Coco Coir Makes an Earth-Friendly Alternative to Peat Moss

Avid gardeners know this problem well. We can’t leave for summer vacation without making sure we have a dedicated friend, neighbor or family member who will promise to come over every couple of days to water the garden.

But, as you look ahead to your summer planting (and vacation planning), a new product at Wolff’s is sure to come in handy. Organic coco coir from GAPS EcoSys in Broomall holds and releases water slowly, so your garden will not need to be watered as frequently—only every week to ten days for outdoor gardens and every two weeks for indoor plants. Dr. Ponniah Selvakumar, CEO of GAPS EcoSys, explains that coco coir is made from coconut fiber, and this natural fiber is very “spongy.”

Saving water and labor is not the only benefit GAPS coco coir brings. Selvakumar, who goes by Selva, notes that this plant-based material has an added bonus of naturally adding many helpful nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, to the soil.

Not only that, coco coir is eco-friendly, biodegradable, and offers a sustainable alternative to peat moss. Spaghnum peat moss grows very slowly in bogs, gaining less than one millimeter in depth per year, which means it takes millennia for it to reach a form that gardeners can use. Peat moss harvests have to be carefully regulated because peat provides a valuable habitat for rare plants and animals.

On the other hand, coco coir, sometimes known as “cocopeat,” is considered quite sustainable. In fact, this soil amendment is made from a byproduct that, for many years, no one had found a use for. Coconut fruit had long been used, and even the long fibers from the husk could be used in many of the ways hemp can be: rope, doormats, brushes, and even upholstery stuffing. But the short fibers left over after coconuts’ long fibers have been removed did not find a use until recently. So finding a highly beneficial way to use these short fibers means that they don’t just go to landfills! And unlike peat bogs that develop over thousands of years, coconut palms only take six to ten years to produce fruit after germination.

Why We Love Selva’s Coco Coir

When it comes to gardening, the source of your materials is always important. Selva produces GAPS EcoSys products on his family farm in India and produces the coco coir blocks in his own factory. This allows him to monitor the quality carefully at all steps in the process. His family has been in the coconut business in India for two decades, and began importing coco coir in 2015. Not only does Selva have a family background in working with this plant, he also has a PhD in biotechnology and has studied the science of plant-based materials.

Not only that, GAPS EcoSys coco coir is organic, listed through OMRI, an organization that provides an independent review to assess whether products meet organic standards.

How to Use Coco Coir

Blocks of coco coir may look small, but a little goes a long way since gardeners add water until the block expands to many times its original size. (Watch this video from GAPS Ecosys to see how it’s done.) Holly Thorpe, Wolff’s resident Penn State Master Gardener, explains that an 11 lb. block expands to provide 2 cubic feet of coir, “enough to fill a large wheel barrow,” she says.

After the coco coir has expanded, mix it with soil. If your soil is poor or if you are using raised beds, add some organic fertilizer like composted manure, organic humus or mushroom compost. You may not need to use as much fertilizer as usual. Holly points out that plants usually use up the nutrition in potting soil and periodically need more fertilizer, “and because they need to be watered frequently, some of the nutrition gets washed out.” This does not happen as quickly when using coco coir since it retains water so well. “Using the coco coir will help retain some of the nutrients and will provide some of its own nutrition.”

“It will also be great for people who are building raised beds for vegetable growing (or any raised garden, for that matter),” Holly adds. “It’s great for lightening up the soil and for water retention. Add the coco coir and compost and you are good to go!”