low fertility (can you say none) and high salt content.

Fast forward to today, with the advent of better liquid fertilizers and amendments, it has been rediscovered as an organic, environmentally sustainable soil substitute.

If you’ve handled a coconut in the grocery store, you’ve only seen the harvestable portion of the drupe.

What’s a drupe? I wasn’t sure either until I read that article.

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what is coco coir and how is it made

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You can see she is eating the white coconut meat covered in the hard, fibrous covering that we see in the store. But coconuts have a thick layer of pith (as you can see, a couple of inches thick) around what we call coconuts.

The pith is covered by smooth skin, green when not ripe, becoming brown as it matures when ready to fall from the tree.

The coco coir fiber used in mats, planter liners, and coco coir peat we use as a soil replacement comes from this thick pith layer.

This pith needs to be softened by composting before being processed.

Coconut husks gathered or processed for the meat inside need to go through a natural compost period.

coco coir comes from coconut pith

Composting Coco Coir Husks

Often this is done in brackish lagoon water to speed up decomposing and loosening of coconut pith fibers. Coconut fibers are tough, so they may need to soak for months.

Soaking in brackish water can add unwanted salt to the finished product. But luckily, coconuts are grown in the tropicals, so before they are processed, they are spread out so rain can wash off much of the salt.

Many larger coir producers allow the coconut husks to compost in piles on land instead of lagoons to reduce salt content.

Popularity Demands Change for the Coconut Coir Industry

As coco coir becomes more popular and in higher demand, the industry has added mechanical ingenuity to reduce the composting period drastically. Increasing strict product requirements from buyers has forced coir producers to reduce salt and provide better working conditions.

Hopefully, the industry will ensure even small producers improve safety, work conditions, and income. 

Video 2 – “Old School” Small Coco Coir Producer

Note: In my previous life, I often did environment and safety compliance work. While researching this article, I’ve never seen so many chains, gears, high-speed blades, and pinch points without machine guards in place. Scary.

Creating Coco Coir and Fiber

As shown in the video above, the next step is to separate the long coconut fiber from the smaller material that will become our microgreen soil. Steel combs remove the long fibers. The remaining material is chopped, cut, and ground into a fine material similar to peat moss.

One of the things we like about coco coir is that it still contains some of the more coarse pith and chopped fibers. The different textures allow the coir to drain better than peat. It also leaves more pore space for air to exist and roots to grow.

Packaging Coco Coir Fiber and Coco Coir Peat

Many products we commonly use are made from long coco coir fibers. These are shoved into a compactor and baled for easier transport. You can see that process at the 1:05 mark in the first video.

Our coco coir is usually composted and washed before it is dried and placed in a machine that compacts the small particles into bricks and blocks. Go to the 2:16 mark in the first video to see this in action.

How Much Coco Coir is in a Brick or Block

The compacted nature of the coco coir bricks and blocks makes the export of coco coir economically possible. The same can be said of peat moss with compacted bales.

Our understanding is that the industry-standard compaction ratio of coco coir bricks and blocks is 5:1 by volume.

So our Coco Bliss Coconut Coir brick measuring 8″ by 4″ by 2″ (64 cubic inches or 1.1 quarts) will expand when water is added to 5.5 quarts. 

what is coco coir brick

Note: We will test this in an upcoming video article on hydrating coco coir blocks. We are then comparing the cost to bagged soil. 

I think the ratio will be much higher, more like 8:1. But this is why Home Microgreens tests internet dogma.

We want to know. 

Pros & Cons of Using Coco Coir for Microgreens

It may be strange to list the pros and cons of using coco coir in an article titled What is Coco Coir. But I want to address why we recommend using coco coir over other mediums. We also have some reservations about using it as well. 

Pros and Cons of Using Coco Coir

Pros:

  • Renewable product 
  • Easier to ship larger quantities 
  • It wets well – goes from dry to moist quickly 
  • Wicks water well – easier to bottom water  
  • Drains well, less chance to overwater
  • Chemically neutral
  • It grows microgreens the best! It works.

Cons:

  • Worker safety
  • Low wages and working conditions  
  • Not sustainable
  • No nutrients 
  • Hydrating bricks correctly 

Cons of Using Coco Coir

First, let’s touch on the social aspect. 

Social: Worker Safety

Without any first-hand knowledge (I know, this is what I hate about the internet), I expect that working conditions in the coir-producing regions aren’t up to the standards that we expect in North America. 

