Our pots are made from organically grown coconuts. The pots make use of the outer husk fibre of the coconuts (coir fibre), the main waste product of the coconut farms. The coir is specially cleaned then bound together with a minimal application of biodegradable organic latex (from the local rubber trees). It's as simple as that, all natural, renewable, biodegradable ingredients.
Who makes the hairy pots?
The pots begin their journey in Sri Lanka where they are made close to the coconut farms. Their production provides valuable employment to the local population. This gives perhaps the most effective aid of all, to a deprived area - fair and valuable trade.
How are they made?
Every pot is handmade. The coir fibres are separated from the coconut husks and the fibres are tossed in a ‘drum’ to separate them from the coir granules. Even the coir granules aren’t wasted and are used to make the coir compost discs.
The coir is washed in fresh water and dried in the sun (indoors in the rainy season). It's gently heat treated with steam to a temperature of 50ºC to remove unwanted bugs and weed seed. Over this period the fibres of the husk become separated, the finer material is removed to make coir compost and the stronger fibres taken for pot making.
The fibre is formed into pot shapes by being pushed into various sizes of pot moulds
The pots are dunked in latex and then dried in the sun.
The pots are hand trimmed and inspected before being packed and transported by ship to the UK.
The combination of physical properties of the coir pot makes them quite different from virtually all other types of plant pot. One of the biggest differences is the open and porous nature of the whole pot, this means water, air and roots pass easily through all surfaces. This is why there are no drainage holes in the pot which helps makes for a healthier and more natural environment for the plant. We have seen improved plant health and strength in many crops on the nursery, when compared with those in plastic pots. As with many things, we find the pots get hairier with age, as the latex that binds the fibres together degrades. This doesn't affect performance but does add to the visual appeal! The pot size we are offering online is a generous 13cm diameter.
Because water can be lost over the entire pot surface Hairy pots have the potential to use a lot more water than other pots. Their free draining nature makes it more difficult to give the pot a really good soaking from overhead, as the pot doesn't contain the free water. Smaller regular watering is therefore more effective, alternatively allow the pot to sit in water for a while to soak it up, or use a constant watering method like capillary bed watering (see the 'better balance' info page). It would not normally be recommended to stand a plant in water because the compost gets too wet and loses its access to air, but because of the Hairy pots all round breathability, it is fine. Another property of coir is it's natural ability to re-wet after drying out, a distinct advantage over peat and other products which often resist water when dried out too much. In the nursery environment we have found we use only a small amount of extra water. We have a very efficient sub-irrigated capillary system that saves water, and suits these plants and pots. We also grow with the pots close together most of the time. This means evaporation from the crop is still mostly from the top of the pot just the same as a plastic pot grown crop.
The type of root growth achieved in a Hairy pot is quite different from most. The normal growth pattern of a root in a pot, is that it will grow through the compost to the edge of the pot, when it gets blocked it simply turns and continues growing along the pot wall. This creates the characteristic root curling/balling you often see in pot grown plants. This can create a long, weakened, curled, tangled and easily damaged root system, quite often the roots are slow to grow out of this mat after they are planted. The root growth in the Hairy pot is quite different, thanks to a process called air pruning. The root when it reaches the pot wall grows through it until it gets to the surrounding drier air. At this point the root tip stops and the root continues to grow by branching out further back until it again penetrates the wall and stops. This constantly repeating process creates a root system full of root tips primed and ready to grow out into the garden soil after planting out.
Costs and pot handling
Unfortunately we do experience a few commercial disadvantages with growing in Hairy pots. They are significantly more expensive than plastic pots and in addition, the handling costs during production are higher. Being roughly textured, thick walled and slightly floppy the pots are too slow to pot by hand, at a commercial rate. The hairy nature of the fibre makes it quite a wrestling match to separate individual pots from a stack. The potting machine can't cope with the destacking so has to be fed with each pot individually and the machine set to run at a slower rate. We had the pots designed to fit our production handling trays, so we didn't have to refit out the nursery with too much new handling equipment, however the pots are more difficult to get in and out of the trays. On a commercial nursery the labour input is by far our highest cost so these factors are a significant challenge. However, in our view it is part of the price we pay to make a difference.
