Thanks to cocopeat, a nature lover like me could realise her gardening dreams in a city like Mumbai
Living in a space-starved and perennially busy city like Mumbai means holding off on some dreams and aspirations. For me it meant putting a cap on my plans to have a kitchen garden where I could grow fresh veggies, fruits and herbs. And it didn’t help that in this concrete jungle of a city, green cover is so far in between – the nature baby in me is forever in want.
One fine morning, however, I woke up with this strange feeling. Determination. I was tired of living in the future and making do with the present. I wanted to live in the future here and now! First thought – “I am going to start gardening right away, with whatever space I have. Let’s make this happen.” That was almost four years ago.
In that time frame, I learned a lot – and unlearned as much. One thing that really impressed me though was this new medium to grow plants that is perfect for the urban setup.
Behold the ingenious Cocopeat!
Made out of abundant agricultural waste that is coconut coir, Cocopeat has an uncanny resemblance to soil but comes with a unique set of advantages, making it ideal for gardening enthusiasts in the city. What are those?
1) It’s lightweight
This was a big plus for me. While soil makes the pot heavy and adds tremendous load to the window grill, cocopeat is comparatively very light. It makes cleaning/re-arranging lot easier. Even purchasing cocopeat is a breeze. It is often available in compressed blocks of varying weights – a 5kg compressed block can expand to 50kg. Simply soak the block, or pieces of it, in water (quantity mentioned in the packaging) and watch them expand and turn into a loamy, soil-like particle.
You will find these blocks, or loose cocopeat packets, at local nurseries around Mumbai. I personally find the compressed block is value for money, with the added advantage that it can be ordered online – although you pay good money for shipping (included within the cost). But if you live in an area where compressed cocopeat blocks are hard to source, I feel the shipping cost seems more than reasonable.
2) It’s safe and healthy for plants
Unlike the clumpy mud sold at roadside nurseries, a fresh batch of cocopeat doesn’t carry the risk of being contaminated. The source of the said mud is questionable and often it isn’t even fit for potting. Big rocks and its clay-like texture actually make it unsuitable for growing. But with cocopeat you don’t have to worry about it. Pathogen-free, it doesn’t carry contaminations that could affect the plants growth cycle.
This aspect actually makes it a perfect solution for growing plants from seeds. Cocopeat creates the best environment for germination and for new plants to grow. Cocopeat sowing plugs are these small compressed circular blocks that easily expand to become a mini ‘pot’. They are perfect for starting seeds and make it easy to transfer the seedling to the final pot. (Learn more about seed starting here.)
3) It has excellent water retention
This was another plus point for me. Cocopeat’s absorption quality means it can retain water better and keep the soil moist for longer. Water doesn’t simply seep out in this case but is gradually being absorbed into the fibre – ensuring that the water doesn’t go waste. Don’t worry it won’t drown the roots either, excess will flow out of the drain holes.
While cocopeat retains water well, you can use another coconut coir product that helps with the excess that is being drained out. For flat owners this can be a challenge. Plates, as a base under the pot, tend to collect water and lead to mosquitoes breeding, but if you don’t cover the base, water will seep across the wall and cause other troubles. The solution? Coir mats that will soak the excess and then simply dry itself out in the sun. No mosquito woes and definitely no damp walls.
4) It’s sustainable
Good quality potting soil needs to have a fine texture with the right mix of sand. This means that fertile top soil from a viable land has to be unearthed to meet our demands. Now that’s not very comforting when you value nature. So for us urban folks, cocopeat is the best solution. It helps us to get our hands dirty without costing the environment. And the fact that it is made out of waste and repurposes it (rather brilliantly), just comforts my Green soul. Whether you are living in a flat or a bungalow within the city, and fertile soil is not easily/sustainably available, Cocopeat is the solution!
Unlike soil, however, cocopeat is not fertile in itself – it doesn’t hold billions of years of decomposition as soil does. You need to regularly add compost/manure to the cocopeat, so as to enrich it with enough “food” for the plants to feast on. Thankfully, organic composts are available locally and online. You can also make your own compost using kitchen waste.
Given these exceptional benefits, I use cocopeat exclusively for all my gardening needs. I even use them for potting plants in my building premise. Even though my big dream to grow all possible edible goodies is still on hold, I can engage in my hobby here and now. That will do for now.