What is Coir?

Hydroponic gardeners use coir as a growing medium in place of soil. In traditional horticulture, coir is used as a substitute for peat moss.

Coir, another name for Coco Peat, is simply the fibers removed from the outer shell of a coconut. As it is 100% natural and biodegradable, it is popular with both organic and hydroponic gardeners. The vast majority of Coco peat comes from Asia, in particular India and Sri Lanka but countries in the Caribbean and Mexico also produce coir.

One of the main reasons that Coco peat is popular amongst gardening enthusiasts is that it is resistant to bacterial and fungal growth. An interesting fact about the Coco peat that comes from Mexico is that it is populated with a beneficial fungus which acts as a biological control against pathological fungi.

Coco peat has several characteristics which make it popular with both the hydroponic and traditional gardener:

  • Retains water and is able to store 8 – 9 times its weight in water.

  • Has a pH of 5.2-6.8 which makes it potentially acidic. Hydroponic gardeners should be careful to adjust pH as required when using Coco peat.

  • Renewable and according to literature can be reused for up to four years.

  • Stores and releases nutrients for extended periods of time.

  • Great oxygenation properties which assist in root development.

Coco peat typically comes in two formats, loose or compressed. The compressed form is more common due to the fact that it is easier to ship and takes up less space. It is typically shipped as bricks which can be broken into smaller pieces and then re-hydrated.

In hydroponic systems, coco peat is typically mixed, at a ratio of 50/50, with pumice or coarse perlite to provide some drainage. This type of medium is recommended for intermediate to advanced hydroponic gardeners due to the fact that the saline effect will vary from one brand of Coco peat to another. During the hydration stage, the runoff should be checked to see how much dissolved solids are being introduced into the system.

Chamomile: Nature’s Dreamcatcher

By: Charlene Rennick

Chamomile is an attractive addition to any garden.  It is a tiny, shrub-like plant that sprouts an abundance of delicate white and yellow blossoms similar to a daisy.  Its tendril-like leaves are soft and feathery.  Chamomile is a good candidate for early germination in hydroponic gardens.  It can be moved outdoors when the weather is warmer and harvested as needed. Chamomile has been cultivated for its medicinal properties since the beginning of the first millennium. 

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Seed Vaults Preserve Our Ecosystem

By: Charlene Rennick

Seed vaults protect ecosystems by preserving stored species of seeds.  An ecosystem consists of a combination of interactions between all beings, living and nonliving, in a given physical environment.  Each organism has a role to play; it has both an effect on the other life forms and is acted upon by the other organisms in its environment.  The ecosystem works because each individual organism is inter-dependent upon the others for its survival.  Removing one life form from the order disorganizes and compromises the entire system’s continued existence.

Insects Cultivate Plants

Insects are vital to an ecosystem. Certain insects are attracted to particular plants which become pollinated as the bug moves from plant to plant.  Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants.  If people spray or remove milkweed, it restricts the opportunities that Monarchs have to ensure the survival of their species. Open pollination gives propagation advantages to species of plants as the environment changes because the insects that pollinate them have adapted to the altered conditions.  Spraying to eradicate one type of insect or plant not only endangers the species, but it decreases the opportunity for the survival of the next organism along the food chain.

Seed Vaults

Spitsbergen, Norway is home to one of the most sophisticated seed vaults in the world.  Seed vaults have been built to preserve the Earth’s vegetation as a complete system in case of a severe, world-wide natural disaster or nuclear war.  At Spitsbergen, the permafrost on the outside of the building maintains the vault far below the freezing point of water.  The seeds inside the vault are sealed within steel-reinforced, concrete walls one meter thick.  Two airlocked vestibules double the protection against outside air infiltrating the vault upon human entry.  In February 2008, the Spitsbergen vault began accepting seeds. (Wikipedia)  Other seed vaults include the Millennium Seed Bank project, located in West Sussex and the  Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, situated in St. Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad), which survived a siege during World War II.

The Oldest Seed

Seed vaults also protect species from becoming endangered due to over-spraying and other types of interference with bird, insect and animal populations. The hybridization of plants encourages neglect of some species of plants due to their lack of commercial appeal.  Some heirloom seeds are believed to have been passed down through generations of first nation people since the Pre-Columbian area.  Ancestral nations in Europe, Africa and Asia also have seeds which are believed to have been species collected for thousands of years. The oldest known heirloom seed was discovered during the 1970s at Herod’s Palace in Israel.  A Judean date palm seed was unearthed during excavation.  It was found inside an ancient jar which had been preserved for 2000 years in very dry underground conditions.