In the second video, and the tens of others I watched, many people work in loose garments around chains and gears that don’t have mechanical guards. Most people aren’t wearing dust masks around the machines. Small fibrous coir strands can’t be good for the lungs.

Worker safety is essential. Some would say too much emphasis is placed on safety here in the States. That is until they get hurt, then they lawyer up. But we want everyone to go home in one piece after work. 

Social: Pay & Working Conditions

Again, I haven’t seen any pay stubs, but I expect the pay to be low, and the hours are long. 

But I’m also sure everyone needs to eat and pay their bills. So I’m not judging the workers’ choice of where to work.

More to the point, the owner’s decision not to provide better working conditions and compensation. The producers need to stand up to the buyer and demand more money.

Be sure that the companies buying the finished product make more money per unit than those making the coir. This upside-down economy has to change, the same one we see between grocery chains and farmers/producers.

Steps off the soapbox.

A while back, I saw a video about the coir industry’s sustainability and workers’ conditions. I wanted to put it in this article but couldn’t find it when needed. It showed the hardships of the workers to prove the point above. Hopefully, I’ll come across it again.

Environment: Not Sustainable

Before you lambaste me, let me say that coco coir is a RENEWABLE resource. We can produce more of it without shortage. 

But is coconut coir a sustainable product when transporting it halfway across the globe? According to all of the definitions I’ve read, this is not a sustainable practice

I wonder if we aren’t depleting local natural resources by removing so much organic matter from the coconut groves.

Usage: No nutrients

Pure coco coir has no inherent nutrients available for seedlings or plants to use. At least, this point is not dogma, as we have evidence that microgreens grown in pure coco coir do not grow as quickly or as large as those grown in potting mixes.

Dark Opal Basil after 19-days

On Day 19 of this Dark Opal Basil grow, you can see that the basil in the nutrient-poor coconut coir is falling behind the mixes. Left to right, pure coconut coir, Coco Loco Mix, and Happy Frog (peat-based) Mix.

Coco coir alone can’t sustain growth once the energy in the seed has been used up. However, adding a good liquid fertilizer, such as Ocean Solution, to pure coconut coir should add enough nutrients to grow awesome microgreens.

We ran a test using coconut coir and other potting mixes and adding Ocean Solution liquid fertilizer. You can see the results for yourself in the article photos. Growing microgreens on Terrafibre™ hemp matting worked wonders, so why wouldn’t it work with coco coir too.

Peat moss also does not have much, if any, natural nutrients. Pure peat moss is in the same nutrient-poor boat as coir. So adding any fertilizer will help. We love Home Microgreens Potting Mix because it contains natural fertilizers and there is no need to buy another product to help microgreens grow.

Usage: Hydrating Coco Coir Bricks

We are very particular about the amount of moisture in the soil we use. If you’ve read any of our planting articles, you’ve seen that we only wet the upper surface of the soil.

Excess moisture can only cause problems during germination. 

Coco coir blocks are brick hard and extremely dry. The only way to make these coir bricks usable is to soak the brick in water. This process isn’t an exact science – though we will try to make it so in a future article – and the coir contains a lot of moisture.

It’s a semi-controllable process, so you can get away with planting in a new batch of coir. But when storing the extra, here’s where the problems occur. 

We’ve ruined a lot of coir trying to store the extra. It’s usually too wet, and when you cover it, mold starts to grow. You can add air holes to the container or leave the cover off to let it dry out.

But this can cause fungus gnats to appear, or you forget to mix it up, and it starts to mold toward the bottom of the storage container. 

We don’t like to leave any soil, not growing plants, open to the air. Covered is better.

Pros of Using Coco Coir

There are a lot of things we love about coconut coir. Maybe not using 100% coconut coir as an ingredient in a potting mix.

Environment: Coir is Renewable

As mentioned, we don’t believe Coir is a sustainable product. Still, it is renewable, and it makes use of a waste product. We can plant more coconut groves with careful planning and produce as much coir as we need.

Canada is where most of the peat moss used in horticulture is mined. Here is an article explaining more of how peat moss is harvested and may not be as sustainable as some organizations suggest.

We realize that the Canadian peat moss associations report that they harvest peat moss responsibly. And that peat moss is forming faster than it’s being mined, but as a geologist, I know the volume of peat moss mined is more than is being created.

Currently, we believe in renewable over the sustainability of transporting coir. Plus, we have peat – more on this below.  But, our views may change in the future.

