Coir for Tomato Crop
|Coir Segmentation - A Means Towards Quality|
|Yossi Shachar, Head agronomist & Eli Shalmon International marketing manager-Pelemix LTD|
|July 10, 2014|
The rapid development in the use of soilless culture in horticulture is in part mainly due to the tremendous progress made in the understanding of the growing processes and controlling factors of plants in a limited volume of growing media.
These understandings are the result of mutual efforts by farmers, farm managers, agronomists and research personnel throughout the world; part of which has yet to be described by the academic community.
The natural properties (both physical and chemical) of the coir (coco fibers / cocos) as will be described in this article, makes it an ideal substrate suitable for the advanced technology of soilless culture.
There are different kinds and types of coir as well as suppliers, with different levels of coir quality and abilities.
What are the professional elements to be considered when choosing coir for different crops?
Reliable source with proven abilities – Quality controlled raw material together with good manufacturing facilities that leads to uniformity and consistency of production in large quantities.
Physical and chemical stability are the main aspects for the differentiation (in terms of quality) of the types of coir supplied in the market and have a crucial impact on the final results in the field. The physical parameters of the coir are far more complicated to manipulate towards quality.
As a result of the good manufacturing practices adopted by the Pelemix group, today, there are more options to fit the right type of coir to the crop, while taking into consideration various growing factors such as: water quality, irrigation equipment and methods, climate conditions (natural and controlled), shape and size of the growbags / container as well as the crop's agrotechnical demands.
The fundamental characteristics for ideal coir are in the framework of the basic demand for good growing conditions:
1. Good air / water ratio at different water tensions (water buffer) – this affects the final result throughout the growing period.
2. Cation exchange capacity (chemical buffer)
3. Flexibility – The option to choose and fit the right type of product to the right conditions.
The basic production processes of the raw materials used by Pelemix group production facilities in Sri Lanka and India, creates unlimited options for the end users. The company is aware of the grower's needs from the professional aspect and therefore can adjust production accordingly.
The means taken by Pelemix toward quality coir types: composting period, sieving and screening, mechanical washing, buffering and laboratory analysis, As well as testing during and after production of the chemical and physical values, and pre and after sale agronomy support for the end user.
Pelemix has adopted and introduced the composting protocol into coir production in order to assure the stability (both physical and chemical) of the coir during the whole growing season, including long ones such as the soilless culture of roses (4-5 full years), cut flowers as gerbera for more then a one season crop, flowering bulbs, stock plants for propagation material and other kinds of crops with short or long term growing periods. This enables the reuse of Pelemix coir for a minimum of 3 consecutive years with negligible changes in its fundamental properties.
The new segmentation and sieving technology production process, brings into the market a fully defined line of coir products, designed for a variety of crops, climate conditions, different types of greenhouses, water qualities, type and size of growing bags or containers. The agronomy department uses these tools to supply a tailor made product to the grower in accordance with the circumstances and conditions of his site /crop.
Using the segmentation technology in the right way, brings the grower higher benefits per m2 of greenhouses in different places worldwide.
The key point is the ability to supply to the full profile of the root zone on a consistent basis with minimal fluctuations, all of its needs and demands (water, air, nutrients).
Root zone – Coir (when well manufactured according to strict parameters) is well known for its capability to provide the optimal air/water balance for good development of the root zone.
The general root system and the hair roots volume per cm3 should be healthy, white and dense, and full spreading in the growing container or growing bag. This is one of the most important elements that gives the grower better and full control on the plant.
Pelemix segmentation technology is a process based on removing most of the fine dust [“Double Sieved-fine dust removed”] from the coir raw material after the composting process. This gives the raw material a uniform start and actually creates higher air content at full water capacity. This system is unique to Pelemix's products and was developed in order to improve the air/water ratio during the crop development with the element of flexibility in water management.
The second stage after the fine dust removal is sieving of the raw material into 3 main sections:
Section A: Mainly used for seed beds, propagation, growing cubes and small pots nurseries.
These coir products fractions include small particles from 1/6”-up to ¼” grades. These types of coir can be used in their pure forms or as part of a blend with peat or other substrates such as perlite, vermiculite, etc. These types of coir consist of small particles distribution with very short and thin fibers; in some of the fractions in this section there are no fibers at all or in a very low percentage.
The buffering of the coir for nursery use (a cation exchange protocol) is essential. The final result of the buffering is a reasonable lowering of the EC and a stable pH (around 5.8-6.0).
