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Title:
GROWING MEDIUM AND MULCH FIBER OPENING APPARATUS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/084101
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A compressed growing medium or mulch fiber opener comprising at least one set of adjacent rotating members, the rotating members having a surface and including at least one wire wound around at least a portion of the surface, wherein the wire includes a plurality of projections engaging compressed or partially opened growing medium or mulch fiber, and wherein a distance between the adjacent rotating members is sufficiently small to create at least one pinch point between the adjacent rotating members, the adjacent rotating members separating the fibers as the fibers pass through the at least one pinch point so that the density of the fiber is lowered by at least 50-95%.

Inventors:
SPITTLE, Kevin Scott (1604 Weybridge Circle, Vero Beach, Florida, 32963, US)
BOWERS, Gary Lane (450 Heather View Drive, Jonesborough, Tennessee, 37659, US)
MABROUK, Neil (9645 Murray Ridge Road, Elyria, Ohio, 44035, US)
LANDO, Robert (4450 Silver Oak Drive, Avon, Ohio, 44011, US)
Application Number:
US2018/057234
Publication Date:
May 02, 2019
Filing Date:
October 24, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
PROFILE PRODUCTS L.L.C. (750 Lake Cook Road, Suite 440Buffalo Grove, Illinois, 60089, US)
International Classes:
D01G9/06; A01C21/00; A01G13/02; D01G13/00; D01G21/00
Foreign References:
US20170137972A12017-05-18
CN2223300Y1996-03-27
US20160083651A12016-03-24
DE4243126A11994-06-23
US20130255048A12013-10-03
US2795080A1957-06-11
US20080000053A12008-01-03
US20180057966A12018-03-01
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MARCONI, Alena et al. (Brooks Kushman, 1000 Town CenterTwenty-Second Floo, Southfield Michigan, 48075, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A compressed growing medium or mulch fiber opener comprising:

a first and second rotating members, each rotating member having a plurality of projections capable of engaging compressed or partially opened growing medium or mulch fiber; and the first rotating member arranged above the second rotating member to provide a pinch point between the rotating members, the first and second rotating members capable of separating fibers as input fiber passes through the pinch point so that the density of passing fiber is lowered by at least 50%, relative to the density of the input fiber.

2. The fiber opener according to claim 1 , wherein the first rotating member rotates counter-clockwise and the second rotating member rotates clockwise.

3. The fiber opener according to claim 1 , wherein the first rotating member rotates at a different speed than the second rotating member.

4. The fiber opener according to claim 1 , wherein the first rotating member rotates at a speed of about 1500 to 2000 rpm and the second rotating member rotates at a speed of about 500 to 1000 rpm.

5. The fiber opener according to claim 1, wherein the rotating members include a surface having at least one wire wound around at least a portion of the surface, the wire having the projections.

6. The fiber opener according to claim 1, further comprising a shroud partially surrounding the rotating members.

7. The fiber opener according to claim 6, wherein the shroud comprises an upper shroud member arranged above the first rotating member and a lower shroud member arranged below the second rotating member.

8. The fiber opener according to claim 6, wherein a gap between the shroud and the first or the second rotating member is about 0.25 to 0.5 inches.

9. The fiber opener according to claim 1 further comprising a roller located in front of the rotating members, the roller being arranged to apply pressure to the input fiber such that the input fiber remains within the fiber opener as the fiber advances towards the rotating members.

10. A compressed growing medium or mulch fiber opener comprising:

a conveyor belt for delivering of input fiber;

a fiber opening section comprising a first and second rotating members and a shroud partially surrounding the rotating members and defining an opening, the fiber opening section being capable of engaging the input fiber; and

a mixing section adjacent to the opening,

wherein the rotating members have a plurality of projections capable of engaging and separating the input fiber and the shroud guiding the input fiber through the rotating members towards the mixing section.

11. The opener of claim 10, wherein the first rotating member rotates counterclockwise and the second rotating member rotates clockwise.

12. The fiber opener according to claim 10, wherein the first rotating member rotates at a different speed than the second rotating member.

13. The fiber opener according to claim 12, wherein the first rotating member rotates at a speed of about 1500 to 2000 rpm and the second rotating member rotates at a speed of about 500 to 1000 rpm.

14. The fiber opener according to claim 10, wherein the mixing section comprises at least one shaft having at least one blade.

15. The fiber opener according to claim 14, wherein the at least one blade includes a first and second elongated portions, at least one of the portions having a bent portion at its end.

16. The fiber opener according to claim 10 further comprising a roller located in front of the rotating members, the roller capable of applying pressure to the input fiber such that the input fiber remains within the fiber opener as the input fiber advances towards the rotating members.

17. A compressed growing medium or mulch fiber opener comprising:

a fiber opening section, capable of engaging compressed or partially opened growing medium or mulch fiber, comprising a first and second rotating members and a shroud partially surrounding the rotating members and defining an opening;

a mixing section adjacent to the opening; and

a hopper adjacent to the fiber opening section and connected to the mixing section via a connector.

18. The fiber opener according to claim 17, wherein the connection has a circular cross-section such that the hopper is directionally configurable with respect to a direction of the incoming compressed or partially opened growing medium or mulch fiber.

19. The fiber opener according to claim 17 further comprising a roller located in front of the rotating members, the roller capable of applying pressure to the compressed or partially opened growing medium or mulch fiber such that the fiber remains within the apparatus as the fiber advances towards the rotating members.

20. The fiber opener according to claim 17, wherein the first rotating member rotates counter-clockwise and the second rotating member rotates clockwise.

Description:
GROWING MEDIUM AND MULCH FIBER OPENING APPARATUS

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Serial No. 15/322,921, filed December 29, 2016, (pending), which is a National Phase of PCT/US2015/038318, filed June 26, 2015, which in turn, claims the benefit of U.S. provisional application Serial Nos. 62/018,639 and 62/018,640 filed June 29, 2014; U.S. provisional application Serial No. 62/056,798, filed September 29, 2014; U.S. provisional application Serial No. 62/123,782, filed November 26, 2014; and U.S. provisional application Serial No. 62/181,456, filed June 18, 2015, the disclosures of which are hereby incorporated in their entirety by reference herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0002] The invention is directed to a fiber opening apparatus lowering density of highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber, a method of using the same, and mulch or a growing medium including fiber opened by the fiber opening apparatus.

BACKGROUND

[0003] Fiber opening systems have traditionally been designed for and have been used in the textile industry. Exemplary fiber openers are disclosed for example in the U.S. Patent Applications 2013/0075504 and US 2013/0075509, the disclosures of which are hereby incorporated by reference. A standard textile bale opener such as a 2+2 bale breaker with a lift apron features a vertically inclined belt with wooden strips which have sharp needles for opening of the fiber. The inclined belt lifts the fiber to a stripper belt which controls flow of the fiber and removes oversized pieces of the fiber. An adjustable gap exists between the stripper belt and the inclined belt. The wider the gap, the less fiber opening results. On the other hand, tightening the gap results in greater fiber opening, but the volume of input fiber can be restricted. The 2+2 bale breaker and other conventional textile bale breakers are designed to open textile fiber and thus are not capable of opening wood and/or bark fiber to sufficiently lower density of such fiber, especially in higher volumes of input fiber. [0004] Wood and/or bark fiber is useful, for example, in preparation of growing media, mulches, and hydraulically-applied growing media and mulches. Since growing media and mulches are sold based on volume, the lower the weight of the growing media, the greater the value of the growing media and their components. Thus, it is desirable to lower density of the components of the growing media, especially the density of a highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber.

[0005] Therefore, it would be desirable to provide a fiber opening apparatus which is capable of lowering density of wood and/or bark fiber which is highly compressed, i.e. having a compressed density of about 10 to about 30 lbs/ft 3 (about 160.2 kg/m 3 to about 480.6 kg/m 3 ), by at least 85%, more preferably by at least 90%, even more preferably by at least 95%. It would be further desirable that such fiber opening apparatus is capable of handling large volumes of input fiber.

SUMMARY

[0006] It has now been surprisingly and unexpectedly discovered that a fiber opening apparatus employing a plurality of rotating members including a wire wound around the rotating members, the wire including projections, wherein the rotating members are engaging fiber and tearing the fiber apart, is capable of lowering the fiber density by at least 85%, thus providing higher volume of the fiber which results in increased value of the fiber as well as of a product including the fiber as a component such as a growing medium or a mulch.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0007] FIGURES 1 A and IB are photographic images of exemplary bales of compressed fiber;

[0008] FIGURE 2 shows a schematic side view of a fiber opening apparatus;

[0009] FIGURE 3 A illustrates a schematic side view of another fiber opening apparatus;

[0010] FIGURE 3B illustrates a top view of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURE 3A;

[0011] FIGURE 4 shows a perspective front view of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURES

3 A and 3B; [0012] FIGURE 5 shows a schematic detailed side view of a bale breaker of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURE 2;

[0013] FIGURE 6 shows a perspective back side view of a bale breaker of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURE 2;

[0014] FIGURES 7 illustrates a schematic side view of a fiber opener of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURE 2;

[0015] FIGURE 8 shows a perspective back view of a transportation device and a fiber opener of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURES 3 A and 3B;

[0016] FIGURE 9A shows a cross-section of a rotating member comprising a wire of FIGURE

7;

[0017] FIGURE 9B shows a detailed view of the wire depicted in FIGURE 9A;

[0018] FIGURES 9C and 9D depict schematic views of a one inch section of a rotating member having rows of wound wire on its surface;

[0019] FIGURE 10 shows a detailed view of two rotating members of FIGURE 8;

[0020] FIGURE 11 A shows a cross-sectional view of a rotating member depicted in FIGURE

10;

[0021] FIGURE 11B depicts a schematic view of a section of a rotating member depicted in

FIGURE 10 having rows of wound wire on its surface;

[0022] FIGURE 12 shows a detailed schematic view of mixing members of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURE 2;

[0023] FIGURES 13 A- 13D depict perspective views of an alternative embodiment of the fiber opening apparatus disclosed herein including a directionally adjustable hopper;

[0024] FIGURE 14 shows a detailed view of the fiber opener section and mixing section of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURES 13A-13D; and [0025] FIGURE 15 shows a detailed view of the mixing section of the fiber opening apparatus of FIGURES 13A-13D.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0026] The fiber opening apparatus of the invention may be used to lower the density of highly compressed fiber to increase its value as a component of a growing medium or mulch. By lowering density of the fiber, the density of the growing medium or mulch is lowered as well, and the value of the growing medium or mulch increases. Preferably, the input fiber is wood and/or bark fiber. The typical compressed density of the input fiber preferably varies between about 10 to about 30 lbs/ft 3 (about 160.2 kg/m 3 to about 480.5 kg/m 3 ). The density of the input fiber may be lowered by at least 85%, relative to the density of the input fiber.