Transport: Coconut Coir Bricks and Blocks

Coconut coir can be compacted tightly, making transporting long distances easier.

We found the ratio of 5:1 in our research. Peat moss is reported to be a bit more than 2:1, maybe 2.5:1.

We will test this in a later article. Still, suppose you think about how much coir can be transported in a cargo ship and expand that by five times. In that case, you can understand why coconut coir can be transported economically.

Usage: Wetting Properties

We consider wetting coconut coir different than hydrating coir. The coir we use in our potting mix or in other loose-fill bags (not bricks) has already been expanded from blocks. The coir in the potting mix is dry or slightly moist in the bags.

You can’t squeeze any water out of the potting mix.

But when you mist or spray water on the coir, it immediately absorbs the water. Peat moss does not; it’s hydrophobic and is difficult to wet. You can see this in the photos and videos in this article.

The quick wetting of coir or a coir-based potting mix makes it easier to control the moisture during seeding and watering as the microgreens grow. 

If the coir dries out, it can be quickly re-wetted. In contrast, water sits on top of dry peat moss.

Many of the main brand commercial potting mixes containing peat moss add wetting agents to the mix. I have wrote an article on what wetting agents may contain. You might not want to use them after reading the article.

Usage: Wicking Properties

As quickly as coconut coir absorbs water, it drains excess water very well. It’s hard to over-water a coir-based potting mix if given a place to drain.

Now, you can over-water a tray of microgreens if you allow it to sit in water. Still, if the tray is elevated, the coir will self-regulate the moisture better than peat.

Part of this is because of the fibrous nature of coconut coir. 

It doesn’t compact as peat moss does, and water can run down the coir’s longer fibers instead of being collected in the leaf-like texture of peat moss.

However, coconut coir still has moisture in the fibers itself, and where fibers crisscross each other, forming pore space. Coir also retains air in these pore spaces making it an excellent growing media.

Usage: Draining Properties

As well as coconut coir wicks up water, it also drains well. It’s tough to overwater most microgreens when using coco-coir-based potting mixes. 

As long as the tray isn’t resting in water and there is a place for excess water to drain, coco coir will not retain too much water.

There are exceptions; Swiss chard, beets, and amaranth are sensitive to moisture, even in coco coir. But excess water retention is worst with peat moss or other potting mixes.

We believe the larger pore spaces and longer pieces of coir help water drain from coir-based potting mixes. 

Potting mixes drain better than pure coir because they have more pore space and avenues for water to move within the potting mix.

Usage: Neutral Properties

The chemical properties of coconut coir will not affect the ability of any plant to grow.  Chemical growing parameters can be easily controlled by the water and what you add to the water. 

Usage: It Works – With Additives

Of all the potting mix trials we have run, coconut coir potting mixes have grown microgreens equally or better than others.

When push comes to shove, all we want is results.

That is what coconut coir-based potting mixes will give you excellent results.

Using straight coir or pure coir (no additives) will not yield great results without organic liquid fertilizer.

We will be testing this soon and will report the results, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Thoughts and Recommendations with Coco Coir

We are pretty sure you can know our thoughts on coconut coir. Take a look at our articles on microgreen growing media. 

Coconut coir-based potting mixes perform the best. 

However, using 100% coco coir may not achieve the desired results. In our testing, pure coconut coir underperformed against potting mixes that contained peat moss and coconut coir.

Now, we haven’t tested watering coconut coir with liquid fertilizer as of yet. But we believe, based on our results with hemp matting and Ocean Solution™, that the coir & Ocean Solution together will grow microgreens very well.

Why We Use Coco Coir

We hope we answered the question, “what is coco coir?”

Coco coir is a renewable product. Even though it has to be transported long distances to use it, it is a better choice than the long-term renewability of peat moss.

The majority of companies that use coconut coir in their potting mixes or buy bricks of coir are, in our option, more socially accountable than other larger corporations. Hopefully, they will make a stand and pressure the manufacturers and growers to be more accountable for the workers’ health & safety.

We like that water immediately soaks into coconut coir and isn’t hydrophobic like peat moss. 

Coir holds water well but doesn’t retain too much, making it an excellent substrate for growing microgreens. 

The wicking ability of coco coir is such that bottom watering is the best way to water microgreens. 

The neutral chemical properties of coconut coir make it easy to include additives into the potting mix that will enhance microgreens’ growth. The neutral nature also makes coconut coir an excellent media for hydroponics. 

We Recommend These Coconut Coir Products

The Home Microgreens Potting Mix

This is the potting mix we use to grow all of our microgreens. It is a coconut coir-based mix with many natural additives that help grow beautiful microgreens!

home microgreens coco coir potting mix

Visit the Home Microgreens Store for more information on our potting mix.

More Information on Coconut Coir

Here are some answers to the more frequently asked questions I have received about coconut coir.

Can Coconut Coir Be Added to the Outside Garden?

Absolutely! I compost all of the coconut coir potting mix I use when growing microgreens and then add it to my heavy clay garden beds.

Not only can coconut coir be used as a potting mix or hydroponic medium, it can be added to the garden or landscape as a soil amendment. It is a good choice for plants that require well-draining soil, as it is able to hold a lot of water without becoming soggy. Or in raised beds to help retain more moisture.

Coconut coir is also a good source of air and holds added nutrients, which helps plants to grow healthy roots. However, I have found that using too much of it without adding heavier soils will need to be amended with fertilizer after a couple of years.

Is Coconut Coir What I See in Door Mats or Hanging Wire Baskets for Flowers?

Yes, there are many uses for coconut coir. Here are some other uses of coconut coir:

  • Matting: Coconut coir is often used to make mats, rugs, and doormats. It is a durable and water-resistant material that is easy to clean.
  • Textiles: Coconut coir can be used to make a variety of textiles, such as rope, baskets, and bags. It is a strong and durable material that is also lightweight and easy to work with.
  • Home décor: Coconut coir can be used to make a variety of home décor items, such as coasters, trivets, and plant pots. It is a natural and attractive material that can add a touch of tropical style to your home.

However, the coconut coir used for those purposes is more coarse and stringy. Not great for potting mix.

How Do You Pronounce “Coir”

I am not the one to ask this question to. I butcher every name or hard to pronounce word.

I often get lazy and say “core’, because adding emphasis to syllables takes energy… Where I’m from it is common to shorten vowel sounds. So to answer that question I went to Mr. Google. The answer is: ˈkȯi(-ə)r. Whatever those symbols mean.

I knew the answer, but still not going out of my way to pronounce it that way.

Where is Coconut Coir Produced?

Coconut trees grow primarily in tropical countries, and that is where the coir is produced.

The top producers of coconut coir are:

  • Sri Lanka
  • India
  • Philippines
  • Indonesia
  • Mexico
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Colombia
  • Panama

These countries produce over 90% of the world’s coconut coir. The production of coconut coir is often the major industry in these countries.

Doesn’t Coconut Coir Contain a lot of Salt?

Not in my experience. I’ve never had a problem growing microgreens or other plants in coconut coir. I believe this question or the complaint that coir is high in salt is because coconut coir is composted before it is processed. One because it has to be stockpiled in greater quantities than the processing plant can handle per day. Like any business you need a surplus of product to work with.

But also, because the weathering and composting helps break down the tough stringy fibers. So proponents to coir (read that as peat producers) say that the coir is sitting in mangroves or other brackish wetlands to compost.

While this may be true, you also have to realize that these places are the rainiest places in the world and the piles are leached of salt due to the rain fall.

Plus, the major coconut coir brands rinse the coir before processing. One to remove salt and two to reduce dust. In fact, the labels on many of the bricks of coconut coir I have seen say they have been triple rinsed.

But from personal experience, I have never had a salt problem with coconut coir.

Is Coconut Coir Acidic – What is the pH of Coconut Coir?

I have to laugh when I hear this question, whether it is with peat moss, coir, or even coffee grounds.

No, coconut coir is not too acidic. It is slightly acidic, with a pH of around 5.5 to 6.5 which is perfect for releasing the nutrients locked up in soil. I will have to do an article on pH in soil. There is a lot of confusion on what is a good pH, and also how pH is measured in soil.

Soil isn’t tested for pH itself. What is tested or measured is the ionic strength of the leachate that comes from the soil. But more on that in a later post.

The short answer is no, coconut coir is the perfect medium for most plants.

When I get more questions, I’ll add more answers to this article.

I hope you got something out of it.

Author

  • Todd

    Todd is the founder of Home Microgreens & the Home Microgreens store. He also writes for several other websites, including MyViewFromTheWoods.com. Todd worked at a large farm market, garden & nursery center for 20 years. Somehow he snuck off to become a geologist and professor before coming back to his senses to write & lecture about microgreens and gardening. When not at the computer, he can be found in the garden, trout stream, or mountain trail with his new Springer Spaniel Caden.

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