Bought coconut husk chips instead of bark...

milocrabMay 25, 2011

Hello everyone,

Firstly I need to state that I'm a completely newbie in gardening, so please bare with me. So, I'm planning to grow some salad greens in containers. I did some research and read about Al's 5-1-1 mix. Last week, I went to some gardening supply stores and searched for the ingredients. I couldn't find any pine bark fines, the only bark available were "orchid barks" which comes in small package and is quite expensive. Not knowing any better, I saw a huge bag of coconut husk chips and thought it could be used to replace the pine bark fines (since they are in particles that 5-10mm size). So, I came home all happy with a huge bag of coconut husk chips and perlite.

Then, I did more readings yesterday and realised the coconut husk chips and bark fines are completely different things; and that the coconut husk chips are very high in potassium and lack calcium. If to be used, I would need to add gypsum and epsom salts.

So here comes my question: I now have a huge bag of coconut husk chips, a bag of perlite, a vermicomposting bin that I started in March and would *LOVE* to use it in my containers. Any suggestions on how I can make a good mix with these ingredients? My newbie mind is thinking maybe I should reduce the percentage of the C.H.C, include more perlite and peat/vermicompost mix. How about 40% CHC:30% perlite:20 peat moss:10% vermicompost?

I also have a bottle of reptile calcium that I don't use anymore; can it be used with the mix? It says "100% Natural phosphorous-free oyster shell calcium carbonate" on the label. I understand I need calcium sulphate instead of calcium carbonate, but it would be nice if I can make use of it instead of going to waste (perhaps I can sprinkle some to my worm bin).

- Bonnie

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'll answer from 2 different perspectives, one being the physical structure of the soil and it's properties, and the other being my personal experience with CHCs.

I have grown several cuttings of the same plant side by side in mixes that had as their primary fractions CHCs or pine bark. In every case, the pine bark mix did much better than the mix with CHCs. FWIW - I even tried rinsing the CHCs and then soaking them in a mix of CaNO3 and MgSO4 as many of those that use CHCs do, but the results were the same. It's not that the plants didn't do ok based on their stand-alone appearances, it's just that the plants in CHCs were much smaller and had a weaker appearance than those in the predominantly bark mix, which has led me to believe that even though CHCs might allow me to produce satisfactory plants, the side by side comparisons indicate a difference between bark & CHC mixes in the plant's ability to grow at as near as possible to their potential.

It's possible that if I was determined to overcome the limitations seemingly inherent in CHCs that I would eventually discover methods that allowed me to improve results, but simply exchanging CHCs for PBFs in the mixes I've tried just hasn't worked as well.

From the structural perspective I think that if you keep your combination of CHCs and perlite to greater than 80% of the mix, and the combination of compost and peat to under 20%, that you'd have a soil that allows you to take advantage of the higher aeration a soil comprised of primarily large particles offers.

I think I would skip the CaC03 tablets because they can drive pH higher, and with CHCs already coming in at a pH in excess of 6.0, you really can't afford a Ca source that raises pH; including dolomite. If your fertilizer source doesn't include Ca (or Mg), I would stick with gypsum as my Ca source because it doesn't significantly impact pH (and include Epsom salts [MgSO4] as a Mg source for the same reason).

Best luck!


    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 12:34PM
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Thanks Al for the reply! I actually did read through your previous post on pine bark fines vs CHC comparison AFTER I bought the huge bag of CHC so....I can only try to make the best use of what I've already got now until next time. A question about the amount of gypsum and Epsom salts to be used: I understand the amount of gypsum to be used is 1 tbsp per gallon of soil - is this "soil" referring to just the CHC or the whole potting mix? Also, I can't seem to find how much Epsom salts should I use to supplement the mix.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 8:45PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Use 2 tsp - 1 tbsp of gypsum mixed into each gallon of soil when you make it, unless your fertilizer contains Ca. If you're using a soluble fertilizer w/o Mg or Ca (like MG), add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp per gallon of fertilizer solution each time you fertilize.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 9:57PM
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