[0027] The fiber opening apparatus is capable of lowering the density of the highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber, in the order of increasing preference, by about 50% or more, 60% or more, 70% or more, 80% or more, or 90% or more. The fiber opening apparatus is capable of lowering the density of the highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber by at least at least about 50 to 99%, 70 to 95%, or 85 to 90%. Table 1 provides a comparison of density reduction per ft 3 and m 3 achieved by a conventional bale breaker and fiber opener, specifically the 2+2 bale breaker with a lift apron, and by the fiber opening apparatus of the disclosure. As Table 1 illustrates, the fiber opening apparatus of the disclosure achieves significantly higher fiber density reduction.

[0028] Table 1: Comparison of density reduction in a conventional apparatus versus the fiber opening apparatus of the disclosure having wire rotating members

Organic Fiber Density Achieved by 2+2 Bale Density Achieved by Apparatus with Material Breaker with Lift Apron Wire Rotating Members

lb/ft 3 kg/m 3 lb/ft 3 kg/m 3

70% Wood Fiber/ 2.36 37.8 1.59 25.5

30% Bark Fiber*

50% Wood Fiber/ 2.80 44.9 2.11 33.8

50% Bark Fiber*

30% Wood Fiber/ 4.40 70.48 3.21 51.4

70% Bark Fiber*

Wood and Bark - Pine Species

[0029] The fiber opening apparatus with wire rotating members may lower the density of the highly compressed fiber from about 10-30 lbs/ft 3 (160.2-480.5 kg/m 3 ) to about 0.8-2 lbs/ft 3 (12.8-32 kg/m3) or 0.9-1.6 lbs/ft 3 (14.4-25.6 kg/m 3 ), depending on the type of fiber which is being opened by the apparatus. Table 2 provides a comparison of compressed bale density with the density of opened fiber for wood and/or bark fiber after passing through the fiber opening apparatus of the invention. As can be seen, the reduction for several materials is greater than 90%.

[0030] Table 2: Density reduction efficiency of the fiber opening apparatus of the invention having wire rotating members

Organic Fiber Density Density Density Reduction Material Compressed Bale Apparatus with Wire Efficiency (%)

Rotating Members

lb/ft 3 kg/m 3 lb/ft 3 kg/m 3

30% Bark Fiber*

50% Wood Fiber/ 20.0 320.4 2.11 33.8 89.4

50% Bark Fiber*

30% Wood Fiber/ 20.0 320.4 3.21 51.4 83.9

70% Bark Fiber*

Wood and Bark - Pine Species

[0031] While reducing the fiber density, the fiber opening apparatus is expanding the volume of the wood and/or bark and/or peat fiber. For example, while conventional apparatus may expand a compressed bale of sphagnum peat in a ratio of 1:3.5 of unexpanded to expanded fiber, the fiber opening apparatus of the present disclosure is capable of expanding the highly compressed sphagnum peat in a ratio of 1 :5 of unexpanded to expanded fiber. Other highly compressed fiber may be expanded in a ratio of at least 1:5.5, 1:7.5, 1: 10, or even a better ratio of unexpanded to expanded fiber such as 1: 12.5 may be achieved. For example, highly compressed wood and bark fiber may be expanded in a ratio of at least 1: 11.5 and 100% wood fiber may be expanded in a ratio of at least 1 : 15 of unexpanded to expanded fiber.

[0032] The fiber opening apparatus may receive input fiber from bales of compressed wood and/or bark fiber or other compressed fiber such as, but not limited to, sphagnum peat. The input fiber may originate from a vertical or a horizontal compressed bale. An exemplary compressed bale may have a density of about 20 lbs/ft 3 (about 320.4 kg/m 3 ), another exemplary bale may have a density of about 18.5 lbs/ft 3 (about 296.3 kg/m 3 ), but other densities are contemplated, typically falling between a range of about 10 to about 30 lbs/ft 3 (about 160.2 kg/m 3 to about 480.5 kg/m 3 ). Compressed bales with densities below 10 lbs/ft 3 (about 160.2 kg/m 3 ) and bales with densities above 30 lbs/ft 3 (about 480.5 kg/m 3 ) are also contemplated. The input fiber may comprise wood fiber, bark fiber, or both. The input fiber may be extracted from hardwood (deciduous) tress and/or softwood (coniferous) trees. The wood and/or bark fiber may include, but is not limited to, wood and/or bark from pine, oak, walnut (Juglans cinerea), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla, Swietenia mahagoni, Swietenia humilis), hemlock, Douglas fir, Colorado fir, alder, elm, birch, Sitka spruce, eucalyptus, sycamore, maple, cedar, sweetgum, crab apple, ash, weeping willow, sassafras, mulberry, the like, and combinations thereof. Examples of wood and/or bark fiber bales 1 may be seen in FIGURES 1A and IB as well as in FIGURE 4.

[0033] It is contemplated that the input fiber may originate from other sources such as cotton, wool, flax, jute, coconut, hemp, straw, grass, and other fibers available directly from natural sources such as peat, as well as chemically modified natural fibers, for example chemically modified cellulose fibers, cotton fibers, azlon, regenerated cellulose products including cellulose xanthate (rayon), cellulose acetate, cellulose triacetate, cellulose nitrate, alginate fibers, casein-based fibers; abaca, cantala, caroa, henequen, istle, Mauritius, phormium, bowstring, sisal, kenaf, ramie, roselle, sunn, cadillo, kapok, broom root, coir, crin vegetal, and piassaua. This list of fibers is illustrative and not limiting.

[0034] The wood and/or bark fiber bale may include about 5 to about 30 weight % of the tree bark and about 95 to about 70 weight % of the wood components, based on the total weight of the bale. Alternatively, the wood and/or bark fiber bale may include about 5 to about 20 weight % of the tree bark and about 95 to about 80 weight % of the wood components or about 5 to about 15 weight % of the tree bark and about 95 to about 85 weight % of the wood components, based on the total weight of the bale.

[0035] The bale of fiber may further include about 0 to about 15 weight % of additional components that are combined with the wood and/or bark fiber, based on the total weight of the bale. Examples of such additional components include but are not limited to fertilizers, macronutrients, micronutrients, minerals, chemical binders, natural gums, interlocking manmade fibers, and the like, and combinations thereof. In general, these components are present in an amount of less than about 15 weight % of the total weight of the wood and/or bark fiber bale. The additional components in total may be present in an amount from about 1 to about 10 % of the total weight of the fiber. Additionally, soil may be added in an amount of about 20% or less, about 15 % or less, or about 5 % or less of the total weight of the growing medium. The soil may be present in an amount of about 0.1 to about 20 weight % of the total weight of the growing medium. Soil may also be absent from the growing medium.

[0036] Fertilizers such as nitrogen fertilizers, phosphate fertilizers, potassium fertilizers, compound fertilizers, and the like may be used in a form of granules, powder, prills, or the like. For example, melamine/formaldehyde, urea/formaldehyde, urea/melamine/formaldehyde and like condensates may serve as a slow-release nitrogenous fertilizer. Fertilizers having lesser nutritional value, but providing other advantages such as improving aeration, water absorption, or being environmental-friendly may be used. The source of such fertilizers may be, for example, animal waste or plant waste.

[0037] Nutrients are well-known and may include, for example, macronutrients, micronutrients, and minerals. Examples of macronutrients include chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Micronutrients are also well-known and include, for example, boron, cobalt, chromium, calcium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, zinc, vitamins, organic acids, and phytochemicals.

[0038] The binders may be natural or synthetic. For example, the synthetic binders may include a variety of polymers such as addition polymers produced by emulsion polymerization and used in the form of aqueous dispersions or as spray dried powders. Examples include styrene- butadiene polymers, styrene-acrylate polymers, polyvinylacetate polymers, polyvinylacetate-ethylene (EVA) polymers, polyvinylalcohol polymers, polyacrylate polymers, polyacrylic acid polymers, polyacrylamide polymers and their anionic- and cationic-modified copolymers, i.e., polyacrylamide- acrylic acid copolymers, and the like. Powdered polyethylene and polypropylene may also be used. When used, synthetic binders are preferably used in aqueous form, for example as solutions, emulsions, or dispersions. While binders are not ordinarily used in growing media, they may be useful in hydraulically applied mulches and hydraulically applied growing media.

[0039] Thermoset binders may also be used, including a wide variety of resole and novolac- type resins which are phenol/formaldehyde condensates, melamine/formaldehyde condensates, urea/formaldehyde condensates, and the like. Most of these are supplied in the form of aqueous solutions, emulsions, or dispersions, and are generally commercially available. [0040] The natural binder may include a variety of starches such as corn starch, modified celluloses such as hydroxyalkyl celluloses and carboxyalkyl cellulose, or naturally occurring gums such as guar gum, gum tragacanth, and the like. Natural and synthetic waxes may also be used.

