Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Coconuts in an Alabama Garden!

Unfortunately, you'll be hard-pressed to find a coconut tree anywhere near the Arboretum, but coconuts have a role of their own here nonetheless!
Working in the garden over the course of the semester, I have encountered more coconut-derived products than I could have ever anticipated. Coconut fiber has emerged as a commonly used garden material, due to its sustainable production, inexpensiveness, and reliability!

At the arboretum, I have seen the fiber, which is called coir, used as a border for beds, a mat for tomato plants, and a lining for large window planters.

Coir can be roped together and laid around the outer edge of a flower or herb bed as a border, like around our greenhouses above. It looks beautiful, as here by the arboretum greenhouses, while keeping the beds defined to prevent feet from treading on delicate plants.

When pressed into a mat, coconut fiber can be placed at the base of larger, upward growing plants (like our baby tomatoes) to act as a powerful mulch. The mat effectively keeps weeds down, while trapping moisture and nutrients for the plants to use later.

The planters that we ordered came with a coir lining already in place, which will as well serve many purposes other than just acting as a holder for the soil; the fiber will retain water and nutrients for our container plants too.

Although not currently underway at the arboretum, coconut fiber is increasingly being used as a substrate to start seeds and also as a soil ammendment, often in place of peat, which, although unquestionably useful anf beneficial for growing, is typically harvested by open-pit mining in peat bogs, which proves highly environmentally unfriendly.

Besides the already mentioned benefits that coconut fiber can offer to plants, a primary reason that we at the garden have opted to use it is due to its sustainable qualities. Coir is an inedible part of the coconut plant, so is otherwise treated as a waste product. The trees grow abundantly and quickly in the tropical regions of the planet where coir is usually produced, so it is a highly renewable resource, unlike peat, which forms in bogs over a matter of thousands of years, eventually to become coal. Coconut fiber is also compostable after use, so will benefit our garden long after its original use!

No comments: