Coirbuster idea article
I believed years ago that Coconut Coir is a product that is here to stay.The fact that it has sponge-like features and the ability to decompress is a significant feature. Even though I am not a grower, I have been around growing operations most of my life. Living in the small community of Semmes Alabama I have seen growers use peat moss, pine bark, pine shavings, top soils and a variety of other medias. Back in the 1990s, I was approached by a Ben Pointer who told me about a new product from Sir Lanka. He said it was Coco Peat. He told me about a gentleman by the name of Stan Mernah from England who had been hired by the British government to go to Sir Lanka and help the locals develop a growing program. Stan owned a growers supply in Wessex County England and had a good background in the industry. He soon realized that it was too costly to import peat moss to Sir Lanka, so Stan started looking for something locally to use for a growing media. To his surprise, he found an abundance of the by-product coir pith. The fibers of the coconut being used for many things from rope manufacturing, door mats, mattress stuffing and even the upholstery in the old style Volkswagon bugs. With Stans vision, he soon realized the potential of coir pith. He tried to market coir in America but the larger companies went direct and soon cut him out after he did the work and educated them. With help from labs and test facilities, Stan knew that coir would be successful as a growing media if it could arrive at the marketplace. The problem is too costly to ship in bulk. Ben invited Stan over from England and introduced him to me. I traveled to Wessex England to see Stans facility and a mountain of coir that he had brought in from Sir Lanka. He had built a machine that compressed coir pith into slabs about 24 inches x 44 inches x 4 inches thick. Later a press was made to produce the small bricks. Different compression ratios were experimented with even as high as 10 to 1. Finally, the suitable ratios of 4 and 5 to 1 proved best for maximum water holding and oxygen retention which helps achieve optimum results. The problem was decompressing the slabs.
Ruling out the Hammer Mill
Already a manufacturer of nursery and greenhouse machines since 1977, Stan wanted me to design a machine that would gently decompress the coir slabs. We experimented and quickly ruled out the hammer mill and crushing type machines as the coir fiber was damaged too much according to lab results. As a child my mother always baked a pan of biscuits every day for the family. I watched as she pulled out the 5 gallon flour can from under the kitchen cabinet. I was intrigued with the sifter that she used to get the lumps reduced in size enough to get through the screen providing just the right consistency to make southern style biscuits. So the idea was born. We took spiral agitation that moves the media in a figure 8 pattern and incorporated it with a very heavy screen. We included a hydration auger on the bottom. The results were astounding. Why? The first reason is this. If you take a 5-kilo block you can break off the corners by hand and crumble them up. This is the biggest question growers have ( DOES IT DESTROY THE FIBER?) the answer is NO. With the figure 8 action the coir blocks change from square to round and as the machine keeps running the then round balls become smaller rubbing against each other until eventually, they go through the screen. The very first coir processing machine we built, Stan was very pleased with. He purchased it and shipped it to a customer in Istanbul Turkey. The good thing is that the decompressing takes place without water. This is a plus in northern climates where some use water to decompress. With freezing temperatures, this presents a problem in winter months. So the coir buster needs no water to decompress. Water can be added only if the customer desires so. We built a coir buster and took it to a trade show and everyone wanted to know what it was. We told them a machine to decompress coir. So they then ask What is coir?
So it took some time for coir to finally catch on. I have often wondered why some peat moss companies took such a negative attitude against coir in the beginning. Now many are incorporating coir into blends with positive results. We now have a coir buster that will automatically process a metric ton of coir from a hard block into perfect fluffy material every 10 to 12 minutes. Also a hydration incline auger can be used for expansion and stockpiling. With the figure 8 design the machine parts inside are slow moving with very low maintenance. No blades or hammers, we just let the coir simply rub itself apart. Some people have a hard time understanding how it works so well when the blocks can be so hard.
What about BAD Coir? (OVERLY COMPRESSED) I have been asked, Well we took some blocks of coir and floated them in water for a week and they still would not absorb any water. So we ran the rest through the coir buster and it was not a problem and yes the coir hydrated and was usable. We have even decompressed some small bricks that were compressed 10 to 1. Now with the normal, 4 and 5 to 1 ratios standardly produced the machine is fast, reliable and affordable. And yes, I still say coir is here to stay.
By Mitchell Ellis
Mitchell Ellis products Inc.