[0041] A fiber bale may include about 1 to about 50 % of tree bark mixed with about 99 to about 50 weight % of wood components, based on the total weight of the bale. The term "wood components" refers to wood chips, wood fiber, or their combination. The wood components may be derived from coniferous and deciduous trees and may be prepared by any convenient manner, for example as disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 2,757,150, the entire disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference. Any type of wood chip may be used, but wood chips of the softwood varieties such as yellow poplar, cedar such as Western red cedar, fir such as Douglas fir, California redwood, and particularly, pine such as Ponderosa, Sugar, White, and Yellow varieties of pine are preferred. Typically, the wood components are lighter in color than the tree bark before processing. The wood components may be dyed by one or more pigments and/or pigment precursors of a tree bark when the wood components are being formed into fibers through a refiner such that the growing medium or mulch has a natural brown coloring for visual monitoring.

[0042] The term "mulch" as used herein means a layer of fibrous material that is applied to a soil to reduce erosion, to improve water retention, and/or to hold a seed in place on the soil surface long enough for the seed to germinate and for the root to develop within the soil below the mulch. Hydraulic mulches are mulches applied by spraying with water through a hydraulic seeder or similar device.

[0043] The term "growing medium" refers to a soil-free substrate or a substrate with soil, or a combination of materials used to provide physical support, water retention, aeration, and/or nutrient supply for plant growth so that a plant can establish its root system within the growing medium and allow for root growth, as the roots grow in spaces between individual particles of the growing medium.

[0044] The bark may contain one or more natural pigments or pigment precursors that give color to its layers. Some bark, (for example eucalyptus bark and sycamore bark) may be light-colored initially, but darken after its pigments are oxidized. Pigments included in the bark may include, but are not limited, to tannins such as tannic acid (e.g., quercitannic acid and gallotanic acid). Non-limiting examples of useful tree barks containing one or more pigments are named above. In addition, during heat treatment, additional pigments may develop in the bark, in the wood, or in both, which contribute to the color of the fiber product. This is what is meant by "pigment precursors."

[0045] The amount, age, moisture, and/or other properties of the bark used may influence hue and/or intensity of the imparted color. For example, low quantities of bark may result in light brown color of the mulch composition or growing medium while high quantities of bark may result in dark brown color. At least about 1 weight %, about 3 weight %, preferably about 5 weight % of bark may be needed to obtain mulch or growing medium dyed by the bark pigments. To color-change the mulch or growing medium, about 1 to about 99 weight % of bark may be included in the initial composition, based on the total weight of the initial composition. Additional bark may be added during the process of producing mulch or growing medium so that the final color of the fiber product may be adjusted to the desired hue. Concerning the age of bark, the bark from the most recently debarked trees generally provides for the most intense color change of the wood components. Moisture of the bark may be about 30 to 60 %, measured by ASTM D4442-07, to provide adequate color change of the wood components.

[0046] The fiber composition may have a color with a dominant wavelength from about 510 nm to about 780 nm, about 590 nm to about 770 nm, about 620 nm to about 760 nm, or about 675 nm to about 750 nm relative to a white illuminate. The term "dominant wavelength" refers to a way of describing polychromatic light mixtures in terms of monochromatic light that evokes an identical perception of hue. It is determined on the International Commission on Illumination (CIE)'s color coordinate space by a straight line between the color coordinates for the color of interest and the coordinates for the illuminate. The intersection at the perimeter of the coordinate space nearest the color of interest is the dominant wavelength. The fiber composition may have a red to brown to black color. The fiber composition may have hsl color coordinates such that the "h value" (hue) is from about 25 to about 45, the "s value" (saturation) is from about 20 to about 100, and the "1 value" (lightness) is less than about 50. The 1 value may be from about 0 to about 25.

[0047] The fiber composition may further include a non-permanent dye that is eventually removed, or which eventually fades, after the composition is opened by the fiber opening apparatus and applied in the field. Preferably, the non-permanent dye is non-toxic so that no toxic chemicals are leached from the opened fiber product into the environment. The non-permanent dye may comprise natural and/or synthetic compounds. The non-permanent dye may comprise compounds derived from plants, fungi, lichens, invertebrates, insects, minerals, the like, or a combination thereof. Any part of the plant may be utilized to provide the dye such as roots, petals, leaves, stems, shoots, stalks, hulls, husks, ripe and/or unripe fruit, seeds. Exemplary sources of plant dyestuffs include tree varieties named above; vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, red cabbage, artichoke, spinach, celery; fruit such as pomegranate, strawberries, avocado, cherries, raspberries, mulberries, elderberries, blackberries, grapes, peach; turmeric, fennel, basil, paprika, saffron, tea plants, coffee plants, barberry, bloodroot, lilac, coneflower, dandelion, goldenrod, hollyhock, ivy, St John's Wort, yellow dock, rose, lavender, cornflower, hyacinth, Queen Anne's Lace, hibiscus, daylily, safflower, camellia, snapdragon, nettle, milkweed, peony, Black-eyed Susan, hydrangea, chamomile, alfalfa, crocus, marigold, or the like. Exemplary mineral-based dyestuffs include iron oxide and carbon black. Exemplary useful non- permanent dye includes ELCOMENT BLACK 7822 commercially available from Greenville Colorants. Another exemplary type of non-permanent dye may include green pigments.

[0048] The non-permanent dye may be combined with the bark alone and/or with the components alone before the initial composition is formed, with the initial composition, with the processed fiber composition, afterwards, or in more than one step. At least about 0.1 to about 2 weight % of non-permanent dye may be added to the initial composition to cause color change of the wood fiber, based on the total weight of the initial composition. About 0.1 to 15 weight % or more, about 2 to 10 weight %, about 3 to 7 weight % of the non-permanent dye may be added to the initial composition, based on the total weight of the initial composition. At least about 2-40 pounds of non- permanent dye may be added per ton of the final fiber composition to achieve color change.

[0049] Typically, the removable non-permanent dye imparts a darker color on the fiber composition than when the non-permanent dye is absent therein. The non-permanent dye may be washed away after several days such as about 1 to about 30 days or after a more extensive time period after being applied in the field. The non-permanent dye may fade away or begin to fade away (e.g., from exposure to sunlight or other environmental conditions) after several days such as about 1 to about 30 days or after more extensive time period after the bale is opened and the fiber-containing product is applied in the field. The fiber composition may have a light-fastness, in order of increasing preference, of at least up to 1 day, 5 days, 10 days, 20 days, 1 month, 2 months, or 3 months or more, with minimal fading, measured according to ASTM D4303-99. The light-fastness of the dyed mulch or growing medium may be about 1 to 120 days, about 5 to 90 days, about 10 to 30 days. The term "minimal fading" refers to any visually discernable extent of fading. The term "light-fastness" as used herein refers to the resistance of a pigment to color change upon exposure to light.

[0050] The fiber-containing product with the non-permanent dye may have a color with a color with a dominant wavelength from about 400 nm to about 780 nm, about 510 nm to about 770 nm, about 590 nm to about 760 nm, or about 620 nm to about 750 nm relative to a white illuminate. The color of the fiber composition including the non-permanent dye may vary. The fiber-containing product with the non-permanent dye may have a red to brown to black color. But other colors such as green, blue, yellow, orange, purple, or gray hues are contemplated as well. The type and amount of dye determine intensity of the color. Typically, the removable non-permanent dye imparts a darker color on the fiber-containing product than when the non-permanent dye is absent therefrom. Alternatively, the fiber-containing product with the non-permanent dye may have a lighter color than when the non-permanent dye is absent therefrom. The fiber-containing product may have a lower "h value" than the fiber-containing product without the non-permanent dye. The fiber-containing product may have hsl color coordinates such that the "h value" (hue) is from about 10 to about 40, the "s value" (saturation) is from about 20 to about 100, and the "1 value" (lightness) is less than about 50. The 1 value may be from about 0 to about 25.

[0051] The fiber composition may be dyed by bark pigments and/or by one or more natural non-permanent dyes in order to comply with organic standards and secure a certificate from the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

[0052] The fiber composition advantageously can provide balanced air and water holding capacity at about 25-60 volume % each, preferably between about 43-56 volume % each, more preferably about 48-49 volume % each, based on the total volume of the growing medium, measured in a container having dimensions 30.5 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches). The air and water holding capacity may each be without limitation, about 20 volume % or more, 25 volume % or more, 30 volume % or more, 35 volume % or more, 40 volume % or more, 45 volume % or more, 50 volume % or more, 55 volume % or more, 60 volume % or more, or 65 volume % or more, of the total volume of the fiber composition, when measured in 30.5 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches) container. Balanced air (non-capillary) and water (capillary) holding capacity provides ideal growing conditions to plants. The volume of air space is important for root systems and plants in general, as without oxygen, roots cannot grow and absorb water or minerals. The more oxygenated the roots are, the more efficient the plants become in converting sugars into energy for plant growing. Likewise, sufficient water retention of the fiber composition is important to ensure that the roots have access to proper amount of water for photosynthesis, root growth, and efficient uptake of water by the growing plant without being overs aturated. Conventional growing mixes usually do not achieve balanced air and water retention as typically, when the volume % of water retention rises, it is at the expense of air retention and vice versa.

[0053] Water and air holding capacity, as referred to herein, are measured according to

"Procedures for Determining Physical Properties of Horticultural Substrates Using the NCSU Porometer by Horticultural Substrates Laboratory," Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is incorporated in its entirety by reference herein. The water holding capacity is measured by a Container Capacity test which measures the percent volume of a substrate that is filled with water after the fiber composition is saturated and allowed to drain. It is the maximum amount of water the fiber composition can hold. The drainage is influenced by the height of the substrate, this property is thus dependent on container size. The taller the container, the more drainage it will cause, and the less capacity of the substrate to hold water. The oxygen holding capacity is measured as percent volume of a substrate that is filled with air after the fiber composition is saturated and allowed to drain. It is the minimum amount of air the material will have. It is affected by the container height in reverse fashion to container capacity; i.e., the taller the container, the more drainage and therefore more air space.

