Is there some magic ingredient that can prevent potted soil from getting hardened and caked up over time? An ingredient that can keep the soil loose, which in turn enables roots to spread out easily, enjoy more breathing space and aeration, and consequently achieve better plant growth? Well, the answer can be found in the humble coconut fibre, which is now being processed and marketed as coco peat.
Additional benefits of coco peat are that this fibrous, spongy and light-weight material brings down the weight of the potted growing medium, and also helps the soil retain moisture for a much longer time because of the water absorptive and retentive nature of the fibre, which means that you need to use less water and water your plants after far longer intervals. “In many houses, the soil is too clayey or sandy to support plants. Besides adding fresh soil and manure, coco peat can be used to cure clayey soil (since it helps to break it up) and sandy soils (as it enables moisture retention)”, says Navneeth Raghavan, environment and landscape architect.
Coco peat becomes especially crucial when the plant is given liquid growth stimulators like panchakavya, the indigenous growth-stimulating manure derived from cow products, as the peat prevents rapid evaporation of the liquid panchakavya.
Coco peat is produced as coir dust, a by-product during coconut husk processing, while making coir and other products. The processed coir dust becomes coco peat and is a very good growing medium for plants.
It is emerging as a good alternative to mined peat moss and is used in homes, gardens and horticulture centers for seed starting, bedding plants, container plants, and more.
Home-made coco peat
For a small home garden, you really don’t need to buy processed coco peat. Each time you de-husk a coconut, you will notice the wheat-brown fibre strands along the sides of the coconut, some even turning powdery as you handle it. “Collect these fine fibres and the powder too, and chop the fibres to bits. Now you have home-made coco peat that you can add to the soil in your pots or plant beds. But discard the thick and tightened bunch of fibres at the top of the coconut (called the ‘kudumi),” says S.S. Radhakrishnan, who has been helping scores of people set up kitchen gardens in their houses. Coco peat has a slow degradation rate.
“Adding fresh coco peat about once in three months suffices, when the soil seems to need it,” says Navneeth.