Heirloom Seeds: Defining Authentic

By: Charlene Rennick

The debate continues for dedicated heirloom seed saving hobbyists and serious collectors with private or public seed vaults: is there a definitive point in time at which a seed can be identified as an heirloom?

Standardizing the Definition of Heirloom

An interesting point of reference for dedicated heirloom seed seekers is the origin of the seed.  The convoluted history of the seed and integrated diversity from which it originated leads to a corresponding difficulty identifying and standardizing a definition of said seeds.

Heirloom seed enthusiasts appreciate the seed for its natural evolution, open-pollination genesis and manufacture-free authenticity, yet it is this very attribute that makes it elusive to verification and control by heirloom seed seekers.

The quandary is that heirloom, by definition, means it is a result of open pollination.  There is no hybridizing, controlled environment or selective reproduction.  If an heirloom seed produces a plant that has desirable characteristics over and above any other variety, preserving it in any way or restricting the pollination variables, will condemn it as a hybrid.  Sowing the seed and letting nature take its course is part of the uniqueness of the heirloom varieties.  Contaminating the pollen, even through open pollination with the pollen of a hybrid, exposes the seed to censure.

Hybrids Infiltrate the Market in the 1950s

The age of seeds is among the topics of controversy. Some contend that any seed originating after 1950 is not an heirloom variety.  Denouncing any seed developed after the introduction of hybrids in the 1950s, solves the problem for some.   Others argue that seeds which pre-date World War II are the only genuine recipients of heirloom status.

While the debate over lineage will continue, there is some substance to the dispute that excluding seeds from Heirloom status simply because they were packaged by a commercial seed company, is taking the definition a bit too literally. Does it need to be rare to be an heirloom?  Is it possible to accept that a good quality variety which germinates and cultivates easily can be mass marketed by an Heirloom-compassionate company?  Often, large commercial plots devoted to open pollination sow and then harvest seeds only from the parent plant.  Seeds are saved and stored for the purpose of re-sowing them. Hubbard squash, seeded melons, potatoes and pumpkins have been great examples of successful open pollinated varieties.

Heirloom Seeds: Rare Treasure or Mainstream Expectation?

Diminishing the quality and reputation of an heirloom seed because it has enjoyed commercial success or because it is available for mainstream purchase, doesn’t make it less of an heirloom simply because it isn’t rare.  Heirloom characteristics isolate their hardiness as cultivars; they germinate easily and flourish readily.  Because plants are allowed to evolve, we continue to enjoy the quality that random selection provides for us.

How to Save and Store Seeds

By: Charlene Rennick

The success secret of preserving a seed is making sure that the climate and growth cycle experienced during the maturation of the seed is reproduced during the storage of the seed. To do this, the geographical origin of the parent plant must be determined ahead of time.   

Co-ordinate the Indigenous Climate with the Storage Environment

If the seed is from a tropical fruit grown closer to the equator, the storage area should be dry but warm.  This kind of seed will not survive a dormant period or freezing to preserve it because it does not have that kind of temperature or growing cycle in its natural environment.  Conversely, if the seed has been produced by a parent plant from a northern climate, it will lend itself to drying and freezing as a storage method because it is used to a shorter growth cycle followed by a colder, dry, dormant period.

Seeds are merely the casing for plant DNA which breaks down over time, even in ideal storage conditions.  Occasional sowing is necessary to keep the seeds fresh, the DNA viable, and the plant updated to the ever-changing environmental variables it will experience when it is eventually planted in the ground.

Recalcitrant and Orthodox Seed Storage

For the purpose of storage, there are two different kinds of seeds: orthodox and recalcitrant.  Orthodox seeds can remain inactive for years in a cool, dry storage condition while recalcitrant seeds can be damaged by drying and freezing procedures; they don’t store well at all.  Mango, avocado, cocoa, rubber tree, litchi are some examples of seeds that do not withstand freezing and drying. 

Large-scale and Home Hobby Seed Saving

Ideally, orthodox seeds should be allowed to dry.  For home hobby use, this is most successful in a well-ventilated, cool environment followed by wrapping in newsprint (unprinted) or a plain paper bag.  Moisture and mildew are destructive to seeds.  Once they are dried, they can be frozen in their paper inside an air-tight container or within a sealed jar.  If you are using them the spring following the drying season, paper bags should suffice to protect them. If the seed storage is a large operation, seeds are dried to a moisture content of less than 6% and stored in freezers at minus 18 degrees Celsius. (wikipedia). 