[0054] The sum of water and air holding capacity equal total porosity for a given density and moisture content. Total porosity defines the total volume of pores and refers to percent volume of a substrate that is comprised of pores, or holes. It is the volume fraction which provides the water and aeration in a substrate. The total porosity + the percent solids = 100%. Total porosity of the fiber composition may be about 88 to about 99 volume %, about 91 to about 98 volume %, about 93 to about 97 volume %, about 94 to about 96 volume %. Total porosity of the fiber composition may be about 88 vol. % or more, 91 vol.% or more, 93 vol. % or more, 95 vol. % or more, 97 vol. % or more, 99 vol. % or more. [0055] The water holding capacity (WHC) of the fiber composition may be also measured by

ASTM D7367-14, a standard test method for determining water holding capacity of fiber mulches for hydraulic planting. According to ASTM D7367-14, the water holding capacity (WHC) of the fiber composition may be about 400 to about 1000 weight %, about 500 to 1000 weight %, about 600 to 900 weight %, based on the total weight of the fiber composition.

[0056] An additional advantage of the fiber composition is lower dry bulk density as well as wet bulk density when compared to prior art substrates. High density may impose transportation limits on the growing substrates as such substrates may reach their weight limit before they reach the volume limit feasible for transportation. When compared to higher density media, the lower wet and dry bulk densities of the fiber composition provide greater volume of the fiber composition to the end user at the same weight. The low density fiber composition may be added as a component to prior art media and thus lower their transportation costs by about 5% or more, 10% or more, 15% or more, or 20% or more, as compared to the prior art media alone. Additionally, a consumer may find it easier to purchase and utilize the fiber composition because of its lower weight. The dry bulk density of the fiber composition may be, in order of increasing preference, about 6 lb/ft 3 or less, 4 lb/ft 3 or less, 3 lb/ft 3 or less, or 2 lb/ft 3 or less. The dry bulk density of the fiber composition may be about 1.5 lb/ft 3 to about 6 lb/ft 3 , about 2 lb/ft 3 to about 4 lb/ft 3 , about 2.2 lb/ft 3 to about 2.6 lb/ft 3 . The wet bulk density of the fiber composition may be, in order of increasing preference, about 15 lb/ft 3 or less, 10 lb/ft 3 or less, 8 lb/ft 3 or less, 6 lb/ft 3 or less, 4 lb/ft 3 or less, 3 lb/ft 3 or less, or 2 lb/ft 3 or less. The wet bulk density of the fiber composition may be about 2 lb/ft 3 to about 10 lb/ft 3 , about 2.2 lb/ft 3 to about 5 lb/ft 3 , about 2.4 lb/ft 3 to about 3 lb/ft 3 .

[0057] Table 3 below illustrates test results for one embodiment of a fiber composition comprising about 80% wood components and about 20% tree bark and another embodiment comprising 100% pine wood fiber, based on the total weight of the fiber composition, in comparison to prior art growing media. [0058] Table 3: Fiber composition properties

[0059] The data in Table 3 was collected by JR Peters Laboratory Allentown, PA, USA, using

"Procedures for Determining Physical Properties of Horticultural Substrates Using the NCSU Porometer by Horticultural Substrates Laboratory," Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is incorporated in its entirety by reference herein.

[0060] The percent volume of air space in Table 3 refers to the air holding capacity discussed above which was measured as the percent volume of a substrate that is filled with air after the material is saturated and allowed to drain. It is the minimum amount of air the material will have. The measuring container had the following dimensions: 30.5 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches).

[0061] The bulk density in Table 3 refers to the ratio of the mass of dry solids to the bulk volume of the substrate. The bulk volume includes the volume of solids and pore space. The mass is determined after drying to constant weight at 221°F (105°C), and volume is that of the sample in cylinders.

[0062] The moisture content in Table 3 refers to the percent moisture found in a sample on a wet mass basis. This is calculated by: [(Wet weight - Dry weight)/Wet weight] X 100. It denotes how much of a particular sample is comprised of water.

[0063] Table 4 provides comparison of prior art growing media with two embodiments of the fiber composition, specifically one embodiment of a fiber composition comprising about 80% wood components and about 20% tree bark and another embodiment comprising 100% pine wood fiber, based on the total weight of the fiber composition. The loose bulk density data in Table 2 was gained by packing the fiber composition into a container measuring 30.5 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches) after the fiber composition was expanded by an opener and/or by using a process recommended for the specific kind of fiber composition.

[0064] Table 4: Loose bulk density

Fiber composition Expanded bulk density including Net dry weight expanded bulk moisture content of the fiber density

composition

[lb/ft 3 ] [kg/m 3 ] [lb/ft 3 ] [kg/m 3 ]

(100% pine wood

fiber)

Sphagnum Peat 9.0 - 12.5 144.17 5.0 - 6.85 80.09

3/8" Hammermilled 23 - 33 416.48 11.0 - 17.5 187.42 Composted Pine Bark

3/8" Hammermilled 15 - 20 277.12 7.5 - 10 177.80 Aged Pine Bark

[0065] Table 5 provides a size classification of the fiber of the fiber composition; the weight

% of material passing through various sieve sizes as well as density, WHC, and total porosity are also provided. Total porosity was measured by the porometer testing "Procedures for Determining Physical Properties of Horticultural Substrates Using the NCSU Porometer by Horticultural Substrates Laboratory," as referenced above.

[0066] Table 5: Wood fiber size classification

Materials: 90% / 70% / 50% / 30% / 10% / ranges wt. % wood 10% 30% 50% 70% 90%

components /

wt. % bark

Total Poromet 96 - 99 94 - 98 93 - 97 91 - 95 88 - 94 88 - porosity er 99

[vol. %]

Density Range 1.5 - 2.0; 1.5 - 2.5; 2.0 - 3.25; 3.0 - 5.0; 3.5 - 6.5; 1.5 -

[lb/ft 3 ]; 24 - 32 32 - 40 40 - 52 64 - 80 56 - 104 6.5;

[kg/m 3 ] 24 - 104

WHC ASTM 825 - 925 725 - 825 625 - 725 500 - 625 400 - 500

D7367-

14

[wt. %]

[0067] The sieve size of the fiber particles in the fiber composition may range from US sieve size #8 to #100, but other sieve sizes are contemplated. The size of the fiber in the fiber composition may range from about 0.149 mm to about 2.38. Some of the wood components and/or bark may be processed in such a way that they become a powder with a particle size of about 30 μιη or smaller to about 600 μηι or larger. Generally, the smaller the fiber size, the higher the WHC.

[0068] A compressed bale comprising wood and/or bark fiber to be opened may be produced by the following method. Tree bark, at least some of which may contain one or more pigments or pigment precursors, one or more wood components, and an optional non-permanent dye, may be combined to form an initial composition. Preferably, the wood components are wood chips. About 1 to about 50 % of a tree bark may be combined with about 99 to about 50 weight % of the wood components, based on the total weight of the initial composition. Alternatively, about 5 to about 30 weight % of the tree bark may be combined with about 95 to about 70 weight % of the wood components, based on the total weight of the initial composition.

[0069] The initial composition is heated to an elevated temperature to kill microbes in a pressurized vessel. Typically, the heating step may be conducted at a temperature in the range of about 250°F (121°C) or lower to about 500°F (260°C) or higher, about 300°F (149°C) to about 400°F (204°C), about 320°F (160°C) to 380°F (about 193°C). The heating step may be conducted for a time sufficient to kill microbes. The heating step may be conducted for about 1 to about 5 minutes or longer under a steam pressure of about 35 lbs/in 2 (102 kg/cm 2 ) to about 120 lbs/in 2 (351 kg/cm 2 ) or about 50 lbs/in 2 (146 kg/cm 2 ) to about 100 lbs/in 2 (293 kg/cm 2 ). For example, the heating step may be conducted at a temperature of about 300°F (149°C) for about 3 minutes at about 80 lbs/in 2 (234 kg/cm 2 ). The heating step results in a preferably substantially sterile growing medium. Preferably, the heating step results in a substantially sterile growing medium. Some of the pigments and/or pigment precursors may impart its color to at least a portion of the wood components during the heating step. The steam flow rate during the heating step may be from about 4000 lbs/hour (1814 kg/hour) to about 15,000 lb/hour (6803 kg/hour).

[0070] An example of a pressurized vessel and related process is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No.

2,757,150, which has been incorporated by reference, in which wood chips are fed to a pressurized steam vessel which softens the chips. Any type of wood chip may be used in this process, but wood chips of the softwood varieties such as yellow poplar, and particularly pine, are preferred.

[0071] The initial composition is subsequently processed through a refiner to form the mulch composition or growing medium. The refiner may use a plurality of disks to obtain the mulch composition or growing medium. The refiner may use two or more disks, one of which is rotating, to separate wood fibers from each other as set forth in U.S. Patent No. 2,757,150, the entire disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference. The refiner is generally operated at a lower temperature than the temperature in the pressurized vessel. The refiner may be operated at a temperature in the range of about 70°F (21°C) to about 400°F (204°C), about 150°F (150°C) to about 350°F (176°C), about 200°F (93°C) to about 300°F (148°C). The refiner may be operated under steam. The refiner may be operated at atmospheric pressure or elevated pressures such as pressures of about 50 lb/in 2 (146 kg/cm 2 ) or lower to about 100 lb/in 2 (293 kg/cm 2 ). The refiner may be operated at such temperatures and pressures that enable the pigments and/or pigments precursors in the bark, and optionally pigments and/or pigment precursors in the source of non-permanent dye, to impart its color to the wood fibers. The refiner step is conducted for a time sufficient to impart darker color of the bark and/or the color of the non-permanent dye to the fibers. The refiner produces fibers that are thinner than those that would be obtained without such processing. [0072] A growing medium or mulch is thus prepared which may be further refined while additional components such as fertilizers, as set forth above, may be added. Subsequently, the resulting fiber composition is compressed into the bales for transportation.

[0073] The fiber opening apparatus to which the compressed fiber is supplied may comprise a plurality of sections. The fiber opening apparatus may comprise at least one or more of the following sections: a transportation section, a fiber bale breaker, a feeder, a fiber opener, an input section, a mixing section, or a combination thereof. Some or all of these sections may be attached to one another, either temporarily or permanently. The plurality of sections may be arranged in more than one order as long as the fiber opening apparatus is capable of lowering density of the highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber, in order of increasing preference, by at least about 50% or more, 60% or more, 70% or more, 80% or more, 90% or more. The fiber opening apparatus may be connected to other production systems, temporarily or permanently. The number and dimensions of each section will depend on requirements of a specific application, especially on the target fiber density. A single section may fulfil a function of one or more sections such as the mixing section may also serve as a fiber opener section.