For smaller scale home use these factors become less of an issue as you are less likely to need to hand pot at over 150 pots/hour! You can just relax and enjoy a healthy and sustainable pastime.
Just how exciting can a cardboard box get?Having gone to all the trouble to grow our plants in such a great pot using an environmentally balanced production system, what a shame it would have been if we had been unable to despatch them in a suitably sympathetic packaging system.
The old ways Usually to overcome the damp and awkward shape of plants in pots nurserymen will use plastic 'blister packs' to hold everything securely, before slipping them into a cardboard box. These packs are made to the pot and plant size and simply close around the whole plant and clip together. Cheap, practical and easy to use they are ideal, apart from the fact that they are made of plastic and create more waste.
A Hairy problem We had a number of difficulties to overcome, the main one being that the plants need packing firmly enough in a strong container to allow them to put up with the knocking about they may get in the hands of the carrier. The plants can be fairly fragile and the pot/compost quite heavy yet soft and floppy, without good support it could take just one turn of the box to spell disaster. The packing also needed to keep material use to a minimum, to keep costs down and follow the first of the 3 R's (REDUCE, re-use, recycle). It needed to be as simple as possible for easy packing and unloading and of course, be made from recycled materials and reusable and recyclable itself.
The recycled solution We have been working closely with our box supplier Atlas Packaging (Barnstable) on coming up with a solution and after much deliberation and testing we hope we have the answer. The outer box is fairly standard in it's general design, although we have incorporated a few extras, double-ply corrugation for strength, ventilation holes, a box locking system to reduce or eliminate the amount of sticky tape we use and lots of info printed on the box so we can keep stickers and paperwork to a minimum.
The really clever bit is the internal section. It is made up of a single piece of cardboard with numerous tabs, folds, flaps and cuts, that all come together very easily into quite a complex construction. To load a box, we put together the centre section, place the pots onto the base and the raise the sides around the pots. Then the whole lot slides into the outer box at which point everything is anchored in place. The combination of folds and flaps once inside the outer box, makes for surprising strength and practicality. Unloading is simply a matter of opening one end of the outer box and sliding the contents out. The damp problem has been overcome by using a slightly waterproofed paper on the outer face of the cardboard used in the internal section. This gives just enough protection to last the few days the damp pots and plants may be in contact with it. The damp could ingress into the card if there is contact with any cut ends, but the use of flaps, around the pots keeps cut edges out of the way. The outer box is not waterproofed at all. The package is made from recycled material and is itself recyclable. The inks and glue used are also all eco friendly.
On arrival Make sure the plants are unpacked as soon as possible. The longer they are in the damp & dark the more likely they are to deteriorate. Once out of the box keep them regularly watered until you are ready to go. You can reuse the robust outer box if you have a use for it, or simply recycle it together with the inner section.
Nothing to add to the collection in the shed or the landfill
Now the best bit, the planting out. Pick your spot, dig and prepare your hole and put your hairy pot plant in the hole, pot and all. No pot to store or throw away. The pot will take a few weeks to rot away below ground, but meanwhile all those roots that have been air pruned on the nursery will shoot through the pot wall, grow into the surrounding soil and the plant should romp away. In dry conditions the top of the pot may not rot away completely. You can tidy it into the compost heap if you want, or best of all, leave it where it is. This could have a couple of benefits, it creates a dry rough barrier that may help slow up the slugs and snails, and in the nesting season can be useful for the birds.
I love the look! If you decide to keep the plant growing in the pot, to show off your eco purchasing prowess and the great Hairy look, just remember to water regularly. A Hairy pot plant stood on it's own outside, is going to use more water than it's plastic potted mates. Above ground the pot lasts much longer before rotting, but will go hairier as the latex on the outside of the pot degrades in the light.