From Coconut Tree to Coco Coir: How We Manufacture Coconut Coir
If you’ve ever wondered how brands turn coconuts into the ultimate cannabis cultivation medium, this blog is for you.
The coconut tree has been called the “tree of life” and the “Swiss Army knife” of the plant kingdom. And for a good reason. For centuries the large coconut seed has provided people with life-sustaining food and water. It was an essential staple for early explorers in the tropical regions and is still largely revered, if not worshipped today.
Besides providing food and water, the thick husk of the coconut can be stripped of its tough fibers to make marine rope, bristly doormats, baling twine, nets for shellfish harvesting, and geotextile blankets used to control erosion and promote the growth of grass and other ground covers.
In the late 1980s, scientists found a use for the waste product of the coconut that has caught on in a big way with farmers and gardeners. For years millions of tons of the coir pith have been piling up in India and Sri Lanka, where most coconut coir comes from these days. Today, the pith is being processed into a beneficial growing medium called coconut coir or coco coir, which can be used in hydroponics, potted plant production, home gardens, and cannabis cultivation.
The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm tree family. It has been cultivated for over 4000 years. Researchers have concluded that Austronesians, a large group of people that inhabit the southern Pacific and speak the same language, helped spread the cultivation of the coconut tree as they set up migration and trade routes over 2000 years ago. Much like Johnny Appleseed, this group of early explorers saw value in distributing coconut trees to sell and use as they explored and inhabited new lands.
A 2011 study identified two genetically different coconut subpopulations. One, they believe, originated from Maritime Southeast Asia, dubbed the Pacific group, and the other from the southern margins of the Indian subcontinent (the Indo-Atlantic group). The coconut trees ID’ed as the Pacific group confirm that the species was introduced by Austronesian sailors around 2000-1500 BP. These traits include a dwarf habit, self-pollination, and the round “Nui vai” fruit morphology or form.
Coconuts are harvested by gathering the mature fruit that has fallen on the ground or manually removing the tree’s fruit. Harvesters climb the 40-100 foot tall trees and can manually harvest about 25 trees in a day and up to 250 trees per day if they use a bamboo pole with a knife attached to the end. Although rare, trained monkeys have been known to harvest coconuts!
The Retting Process
Once harvested, coconut husks go through an extensive process to become the coir used in hydroponics and other growing situations. Since the husk of the coconut is so tough, it needs to go through a curing process called retting. The coconuts are soaked in either fresh or saltwater, partially decomposing the husk’s pulp through microbial action. This is where the coir pith comes from that can be used to manufacture coconut coir for growing plants.
Freshwater retting involves burying ripe husks in pits dug along riverbanks. The husks are either immersed in concrete tanks or suspended by weighted nets to keep them underwater. This process usually takes about six months.
Saltwater retting is a similar process, but it’s carried out in rivers near the ocean. Again, the husks are buried in pits.
At Riococo, we’ve automated the retting process, so it only requires 4-6 weeks of curing. The husks are cured in fresh water, and we closely monitor the product to ensure saltwater and other contaminants don’t enter the process.
The coconut’s fiber must be separated from the pith used to manufacture coco coir by manually beating the retted pulp with wooden mallets or by machines that employ flat beater arms operating inside steel drums. The fiber is then separated by hand or through automation. The clean fiber must then be spread out on the ground in the sun to dry.
The unprocessed bristle fiber that has been separated from the pith is simply rolled and tied into loose bundles and stored until it is time to ship it out to distributors and manufacturers around the globe. These fibers can also be processed on the spot by twisting the tough fibers into a thick yarn and bundling them.
After the pith is separated from the fiber, it will be packaged for shipment. Riococo packages processed coir in compressed bales and bricks to be shipped around the world. The finished coir can then be used in various horticultural applications, including cannabis cultivation, as mentioned above.
Supercharge your cannabis cultivation operations with industry-leading coco coir.