[0074] As can be seen in FIGURE 2, a fiber opening apparatus 10 comprises a plurality of transportation sections 12, a bale breaker 14, a fiber opener section 16, an input section 18, a mixing section 20, and a packaging section 22. FIGURES 3A and 3B show a fiber opening apparatus 10 comprising a transportation section 12 directly connected to the fiber opener 16.

[0075] A transportation section 12 may deliver a bale of fiber and/or partially or fully opened wood and/or bark fiber to other sections of the fiber opening apparatus 10, for example to the bale breaker 14, the fiber opener 16, or the mixing section 20, to another production system, or outside of the fiber opening apparatus 10. A transportation section 12 may comprise any kind of a transportation device capable of fulfilling this function. The transportation section 12 may comprise a conveyor 24 of any kind, for example a conveyor belt, a screw conveyor, an angled conveyor; or a platform; an auger; a bucket elevator; an apron; the like, or a combination thereof. The surface of the transportation device may be roughened to prevent slipping of the bales and/or fiber, but a smooth surface of a transportation device is contemplated as well. The transportation section 12 may be open, at least partially enclosed, or fully enclosed. Non-limiting examples of a transportation section 12 are depicted in FIGURES 2, 3 A, and 3B; the transportation section 12, as depicted, comprises conveyor belts 24. As is illustrated in FIGURES 3A and 4, the transportation section 12 may include one or more removable guards 26 preventing pieces of fiber falling off of the transportation device.

[0076] As FIGURES 3B and 4 illustrate, the transportation device 12 may further include one or more removable inserts 28 for adjusting dimensions of an opening 30 leading to other sections of the fiber opening apparatus 10 such as an opening 30 leading to a bale breaker 14, to the fiber opener 16, to the mixing section 20, to the packaging section 22, or a combination thereof. Adjusting the dimensions of the opening 30 according to the dimensions of a bale 1 helps to guide the bale 1 to an adjacent section such as the fiber opener 16 in FIGURE 4 and ensures that the fiber opener 16 can properly engage the bale 1. FIGURE 4 illustrates that the inserts 28 may be installed to create uneven adjustments on each side of the opening 30. For example, the dimensions of each insert 28 may differ to better serve requirements of each application. Alternatively, the dimensions of at least one of the inserts 28 may be adjustable so that the same inserts 28 can be used to accommodate a variety of bales.

[0077] To initiate breaking of the input fiber from the highly compressed wood and/or bark fiber bales 1, the fiber opening apparatus 10 may comprise a bale breaker 14, examples of which are depicted in FIGURES 5 and 6. The bale breaker 14 may receive input fiber in the form of a bale 1 or partially opened fiber.

[0078] The bale breaker 14 may comprise one or more beater members 32. The one or more beater members 32 are capable of dividing the input fiber into pieces. The one or more beater members 32 mechanically divide a bale of input fiber 1 into pieces of fiber. The beater members 32 are capable of rotating clockwise and/or counter clockwise so that projections 34 of the beater members 32 may access the bale of input fiber 1, enter the bale 1, tear through the bale 1, remove pieces of fiber from the bale 1, and thus create partially opened fiber.

[0079] The beater members 32 may have any size, shape, or configuration. For example, the beater members 32 may be cylindrical. The beater members 32 may have the same or different dimensions. For example, the top beater member 32 may have a larger diameter than at least one of the lower beater members 32. Exemplary diameters of the beater member 32 may range from 2 cm to 2 m or more; however, any diameter of the beater members 32 is contemplated. [0080] The beater members 32 may be arranged one above the other or be arranged in a variety of different configurations so that the beater members 32 can remove the input fiber from the bales 1 and/or at least partially open the fiber. The beater members 32 may be stacked or staggered. FIGURE 5 illustrates three beater members 32 comprising two upper cylindrical beater members 32 of identical dimensions and a bottom cylindrical beater member 32 having a larger diameter than the upper beater members 32. At least one of the beater members 32 may be spatially offset from the rest of the beater members 32. As can be seen in FIGURE 6, the bottom-most beater member 32 is offset by being located closer to the opening 30 than the remaining beater members 32.

[0081] The beater members 32 may comprise a plurality of projections 34 such as those shown in FIGURES 5 and 6. The beater members 32 may be separated by a distance creating a gap 36 allowing projections 34 of the beater members 32 to freely rotate around their axis without encountering projections 34 of a neighboring beater member 32 while allowing pieces of fiber to pass between the beater members 32. The gap 36 may be adjustable and the amount of throughput fiber may be controlled by regulating the size of the gap 36. The input fiber may be received by all of the beater members 32 at the same time or by one beater member 32 at a time. The input fiber may be first supplied to the bottom-most beater member 32 or the top-most beater member 32, depending on the requirements of a specific application and a transportation device supplying the input fiber to the beater members 32.

[0082] The plurality of projections 34 are capable of separating bales of input fiber 1 into pieces of fiber. The pieces of fiber separated by the bale breaker 14 may measure about inch (about 0.4 mm) or less to about 10 inches (about 25.4 cm) or more in diameter, more preferably about V 8 inch (about 3.18 mm) to about 5 inches (about 12.7 cm) in diameter, even more preferably about ½ inch (about 1.27 cm) to about 2 inches (about 5.08 cm) in diameter, most preferably about ¼ inch (about 0.64 cm) to about 1 inch (about 2.54 cm) in diameter.

[0083] The projections 34 may have any size, shape, or configuration thereof to engage the bales 1 and separate the bales 1 into pieces of fiber. The projections 34 may be shaped like spikes, nails, pins, spears, studs, pegs, screws, the like, or a combination thereof. In FIGURES 5 and 6, the projections 34 are shaped like spikes. The projections 34 may have sharp or dull edges. The projections 34 may have rough or smooth surface or rough and smooth portions. Each beater member 32 may have one or more horizontal and/or vertical rows of projections 34. Each horizontal and/or vertical row of projections 34 may have one or more projections 34. Preferably, the total number of projections 34 is such that the bale breaker 14 is capable of dividing the bales of input fiber 1 into pieces of fiber. Preferably, the configuration of projections 34 is such that the projections 34 are equally spaced apart in each row. Even more preferably, the projections 34 may be configured in an offset pattern so that the beater members 32 may engage the entire area of the bales 1. As is illustrated in FIGURE 6, each cylindrical beater member 32 may comprise eight horizontal rows of projections 34, each row comprising six projections 34 which are equally spaced apart in an offset pattern to cover as large of an area of a bale 1 to be opened as possible.

[0084] FIGURE 5 further illustrates all beater members 32 rotating clockwise. But other embodiments are contemplated in which all or at least one beater member 32 rotates counterclockwise or in which at least some of the beater members 32 rotate in the opposite direction than other beater members 32. The rotation of at least some beater members 32 may be adjustable.

[0085] The pieces of fiber from the bale breaker 14 may be transported to a fiber opener section

16 on a transportation device such as a conveyor belt 24 illustrated in FIGURE 2. Alternatively, the bale 1 containing input fiber may be transported directly to the fiber opener 16, as is illustrated in FIGURES 3A, 3B, and 4. The fiber opener section 16 may be open or at least a partially enclosed chamber. FIGURES 3 A and 4 show a partially enclosed fiber opener section 16 having adjustable dimensions due to removable inserts 28. As was already stated, the dimensions of the opening 30 may be adjusted with removable inserts 28 according to demands of a specific application and especially dimensions of incoming bale 1. The fiber opener section 16 may comprise fiber opening elements capable of lowering density of the fiber. The fiber density may be lowered by at least about 50 % or more, 60% or more, 70% or more, 80% or more, or 90% or more, depending on the requirements of a specific application. The fiber opening elements may have any size, shape, or configuration thereof to fulfill this function. Preferably, the fiber opening elements are rotating members 38. Even more preferably, the rotating members 38 are rollers. Most preferably, the rotating members 38 are cylindrical rollers covered with wire.

[0086] The number of rotating members 38 may vary, depending on requirements of a specific application. For example, the fiber opener section 16 may contain a series of four rotating members 38, as is depicted in FIGURE 7, but any number of rotating members 38 is contemplated, especially for applications with higher volume of input fiber. The fiber opener 16 may include two rotating members 38, as is illustrated in FIGURE 8. The rotating members 38 may be positioned one above the other, as is depicted in FIGURE 8, or in an offset manner, as is illustrated in FIGURE 7. As FIGURE 7 further illustrates, every other rotating member 38 may be offset in relation to the first rotating member 38.

[0087] The rotating members 38 may be in contact with each other or be positioned in close proximity to one another so that a distance between two rotating members 38 defines a gap 42. The "gap" refers to a distance between surfaces of adjacent rotating members without a wire. The gap 42 between the rotating members 38 may be adjustable and may be increased or decreased depending on the requirements of a specific application so that a percentage by which fiber density is lowered may be controlled. The gap 42 may be decreased to open tighter-bound fiber or increased to increase throughput of fiber. Exemplary length of the gap 42 may be less than 1 mm, 1 mm or more, 5 mm or more, 10 mm or more, 5 cm or more, or 10 cm or more.

[0088] The distance 42 between adjacent rotating members 38 including wire 44 may be sufficiently small to create at least one pinch point 40. The adjacent rotating members 38 are positioned relative to each other to provide the at least one pinch point 40 between the adjacent rotating members 38, the adjacent rotating members 38 separate the fibers as the fibers pass through the at least one pinch point 40 so that the density of the fiber is lowered by at least 50-95%.