Seed Saving Safeguards Species

By: Charlene Rennick

Seed saving is the practice of propagating new plants from the previous generation using its seeds.  Traditionally, this is the method used by agriculturalists to reproduce crops in the field from one year to the next.  Recently, seed saving has declined as a means of cultivation due to the prominence of cloning and hybridizing plants.

Seed Saving Preserves Species

Heirloom plants are accessible now because people have saved seeds for domestic use throughout generations of sustenance farming.  Passing down seeds from one family member to the next has preserved many varieties of flowers, fruits, nut trees, vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants.  Saving seeds in storage will safeguard the Earth’s vegetation in the event of world-wide catastrophes, war, pandemic outbreaks and other unforeseen disasters.

Seed saving is made possible because of the advantages open-pollination offers to the proliferation of every plant species.   From an evolutionary perspective, without open pollination, any plants capable of producing viable seeds would eventually become extinct.  Sadly, many varieties of nut-producing trees (butternut) and seeded fruit have already become virtually extinct because seed saving has lost mainstream popularity.

Disadvantages of Hybridization

Reproduction and hybridization in controlled environments restricts the gene pool.  This precludes indigenous species from adapting and evolving symbiotically with the changing local climate. Random selection provided from a diversified gene pool makes stronger and better plants from the variables specific to the environment.  Plants that are artificially propagated have traits that are valued in the consumer market; these are not necessarily contrived to proliferate the species. Simulated pollination does not consistently produce plants with seeds that will germinate a new generation.

Seed Saving is Green Gardening

Genuine seed saving is too time-consuming for the commercial market. The mass production of produce and garden foliage has relegated the act of seed saving to an almost cult-like activity practised by environmental conservationists, small hobby farmers, organic gardeners and historians concerned with preserving our culture for future generations. The popularity of seedless variations of watermelon, grapes, clementines and even tomatoes has negotiated the need for natural pollination, the preservation of species and their seeds.  Is it worth it?

Try Basil in your Hydroponics Garden for Ease and Versatility

If you are new to hydroponic gardening, basil is a very easy and
rewarding herb to grow. I have grown it with great success in both
our little Aerogarden as well as our ebb and flow system. It just
seems to proliferate.

A quick and easy way to get started is to buy seedlings and
transplant them into your hydroponic system. Be sure to carefully
rinse off all of the soil first. Hold the roots under lukewarm,
running water and gently massage the dirt off.

Some hydroponic gardeners suggest that basil prefers a slightly
warm growing solution. (I haven’t experimented with this myself as
I tend to grow a variety of herbs in the same system.)

There are many types of basil to choose from, including sweet,
opal, lemon and Thai.
In the kitchen, basil of course has many uses. Fresh, toss it into
pasta sauces, curries, salads. Medicinally, basil is used to treat
nausea, migraines, and cramps. It’s also thought to inspire love!

What is an Heirloom Seed?

By: Charlene Rennick

Heirloom plants are named as such because they can literally be passed down from one family member to the next generation in the form of seeds.  The seeds are saved at harvest time, allowed to dry over the winter and re-sown in the spring earth.  Heirloom seeds are unique because they are not the result of commercial engineering or cloning; they are created by a natural process of random pollination. 

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Be Sure to Dilute Nutrient Concentrates Before Mixing Them Together

I recently went to a local hydroponics store to purchase some
nutrient for my garden. While I was there, I noticed a bottle with
what looked like calcium on the bottom amongst the various nutrient
solutions. I talked to the owner about it and he mentioned that
some of his concentrated nutrient feeds come as two parts and that
they cannot be mixed directly with each other while in concentrated
form. If the concentrates are mixed directly, the nutrients
precipitate out as a solid.

If you are using a nutrient mix that requires two or more parts
(or if you are mixing your own nutrient solution) remember to add
part one to the water reservoir first, ensure it is dissolved and
then add the next part. Don’t mix concentrates together before
diluting – they are packaged separately for a reason!

Raising the Green Roof

By: Charlene Rennick

Green roofs are gaining new ground in higher places.  In some areas, over 2 million square feet of gardens have been anchored onto the top of city buildings.  Many of these living green roof tops can be found in Europe, Asia and Canada. 

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