Beans in Coir Pellets

A long time ago, in a garden far, far away I was introduced to peat pellets. Peat pellets came either as dry packed squares or in a netted gauze which you added water to for the 'wow factor'. It was, in those days, like being in a SF film as the netted gauze swelled and formed into a little seed pot. The market by then, as now, was saturated with peat products, from bags of compost to peat pots, peat was king. A few years ago the Horticulture industry set themselves the target of being peat free by 2020 but this target has now been shelved. We are all guilty of using peat, even if we don't use it in our garden it still pervades many of the plants and crops we buy. Peat extraction is damaging. It is difficult for most gardeners to understand the global damage peat extraction has on the climate and on the landscape. It is the modern version of strip mining that has blighted so many areas rich in coal and minerals. The simple fact is when you strip a peat bog to grow plants and then discard that peat afterwards in compost bins, rubbish bins or green bins you are making a mockery of a living thing. That bog will never grow back. Peat is in no way a sustainable product. You and I by using peat have advocated the destruction of wildlife habitats, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and killing all life down to a bacterial level. We all now know the carbon impact of peat, we know carbon is linked to global warming (along with methane, which is also locked up in peat bogs) but we are not yet as advanced enough to fully understand how and where peat sits in our food chain. For all life on Earth sits within a food chain as either pollinator, predator or prey. Any alternative to peat is positive and though coir has still got someway to go in terms of living wages meeting sustainability targets - we must never shy away from the truth around coir - but sustainable coir it is the right step forward.

coir pellet, life on pig row

The use of coir pellet, which like peat pellets expand when you add water, is rather mercenary. My back disability makes it hard to lift and one hundred of these dried pellets weigh less than a Sunday newspaper. They are incredibly easy to transport and in terms of costs stack up and outstrip use of multipurpose compost. It is for me the right step to take about limiting the use of plastic in our garden. We are slowly phasing out our use of plastics, many of our pots are coming to the end of their lives after a decade on this hillside and rather than embrace the new plastic pots that have fallen short of their recycling claim (most councils still won’t take them) we have sought to use a pot less systems. We have in the past used soil blocks but these again rely on soil blends to hold them together, and yes, in some blends peat sneak in. Instead I have turned to the world of hydroponics and the use of coir pellets which is prevalent in that industry. I have been experimenting with these, including sowing Cosmos Xanthos and Nasturtium Alaska. These are two different sizes of seeds, this allowed us to gauge how they deal with root and foliage growth. Since then we have tried sowing kale, lettuce, sunflowers and beans all with greater success rates of germination.

Coir

A common complaint about coir pellets is that they dry out quickly. However, when you water them they do retain water well but like any sown seed require attention on hot days. In other words you have to learn to water them and not assume that they are retaining water. This could be said of pot, cell and tray sowing. What is easier is there is no need to pot on or prick out and then when they are dry you can see the warning signs in the fact the net gauze they are in becomes baggy. I sowed Cosse Violette Purple Climbing Bean (Real Seeds, £2.82) in these pellets: one seed a pellet. The germination rate was 92% compared to 84% in pots. As stated, there was no need to prick out or separate, or even discard weaker plants, which is often the case in pot sowing where I was taught to sow three beans per pot and select the strongest growth to pot on. Growth in the coir pellets was uniform and the great thing about them when the roots showed through the mesh I knew it was time to harden off. This also combats a common problem in the greenhouse for gardeners, the root bound plant grown from seed, it is often easy to overlook or neglect plants in pots because we think they are happy. However, if you saw the root growth too you'd may think twice and the pellets allow you to do this. There were some hiccups, seeds germinating sometimes came out through the side but all this involved was a little TLC and tearing of the gauze to free the plant. Nasturtiums that we sowed over a month ago are now in open ground and growing well. It was just a matter of taking the pellet, plant and all, and plopping it in open ground after hardening off. For us at Pig Row it has become quickly apparent that these are the way forward for us. They have remained consistent throughout our seed sowing window and have actually sped up the process.  

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