[0089] The "pinch point" is a point between adjacent fiber opening elements in which fiber is engaged by the fiber opening elements at the same time so that the fiber is torn, pulled, shredded, or otherwise rendered open and separated into individual strings of fiber. Preferably, fiber is directed to each pinch point 40 between adjacent rotating members 38 and passed through each pinch point 40 to separate the fiber into a plurality of strings of fiber so that the density of the fiber is lowered by at least 50-95%. In FIGURE 7, fiber is directed to three pinch points 40; the first pinch point 40 being located between rotating members #1 and #2, the second pinch point 40 being located between rotating members #2 and #3, and the third pinch point 40 being located between rotating members #3 and #4. [0090] FIGURE 8 illustrates a pinch point 40 between two rotating members 38 located directly above each other. The pinch point 40 assists in expanding the volume of the incoming fiber. As the rotating members 38 engage the incoming fiber which is advanced to and through the pinch point 40, the surface of rotating members 38, such as a wound wire including a plurality of projections 46, tears the fiber apart. The fiber is thus extensively opened as the fiber passes through each pinch point 40 between the rotating members 38.

[0091] As is depicted in FIGURE 7, the fiber opener 16 may comprise two sets of rotating members 38, rotating members 38 of the first set rotating in the same direction and in the opposite direction than the rotating members 38 of the second set. The first rotating member 38 may turn counter clockwise into the second rotating member 38 and the second rotating member 38 may turn clockwise into the first rotating member 38. When third and fourth rotating members 38 are included such as is depicted in FIGURE 7, the third rotating member 38 may turn counter clockwise into the fourth rotating member 38, and the fourth rotating member 38 may turn clockwise into the third rotating member 38. Additional rotating members 38 can be added to the configuration. The direction in which each rotating member 38 turns may be altered as desired as at least some of the rotating members 38 may rotate clockwise and counter clockwise. Alternatively, as is depicted in FIGURE 8, two rotating members 38 may rotate in different directions and turn into each other. But the rotating members 38 may be adjusted so that both rotating members 38 rotate in the same direction.

[0092] The pieces of fiber or a bale 1 are delivered to the fiber opener 16 in such a manner that fiber is engaged by at least one rotating member 38. The fiber is subsequently crushed, pressed, squeezed, pushed, and/or torn apart in at least one pinch point 40 between adjacent rotating members 38 so that the individual fibers are pulled apart and density of the fiber is lowered. The fiber may be further passed onto additional rotating members 38 and through at least one additional pinch point 40 to further lower the fiber density.

[0093] The rotating members 38 are made from a material that enables the rotating members

38 to lower fiber density. Preferably, the rotating members 38 are made from metal such as steel, iron, aluminum, the like, or a combination thereof. Other metals and materials such as thermosetting plastics are contemplated. Even more preferably, a wire 44 is wound around at least a portion of or around the entire surface area of at least one rotating member 38. [0094] The wire 44 may be made from metal or another material which is sharp enough to tear pieces of fiber apart. The wire 44 may be any suitable commercially available wire. The wire 44 may include projections 46 assisting in lowering the fiber density by engaging the pieces of fiber and tearing them apart. The projections 46 may have any size, shape, or configuration. The projections 46 may have uniform or varying dimensions. Exemplary length and/or height of at least some of the projections 46 may be less than about 5 mm, 5 mm or more, 10 mm or more, 15 mm or more, 20 mm or more, 25 mm or more, 35 mm or more, 50 mm or more, depending of requirements of a specific application. The length and/or height of the projections 46 may be 3 mm to 60 mm, 15 mm to 35 mm, 20 mm to 30 mm. The length and/or height of the projections 46 may be 3 mm to 60 mm, 15 mm to 35 mm, 20 mm to 30 mm. Exemplary width of at least some of the projections 46 may be less than about 1 mm, 1 mm or more, 5 mm or more, 10 mm or more, 20 mm or more, depending of requirements of a specific application. The width of the projections 46 may be about 0.1 to 20 mm, about 0.5 to 10 mm, about 1 mm to 5 mm.

[0095] The projections 46 may be shaped like nails, pins, spears, hooks, teeth, spikes, the like, or a combination thereof. The projections 46 may have a cross-section which is triangular, circular, square, rectangular, oval, angular, regular, irregular, or the like. Each rotating member 38 may include more than one kind of projections 46. The projections 46 may have sharp or dull edges. The projections 46 may have textured edges such as including protrusions to further assist in opening of the fiber. The projections 46 may be angled or be bent in the direction of rotation or in the opposite direction. In FIGURES 9A and 9B, the projections 46, shaped like hooks, are inclined in the direction of rotation. In FIGURES 10 and 11 A, the pyramid projections 46 have a triangular cross-section, the projections 46 having a wide base 48 which gradually narrows at the top 50. The top 50 may be sharp and pointed or relatively dull. The sides of each projection 48 may be smooth or rough. The angle of individual sides of the projections 46 may vary. Exemplary angles may be about 30° or less, 40° or less, 50° or less, 60° or less, 70° or less, 80° or less, or more than about 80°.

[0096] Alternatively or in addition to projections 46, the rotating members 38 may include a plurality of depressions 47 which may assist with separation of the fiber into individual strings of fiber. Exemplary depressions 47 are depicted in FIGURE 10. [0097] The type of wire 44 wound around the surface of rotating members 38 may be the same on all rotating members 38 or different. One or more rotating members 38 may include at least one type of wire 44 with different amount and/or type of projections 46 per inch of wire 44 than remaining rotating members 38. Each wire 44 may have 1 projection per inch of wire or more, 2 projections per inch of wire or more, 4 projections per inch or wire or more, 6 projections per inch of wire or more, 10 projections per inch of wire or more; preferable are 3 projections per inch of wire. Each wire 44 may have 1 to 10 projections, 2 to 8 projections, or 3 to 6 projections per inch of wire. The rotating members 38 may have the following spacing of the projections 46 along the length or width of the rotating members 38: 1 row of projections per inch of rotating member 38 or more, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or more rows of projections per inch of rotating member 38. The rotating members 38 may have 1 to 15, 3 to 10, or 5 to 7 rows of projections per inch of rotating member 38.

[0098] The wire 44 may be wound in a variety ways. For example, the wire 44 may be wound on the surface of the rotating member 38 in such a way that the positioning of the wire 44 may be easily adjusted. Alternatively, the wire 44 may be wound sufficiently tight to assure that the wire 44 may not easily disengage and shift. Preferably, the wire 44 is wound spirally around the rotating member 38. In FIGURE 10, a wire 44 is secured on the surface of the rotating members 38 by being set within a ridge 52. The ridge 52 allows the wire 44 to be secured tightly, but also determines spacing and positioning of the wire 44 on the surface of each rotating member 38. Alternatively or in addition to the insertion within a ridge 52, the wire 44 may be attached to at least one end of the rotating member 38 by welding or by another suitable technique.

[0099] The wire 44 on at least one rotating member 38 may be wound in such a way that the rotating member 38 has 1 or more rows of wire per inch of each rotating member's width. FIGURE 9C shows the rotating member 38 having 6 rows of wire per inch of the rotating member' s width while FIGURE 9D shows the rotating member 38 having 9 rows of wire per inch of rotating member's width.

[0100] FIGURES 10 and 11B illustrate that winding of a wire 44 on the rotating member 38 may create gaps 56 between rows of the wound wire 44. The gaps 56 may have any size, shape, or a configuration. The gaps 56 may be symmetrical, asymmetrical, regular, irregular, the like, or a combination thereof. Exemplary width of at least some of the gaps 56 may be less than about 1 mm, about 1 mm or more, about 5 mm or more, about 10 cm or more, or about 15 cm or more. The gaps 56 may be filled with another type of wound wire 44 or a different material. Alternatively, the gaps 56 may include one or more depressions 47.

[0101] Referring again to FIGURE 7, the fiber opener section 16 may further contain one or more deflectors 58 which may assist in guiding individual pieces of fiber to the pinch points 40, to the rotating members 38, or both. The deflectors 58 may have any size, shape, or configuration to fulfill this function. For example, the deflectors 58 may be shaped like slides and/or angled in such a manner that when pieces of fiber encounter the deflector 58, the fiber is guided to a pinch point 40. The deflectors 58 prevent pieces of fiber from passing by the rotating members 38 without being engaged by the rotating members 38, and preferably by the wire 44 of the rotating members 38. The fiber opener section 16 may contain any number of deflectors 58. For example, the fiber opener 16 may contain one or more deflectors 58 per rotating member 38, as FIGURE 7 illustrates. The deflectors 58 may be located on the walls of the fiber opener 16. The deflectors 58 may be temporarily or permanently attached to the fiber opener section 16.

[0102] Preferably, the opened fiber has the desired density upon exit from the fiber opener section 16. The opened fiber from the fiber opener section 16 may continue onto a transportation device which will discharge the opened fiber. Alternatively, the fiber may exit or be transported to another section such as a mixing section 20 or a packaging section 22, or to an additional fiber opening section 16 to open the fiber further. Alternatively still, the fiber may be transported to an input section 18 so that additional desired components such as peat, compost, bark, coir, nutrients, fertilizers, and other components named above, may be added to the opened fiber. An exemplary input section 18 is shown in FIGURE 2. After the fiber is sufficiently opened, moisture can be added to the fiber to reduce dust, facilitate easier transport, or a combination thereof.

[0103] FIGURE 12 depicts a mixing section 20 comprising at least a partially enclosed chamber for mixing the optional components supplied from the input section 18 and/or the partially opened fiber. The mixing section 20 may comprise one or more mixing members 60. The one or more mixing members 60 may mix individual optional components and/or the fiber. The mixing members 60 are capable of rotating clockwise and/or counter clockwise. All mixing members 60 may rotate clockwise or counter clockwise. Alternatively, at least some of the mixing members 60 may turn in the opposite direction than the other mixing members 60. The rotation of the mixing members 60 may be altered as desired. FIGURE 12 depicts three mixing members 60; the first mixing member 60 rotating clockwise, the second mixing member 60 rotating counter clockwise, and the third mixing member 60 rotating clockwise.

