Monday, August 22, 2011

Coco coir and seeds

     Planting seeds and watching them sprout is one of my favorite parts of horticulture.  Something about putting a seed in a medium and watching a new life form emerge gets me every time.  I look for excuses to start new seeds as often as possible.  And in my experience I've found coco coir to be one of the most efficient and easiest ways to start seeds.
   Coco coir is made from the fibers in the husks of coconuts.  A quick search on google will give you more detail, but what coco coir is is not what I'd like to focus on right now.  I will tell you that it often comes in a dried, compressed brick.  You add water to the brick and it expands profoundly.  Many indoor garden stores sell coco, but I usually buy it at the pet store.  It's sold in the reptile department as a floor mat.  Go with the bricks.  I've found that the coir that comes in a bag doesn't soak up moisture all too well.  One of the best characteristics of coco coir is that it breaks down very slowly, so it can be reused for quite some time before it has to be discarded.  And at that point it can be thrown in a compost pile.

Pole bean emerging from coco coir

     I seed in coco because it there is less waste.  If you plant directly into planter pots, rockwool, or another medium there will be wasted space or resources if some of the seeds don't germinate.  With coco, on the other hand, little space is taken up during the seeding process and if seeds don't germinate you still have coco for the next round.  The steps I take while seeding in coco coir are as follows:
  1.  Buy a brick of coco coir.
  2. Unwrap the brick and place it in a 5 gallon bucket or large bowl and add water.  The packaging will likely tell you how much to add.
  3. Once the brick has absorbed water and has expanded the coco can be mixed up to ensure even distribution of the moisture.  Then it can be placed in a container for seeding (food storage containers work great).
  4. Using a pen or something similar poke holes in the coco to place the seeds into.
  5. Plant several seeds in each hole and label to distinguish varieties (dates are also useful).  Once planted, the seeds can be covered over with coco.
  6. Place the containers in an area with some light, room temperature is fine.
  7. Monitor the containers for seed growth and to ensure that the coco remains moist.
  8. When seedlings emerge and are roughly an inch long they can be pulled from the coco.  I like to use a knife to loosen the coco around the seedlings and pry them up.  You have to be careful not to damage the taproots or the seedlings will die.  This is also important to remember when separating the seedling from each other.
  9. Plant however you were planning to grow.  The seedlings can be placed in soil, rockwool, perlite, etc.
High density seeding

     Then the coco is ready to be used again.  If you don't need it at the time you can store it in a bag big enough to contain all that you have left over.  I would allow the coco to dry out before storing to cut back on any fungus or mold growing on it.  Using this method you can propagate seedlings in a very high density with a high percentage of success.  Personally, I love this method.  And I certainly think it's a lot better than planting directly into rockwool, which is the medium I most often use for my aquaponic applications.

Owner/operator of Trinity Aquaponics
Brendon Tripp

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