Section B: Mainly for hydroponics/soilless culture -for various flowers, roses, flowering bulbs crops [the flower and the bulb itself], also for indoor and out door plants as house plants and gardening plants.
This type of coir is also recommended as a growing media for pots, large volume trays or other types of containers including planting bags, the Pelemix “HOT” [HIGH OPEN TOP] bag for fruit trees, olives ,citrus and ornamental trees.
This fraction type includes medium sized coir particles and fibers starting from ¾” to 1” grade. The products are ideal for hydroponics uses such as grow bags or container systems; for hot climates/ high levels of radiation during the crop development period - where better water holding capacity is needed in order to increase the coir's ability to avoid stress . The optimal air content at full water capacity of these products is not less than 23-25%. The drainage management is easier under various irrigation regimes.
Section C: This is the most newly developed product series. This is the PLF [Premium Long Fibers] and the “Multi Drain” line of products and has a wide range of mixtures of fibers and Crush husk sizes.
The coir in this range is developed for hydroponics use in growbags or container systems, and is mainly used in cold climates / low radiation, and for multi cycle irrigation regimes. These products give almost unlimited options to the grower for optimum water management.
Other uses: used as potting soil in the media blending industry, as a growing media in its pure form, or as part of a blend contributing to air holding and buffer capacity.
These products combines' different grades of coir from both of the above sections, plus coir husk chips in different sizes or pure Crush husk with different grades of particles. The air content at full water capacity with these types of products reaches 35-50%-depending on the combination of the basic fractions and the husk particle sizes.
Actually, the full segmentation technology range of types of coir makes the grower's decision much easier and less complicated for choosing the right product for his crop.
The grower's decision, with the consultation of Pelemix's agronomy team, takes into consideration the various factors which have an impact on the development of the crop in coir. Below are several illustrative examples:
1. For the multi cycle water regime, as in the northern hemisphere, we recommend crush coir while in cases of 2-4 water cycles per day (as in the Mediterranean area) the 3/4 inch double sieved coir is recommended.
2. In cases of water sources with elevated chlorine content, the farmer is obliged to run a large quantity of drip water in order to avoid the accumulation of the chlorine in the full medium profile. Thus, a regime of few, but long water cycles should be adopted using a fine fraction of coir such as the 3/4 inch double sieved.
3. For small, and numerous tray holes, we are using the fine fraction 1/2 coir inch not sieved.
4. For orchids with a combination of top water quality and the typical root system, the crush or even the chip fractions of coir are recommended.
Tomato growing on coir:
The main agro -technology adopted for tomato growing worldwide is with growbags. 3 plants per 100 cm growbag, 2 branches, mostly grafted material. Cherry tomatoes sometimes go for 4 plants per growbag.
The plot layout (1 or 2 rows per bed and distance between rows) is variable. The number of plants per square meter is the most common factor and varies from 2.2 plants to 2.5.
In cold climate conditions and multi water cycles (10 cycles and more) the growers adopted the 18 liter growbag (100x15x12 cm), crush material (section C).
Hot climate condition requires water buffer and therefore the common growbag is the 29 liter (100x18x16 x cm), PLF material and even 3/4 of inch double sieved ( section B).
Such material should not be watered frequently.
The ideal number of water cycles per day is around 3-6.
All growbags are supplied with UV resistant plastic guarantied for 3 years/seasons. As a matter of fact, some growers were able to use the growbags for longer time, up to 5-6 years/seasons.
Pelemix provides a full concept of growing technologies besides the coir substrate itself. This concept includes recommendations and full planning for hydroponics systems; the supplying of the right size of growing bags or containers for specific uses as well as drainage gutters and drainage systems that fits the specific hydroponics or growing system chosen; water analyzing, recommendations for irrigation equipment, water and fertilizer management by a strong agronomy service both in pre and post planting.
Other advantages for growing with this range of coir is: the highest buffering capacity, with good abilities to compensate and protect the plant during “stress”, fast reaction to water and fertilizer adjustments, longer periods of use then a one crop season if needed, fast and easy replacement and site preparation - gives the professional growers the first step to success.
The worldwide demand for coir products is increasing every year, especially for hydroponics use. This factor demands serious attention to top quality control process and new production technologies, in order to keep the right balance between the quality and demand – this will be the only way to make proper use of this natural resource.