[0104] All mixing members 60 may have the same or different dimensions. The mixing members 60 may have any size, shape, or a configuration. As is depicted in FIGURE 12, the mixing members 60 may be cylindrical. The mixing members 60 may be arranged directly one above the other or in a variety of different configurations as long as the mixing members 60 are capable of engaging and properly mixing the optional components and/or fiber. The mixing members 60 may be stacked or staggered, as is illustrated in FIGURE 12. Staggering of the mixing members 16 may aid proper mixing. The mixing members 60 may be separated by a distance creating a gap 62 allowing projections 64 of the mixing members 60 to freely rotate around the axis without encountering projections 64 of a neighboring mixing member 60 while mixing the optional components and/or fiber. The gap 62 may be adjustable so that the throughput of fiber may be regulated. The optional components and/or fiber may be received by the top or the bottom mixing member 60 first.

[0105] The one or more mixing members 60 may comprise projections 64 aiding mixing of the optional components and/or fiber. The projections 64 may have any size, shape, or a configuration thereof to engage the optional components and/or the partially opened fiber. The projections 64 may be shaped like spikes, nails, pins, spears, studs, pegs, screws, the like, or a combination thereof. In FIGURE 12, the projections 64 are shaped like spikes. The projections 64 may have sharp or dull edges. The projections 64 may have rough or smooth surface. Each mixing member 60 may have one or more horizontal and/or vertical rows of projections 64. Each horizontal and/or vertical row of projections 64 may have one or more projections 64. Preferably, the total number and configuration of projections 64 is such that the optional components and/or fiber may be properly mixed. The projections 64 may be equally spaced apart in each row or configured in an offset pattern.

[0106] At least some of the mixing members 60 may be designed as rotating members 38, optionally wound with wire 40 just like the rotating members 38 in the fiber opener section 16 to provide further opening of fiber while mixing the fiber and/or optional components at the same time. [0107] The optional components and/or the fiber may be discharged or transported to a packaging section 22 directly from the bale breaker 14, the fiber opening section 16, the input section 18, or the mixing section 20. As can be seen in FIGURE 2, the partially opened fiber and/or optional components enter the packaging section 22 located downstream from the mixing section 20. Alternatively, the mixture may be transported by a conventional transport apparatus such as a conveyor to a packaging station remotely located.

[0108] The volume of opened fiber may be increased or decreased by regulating the rotational speed of at least one beater member 32, at least one rotating member 38, at least one mixing member 60, or a combination thereof. The frequency of rotation of any of the rotating members 32, 38, and 60 may be about 250 rpm or more, 500 rpm or more, 750 rpm or more, 1000 rpm or more, 1250 rpm or more, 1500 rpm, or more, 2000 rpm or more, or 3000 rpm or more. The frequency of rotation of any of the rotating members 32, 38, and 60 may be 150 to 3500 rpm, 250 to 2000 rpm, or 500 to 1000 rpm.

[0109] In a yet alternative embodiment of the compressed growing medium or mulch fiber opener apparatus 100, depicted in FIGURES 13A-D, the bale traveling on the conveyor belt 24 may be guided directly towards the fiber opener 16. The fiber opener 16 is connected to a mixing section 20. This embodiment may also include a hopper 66.

[0110] As can be seen in the detailed view of FIGURE 14, the fiber opener 16 may contain a set of rotating members 38, similar to those depicted in an embodiment depicted in FIGURES 3A, 3B, and 4. In at least the embodiment of FIGURE 14, an additional roller 68 is included. The roller 68 is arranged in front of the set of rotating members 38 such that the bale encounters the roller 68 prior to contacting the set of rotating members 38. Specifically, the roller 68 is in contact with the top portion of the bale as the bale travels towards the set of rotating members 38. The roller 68 assists in keeping the bale oriented and situated on the conveyor belt 24, preventing sliding movement of the bale from the conveyor belt 24. The roller 68 asserts pressure to keep the bale on the conveyor belt 24 such that the bale may be received by the fiber opener 16.

[0111] The roller 68 may include protrusions 70 such as spikes. The protrusions 70 further ensure that the bale remains on the conveyor bale 24. The protrusions may be spikes, nails, pins, screws, spears, pricks, needles, the like, or a combination thereof. The protrusions 70 may be arranged around the entire perimeter of the roller 68 symmetrically or asymmetrically. For example, the roller 68 may contain 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, or more rows of the protrusions 70. The rows may contain the same or different amount of protrusions 70. At least one row of protrusions 70 may extend the entire length of the roller 68. At least some of the rows may contain less protrusions 70 than other rows. A row may contain 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, or more protrusions 70. The roller 68 and the protrusions 70 may be made from metal, composite material, or a combination thereof.

[0112] The arrangement of the roller 68 may be adjustable such that the roller 68 may be movable with respect to the conveyor belt 24, the bale, the set of rotating members 38, or a combination thereof. For example, the roller 68 may be lowered to apply more pressure onto a bale or to reach a bale which has lower height than a bale which was previously passed through the apparatus 100. Alternatively, the roller 68 may be movable away from the conveyor belt 24 such that the roller 68 applies less pressure on the top of the bale traveling on the conveyor belt 24. Similarly, the roller 68 may be movable towards or away from the set of the rotating members 38. The distance variation and adjustment may be achievable, for example, by manually moving the roller 38 into a variety of slots into which the roller 38 is temporarily anchored. If desirable, the roller 38 may be set into a permanent stationary position within the structure of the apparatus 100. It is contemplated that more than one roller 68 may be used in a single apparatus 100. For example, a secondary roller 68 may be incorporated at a different height than the first roller 68, applying a different amount of pressure such as more or less pressure than the first roller 68, or a combination thereof.

[0113] The set of rotating members 38 may include rotating members 38 described above. The rotating members 38 rotate in the opposite direction from each other. The top member 38' rotates counter-clockwise while the lower member 38" rotates clockwise. Such direction of rotation ensures that the bale, once in contact with the set of rotating members 38, is being pulled apart. To additionally increase efficiency of the rotating members 38, the top roller 38' and the bottom roller 38" may rotate at different speeds. For example, the top member 38' may rotate faster than the lower member 38" .

The speed of the top member 38' may be about 1300 to 2500 rpm, 1400 to 2250 rpm, or 1500 to 2000 rpm. The speed of the lower member 38" may be about 300 to 1250 rpm, 400 to 1100 rpm, or 500 to

1000 rpm. Alternatively, the lower member 38" may be faster than the top member 38' . One of the rotating member 38 may be 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1.25, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 times faster than the other rotating member 38. The speed of at least one or the rollers 38, or both, may be adjustable. The variable speed drive of the rollers 38 may ensure highly efficient pulling apart of the bale fiber into pieces of desirable size, producing growing medium of desired density.

[0114] To further guide the fiber through the set of rotating members 38, a shroud 72 may be implemented in the apparatus 100. The shroud 72 surrounds, at least partially, the rotating member(s) 38. For example, at least 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, or 50% of the surface area of at least one rotating member 38 may be surrounded by the shroud 72. There is a gap 84 between the rotating members 38 and the shroud 72. The shroud 72 is arranged such that the fiber being pulled apart from the bale by the rotating members 38 is prevented from passing inbetween the rotating members 38.

[0115] The shroud 72 may have two or more portions. In the embodiment depicted in FIGURE

14, two members of the shroud 72 are depicted. The upper shroud member 72' is located in the vicinity of the upper rotating member 38' . The upper shroud member 72' may have a first portion 74 extending in front of the rotating member 38', a second portion 76 having a plurality of members forming a curvature around a portion of the upper rotating member 38', and a third portion 78 arranged behind the rotating member 38', guiding the fibers towards an opening 80 defined by the two portions of the shroud 72. The lower shroud member 72' ' may include a first portion similar to 74 of the upper shroud, thus preceding the lower rotating member 38", a second portion having a plurality of members forming a curvature around the bottom side of the lower rotating member 38", and a third portion 82 extending from under the lower rotating member 38" to the opening 80. Alternatively, as is depicted in FIGURE 14, the lower shroud member 72" may contain just one portion such as portion 82 attached to a portion of the conveyor belt 24 and/or the apparatus frame 110.

[0116] The shroud member 72', 72" may limit the particle size of shredded material that can pass around the set of rotating members 38, thereby ensuring that all fiber particles that pass through the fiber opener section 16 are of the desired particle size. Thus, the gap 84 between a shroud member 72 and a rotating member 38 may be large enough to allow free rotation of the rotating members 38, but small enough to prevent passage of large fiber pieces or chunks of material between the rotating members 38 and the shroud members 72', 72" . The gap 84 may be about 0.1 to 1 inches, 0.2 to 0.8 inches, or 0.25 to 0.5 inches. The gap 84 may be uniform. Alternatively, the gap 84 between different portions of the shroud members and the rotating members 38 may differ. For example, the gap 84 may have a larger dimension between the first portion 74 and/or the third portion 78 than between the second portion 76 and the rotating member 38. The gap 84 may narrow from the first portion 74 towards the second portion 76 and enlarge from the second portion 76 towards the third portion 78.

[0117] It is contemplated that the second portions of the shroud members 72', 72" may be formed from a single piece of material bent at different angles in multiple locations. The shroud 72 and its portions may be made from metal, composite material, or a combination thereof. At least a portion of one of the shroud members 72', 72" may contain protrusions such as pins, spikes, needles, screws to further tear apart fiber which encounters the side of the shroud facing the rotating members 38. For example, the second portion 76 may contain the protrusions. The protrusions may be placed symmetrically such as in rows or in a pattern, or asymmetrically.

[0118] The fiber shredded in the rotating members 38 continues to a mixing section 20 via the opening 80 defined by the upper shroud member 72' and the lower shroud member 72". The mixing section 20 may be the mixing section described above, containing mixing members 60 described above. Alternatively, the mixing section 20 may include different type of mixing members or blades 92 described below.

[0119] A detailed view of the mixing section 20 is depicted in FIGURE 15. The mixing section

20 has an input opening 88 and an output opening 90. The input opening 88 is located adjacent to and/or below the opening 80 between the shroud members 72', 72' ' such that the shredded fiber enters the mixing section 20 after passing through the opening 80. In the mixing section 20, the fiber encounters a set of blades 92 attached to a shaft 93. The set of blades 92 may include 2, 3,4 5, 6, 8, 10, or more blades 92. The blades 92 may have the same or different dimensions, orientation, material, angle of individual portions, or a combination thereof.

[0120] A blade 92 may include a first elongated portion 94 and a second elongated portion 96.

The first and second elongated portions 96 may be arranged in a 90° angle with respect to each other. The angle may be lesser or greater than 90°. The angle between the first and second portions 94, 96 may be about 30° to 90°, 40° to 80°, or 50° to 70°. At least one of the portions 94, 96 may have a bent portion at its end 98. Each portion 94, 96 may have a bent portion at its end 98. The bent portions 98 may be pointing in the same or different direction. For example, a single blade 92 may have a first portion 94 and a second portion 96 having all bent portions at the ends 98 pointing in the same direction. Alternatively, both ends 98 of a first portion 94 may be bent in the same direction while both ends 98 of a second portion 96 of the same blade 92 may face the opposite direction. The bent portion at the end 98 may be bent at an angle of about 30° to 90°, 40° to 80°, or 50° to 70° with respect to the elongated portion of the blade 92.

[0121] The blades 92 may be installed on the shaft 93. The installation may be permanent or temporary such that the blades 92 or their orientation may be adjusted. For example, a first blade 92 may be rotated with respect to a second blade 92 such that the first and second blades 92 are staggered. The mixing section 20 may include more than one shaft 93, each having the same or different amount of blades 92.

[0122] The blades 92 on a single shaft 93 rotate in the same direction. The direction of rotation may be adjustable. Different shafts 93 may rotate in different directions, at different speeds, or a combination thereof. The rotating speed of the shaft 93 may be about 300 to 2200 rpm, 400 to 2000 rpm, or 600 to 1800 rpm.

[0123] The apparatus 100 may also include a hopper 66, depicted in FIGURES 13A-13D, connected to the apparatus 100 via a connector 67. The hopper 66 may fulfill the function of the input section 18 described above. The connector 67 allows the hopper 66 to be directionally configurable, enabling installation of the hopper 66 at any angle. The connector 67 may be circular, triangular, square, rectangular, shaped like a heptagon, hexagon, or the like or have a cross-section which is circular, triangular, square, rectangular, shaped like a heptagon, hexagon, or the like. The shape of the connector 67 determines the freedom and/or movement and installation possibilities of the hopper 66 to the remainder of the apparatus 100. A circular connector 67 may enable movement and positioning of the hopper 66 at any angle with respect to the remainder of the apparatus 100. A square or rectangular connector may allow installation of the hopper 66 in 4 different angles, that is 180° (FIGURE 13A), 90° (FIGURE 13B), 0° (FIGURE 13C), and 270° (FIGURE 13D), respectively, with respect to the incoming bale. A heptagonal connector 67 may allow installation of the hopper 66 in 5 different angles/positions, etc. The connector 67 may have an aperture serving as an output opening 104 of the hopper 66. [0124] Utilization of the connector 67 for the hopper 66 permits manufacture of a standard hopper 66 in quantity production runs to lower production cost, improve quality, avoid individual customization, and allow dispatching to a customer from a pre-built inventory, thus shortening delivery lead-time. The hopper 66 may be thus a universal hopper 66.

[0125] The hopper 66 may have an input opening 102 and the output opening 104. The input opening 102 may accept a variety of materials named above such as fiber, wood material such as wood chips, additional components such as fertilizer, dye, nutrients, peat, bark, Coir, compost, rice hulls, sawdust, pine tree substrate or whole tree substrate, the like, or a combination thereof. The input opening 102 may have any shape such as circular, square, rectangular, symmetrical, asymmetrical, or the like. The material put in the hopper 66 via the input opening 102 advances via the connector opening 104 to the mixing section 20 located below the hopper 66. Alternatively, the output opening 104 may be different from the connector aperture, be located beyond the connector 67, and have a different shape than the connector 67. For example, the hopper 66 may include a circular connector 67 and a rectangular or square output opening 104. The hopper 66 may also include a passage 106 connecting the input opening 102 with the output opening 104. The inner dimensions of the passage 106 may narrow in the direction from the input opening 102 towards the output opening 104 such that the hopper 66 has a general function of a funnel. The length of the passage 106 may be adjustable. For example, the passage 106 may include individual portions which may slide into each other.

[0126] As is further depicted in FIGURES 13A-13D, the apparatus may have safety features such as a cover 108. The cover 108 may be installed at a location above the conveyor belt 24. The location may be determined with respect to a location of the roller 68, the rotating members 38, a location at which the fiber becomes separated and pieces of the fiber may be ejected from the apparatus 100, or a combination thereof. The cover 108 may be at least partially translucent or transparent to allow visual inspection of the process. The cover 108 may be made from plastic such as polyacrylate.

[0127] The apparatus 100 may further include a frame 110. The frame 110 may contain solid portions, partially transparent portions, or a combination thereof. The frame 110 may be sturdy enough to support individual portions and enable incorporation of individual portions such as the conveyor belt 24, the rotating members 38, the roller 68, and mixing section 20, the hopper 66, or a combination thereof. The transparent portions may include apertures 112 which may allow visual inspection of the bale and/or the separated fiber as it advances through the apparatus 100. The apertures 112 may fulfill additional functions such as provide one or more slots for securing of individual portions of the apparatus, for example the roller 68. The frame 110 may be made from metal, composite material, or both.

[0128] The invention also pertains to a process for lowering density of highly compressed fiber by opening the fiber and producing a growing medium or mulch including the opened fiber with lowered density. The process may comprise the following steps, wherein the steps may be performed in any order and repeated as desired. The process may include a step of loading one or more bales of fiber onto a transportation device which may supply the bales of highly compressed input fiber to a bale breaker. The process may include a step of passing at least one bale of the compressed fiber through a bale breaker before supplying the fiber to a fiber opener. The bale breaker may divide the one or more bales of highly compressed input fiber into smaller pieces, tearing the fiber apart, as well as beating and pulling apart pieces of fiber from the bale. The process may include a step of creating partially opened fiber by separating the bale into pieces of fiber. The process may further include a step of engaging the one or more bales with the projections of one or more beater members turning clockwise and/or counter clockwise. The process may further include a step of adjusting a gap between two or more beater members by increasing or decreasing the distance between beater members, changing the direction of rotation of at least some beater members, and/or adjusting the speed of rotation of at least some of the beater members. The process may further include a step of transporting the pieces of fiber or one or more bales of fiber to the fiber opener section and opening the fiber by passing the fiber between one or more rotating members of the fiber opener section. The process may include a step of engaging compressed or partially opened fiber with at least some of the plurality of projections of the rotating members. The rotating members may be rotating clockwise, counter clockwise, or a combination thereof. The process may include a step of adjusting the speed and/or direction of rotation of at least one of the rotating members and/or increasing and/or decreasing a gap between the one or more beater members. The process may include a step of pulling fiber apart, expanding and opening compressed or the partially opened fiber as pieces of fiber pass between the rotating members, through a pinch point, or both. The process may include a step of passing fiber through a pinch point between adjacent rotating members and thus opening the fiber as the fiber is being pressed, crushed, squeezed, pushed, and/or torn apart in the pinch point. The process may include a step of separating compressed or partially opened fiber into a plurality of strings of fiber in the pinch point. The process may include a step of decreasing the gap to open tighter-bound fiber or increasing the gap to increase throughput of fiber. The method may include guiding individual pieces of fiber and/or partially opened fiber to and/or through at least one pinch point by using one or more deflectors. The process may include a step of engaging fiber with one or more projections of one or more rotating members of the fiber opener section and opening fiber with wire rollers. The process may include a step of regulating capacity and volume of opened fiber by changing rotational speed of at least one beater member, at least one rotating member, at least one mixing member, or a combination thereof. The process may include a step of lowering density of fiber by at least about 50% or more, 60% or more, 70% or more, 80% or more, or 90% or more. The process may include a step of lowering the density of the substrate by at least about 50 to 99%, 70 to 95%, or 85 to 90%. The process may also include a step of supplying optional components from an input section. The process may further include a step of mixing the fiber and/or optional components in a mixing section by one or more mixing members. The process may include a step of packaging the at least partially or fully opened fiber. The process may include discharging the opened fiber. The process may include adding and/or removing one or more sections of the fiber opening apparatus as well as attaching one or more sections of the fiber opening apparatus to one another, for example by bolts, nuts, the like, or a combination thereof, temporarily or permanently. The process may include adding the opened fiber as a component into a growing medium or mulch. The process may include a step of forming a growing medium or mulch including the opened fiber.

[0129] This disclosure also relates to a growing medium or mulch prepared by the process described above. The resulting growing medium or mulch includes the fiber opened by the fiber opening apparatus. The resulting density of the mulch or growing medium including the opened fiber is lower than the density of the fiber in a compressed bale by about 50% or more, 60% or more, 70% or more, 80% or more, or 90% or more. The resulting growing medium or mulch may be applied hydraulically. The resulting density of the mulch or growing medium including the opened fiber is lower than the density of the fiber in a compressed bale by at least about 50 to 99%, 70 to 95%, or 85 to 90%.

[0130] As required, detailed embodiments of the present invention are disclosed herein; however, it is to be understood that the disclosed embodiments are merely exemplary of the invention that may be embodied in various and alternative forms. The figures are not necessarily to scale; some features may be exaggerated or minimized to show details of particular components. Therefore, specific structural and functional details disclosed herein are not to be interpreted as limiting, but merely as a representative basis for teaching one skilled in the art to variously employ the present invention.

[0131] While exemplary embodiments are described above, it is not intended that these embodiments describe all possible forms of the invention. Rather, the words used in the specification are words of description rather than limitation, and it is understood that various changes may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Additionally, the features of various implementing embodiments may be combined to form further embodiments of the invention.