Preparing and Buffering Coco Peat - Coco Coir

With the increase in buffering supplements being sold worldwide, it is clear that growers are becoming aware of the importance of buffering of your Coco Coir media. Today we take a closer look at exactly why it has such a big impact on your yields… Coco Coir is a by product of industries who use […]
Hydrated Coco Peat Coarse and Fine Grade Side by Side

With the increase in buffering supplements being sold worldwide, it is clear that growers are becoming aware of the importance of buffering your Coco Coir media. Today we take a closer look at exactly why it has such a big impact on your yields…

Coco Coir is a by-product of industries who use Coconut. It’s an organic product that comes from processing the Coconut’s husk from Coconut tree plantations that are mainly located in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

To get the Coco Coir from the Coconut husk it goes through many stages of grading processes – aging, washing, buffering, drying, grinding and compressing into different sizes and grades of Coco Coir, namely Fine and Coarse. Processing the Coco this way ensures that the chemical and physical characteristics of the Coco are altered to ensure the best quality Coco Coir for growing plants in. You may be asking yourself – Why even bother with buffering Coco to prepare it for optimum plant growth? Is growing in Coco Coir really worth it? Why not just use another hydroponic medium?

Here are some reasons why;

  • It’s a by-product from another industry.
  • It has an ideal pH.
  • It holds 22% air even when fully saturated.
  • It has excellent drainage properties.
  • Its anti-fungicidal properties help plants to get rid of soil-borne diseases.
  • 100% renewable.
  • Easy to hydrate.
  • Fewer weeds to remove.
  • Environmentally friendly.

Organic matter and Coco naturally have negative charges on its surface that attract cations (positively charged ion). The total number of cations that anything can hold onto or exchange are referred to as the Cation Exchange Capacity or CEC. So basically, CEC will help us to determine amount of nutrients that the media can hold onto before it starts leaching. The CEC of Coco Coir is anything between 40-100meq/100g (meq or milli-equivalent is used to measure the cation exchange capacity). This means that Coco can hold onto nutrients, but it can also lock certain nutrients out, leading to deficiencies in your plant which will be displayed in various ways.

Coconut trees have a naturally high tolerance for salt (sodium chloride) and therefore most plantations grow abundantly along the coast. This in turn means that Coco’s cation exchange sites are naturally saturated with Sodium. Coco coir’s CEC also naturally contains large amount of Potassium and low amounts of Calcium and Magnesium. These 4 cations are the most important cations when buffering Coco.

Initially, Coco Coir has a salt content or Electrical Conductivity level of 2 to 6 mS/cm which is far too high for a growing medium. High quality Coco Coir should be washed thoroughly until an E.C of below 1mS/cm is reached. Even after washing, there will still be Sodium and Potassium in the fibres of the Coco Coir which can only be removed through buffering.There is a big difference between washing and buffering Coco. Washing the Coco Coir will allow the water-soluble elements to be removed but buffering will remove elements that are naturally bonded to the cation exchange fibres of Coco.

The goal is to lower the amount of CEC sites that have Potassium and Magnesium attached. Potassium can be attached to up to 40% of the sites and Sodium can be attached by up to 15% of the sites. This is very important because if 40% of the exchange is holding Potassium that means that there is 40meq/100g of Potassium in the media, which is a single-charge molecule. Hydrated Coco Coir should make 12-15L of medium per 1kg of dry, compressed Coco Coir. It may not sound like a lot but it would mean that there is as much as 1.56g of Potassium per 100g of media. If you compare this 1.56g to 0.22g (220ppm) of Potassium that you would normally be using in a well-balanced nutrient feed, you can see where this would be a problem.

Buffering

Buffering is especially important for growers who have a recirculating system as it gives them more control over how much Calcium their plants are getting and prevents a build-up of salts. When buffering your Coco Coir, you are exposing the cation exchange sites to a solution that contains high concentration levels of the elements we want on the sites, being Calcium and Magnesium. Cations that are already bonded to sites are quite difficult to remove and therefore a simple washing of your Coco Coir won’t do much to change the makeup of the undesired cations. Washing will only change the E.C but not the CEC of the Coco.

Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium will all be absorbed at different rates even if they were all introduced into a solution at the same concentrations. Calcium and Magnesium are absorbed at double the rate due to them having a double-positive charge while Potassium and Sodium have a single-positive charge ( Ca++ , Mg++ , K+ , Na+ ). Buffering products that have high levels of Calcium and Magnesium have a slower buffering rate but they help to effectively create a lower Potassium and Sodium percentage on the exchange and offer beneficial Magnesium to the CEC. This ensures that any nutrient mixes you use are going directly to the plant instead of amending the Coco’s CEC.

Coco fibre acts like a peat fibre in the way that it binds and releases nutrients but also like an inner substrate, such as rockwool, in the way that it holds water. Coco substrate can act as a buffer, storing water and nutrients for the plants. Buffering can work in several ways. There are water buffers, pH buffers, nutrient buffers and coco buffers

What’s the difference?

Let's start with the water buffer, rockwool can hold about 92 % of its volume in water This water supply is available to the plants when its needs it, this is called a water buffer. Coco can act as a water buffer as well. It does not hold as much as rockwool, it only holds 66% of its volume in water but the water held by the coco is readily available to the plants. 

Then we have the pH buffer, potting mixes are made from acidic peat, and because of this acidity, lime is able to bring to the right pH value. If you water the plant with a nutrient solution with a high or low pH the lime buffer will neutralise it. At least until the lime in the peat runs out. Potting mixes can help correct any mistake made by the grower. Coco is basically neutral in its pH value and will not neutralise the pH value of the nutrient solution, this means that the pH values are easier to control in coco; but is not as forgiving as potting methods. The next buffer is the nutrient buffer, substrates containing peat or mineral soil combine nutrients to the fibres or particles using the charge sites, these are the cation exchange sites, as mentioned earlier. The nutrients will later be released to the solution around the fibres in the soil. This mechanism is called slow release or equilibrium. All elements can be made available for the plants in a specific ratio. Coco has similar spaces between its fibres. These are already filled with potassium and sodium. As mentioned above, the excess sodium and potassium need to be removed by washing the coco with low EC water.

Finally, we have the coco buffer, as mentioned coco fibres also hold potassium this needs to be removed by calcium and magnesium, if this does not happen the fibres will draw calcium and magnesium out of the nutrient solution, so that is no longer available for the plants. Although the coco is buffered, it will always bind some calcium and magnesium from the nutrient solution and thereby release potassium. The coco substrate uses the potassium that is released for the generative phases as well. Since coco substrate absorbs enough water and does not need to be watered that much there is plenty of time for the coco to make this exchange.

Here are some how-to-steps on preparing and buffering your Coco;

1) First, the Coco must be rehydrated, tap water is perfectly fine for rehydration

2) The coco must be rinsed to remove the fine particles of dust; you can do this by using a strainer

3) The next step is to buffer the coco -double buffering is recommended

4) To start buffering you simply lower your fabric pot of coco into a bucket and then add enough buffering solution to completely submerge the potassium and sodium cation exchange sites with Cal-mag. Cover and let it and let it sit for 8 hours

5)  After 8 hours, refresh the buffering solution. - By pre-soaking the coco like this, in a strong solution of Cal-mag, you ensure that the cation exchange sites are fully buffered. Once buffered the cation-exchange will no longer interfere with nutrition 

6) Once the buffering solution is refreshed, put the coco back into the bucket and buffer it again-double buffering ensures further that the plants do not suffer any calcium or magnesium deficiencies 

7)  After the second buffer, the coco is ready. Only one step remains to ensure the coco is the optimal media for growing, and that is to mix it with perlite. A rough recipe that can be used is 6 quarts of perlite to 800g of Coco, just pour a couple of quarts at a time and mix thoroughly with your hands. Be sure to get all the way to the bottom of the pot! Perlite dramatically improves aeration and drainage.

Calcium is crucial for a plant’s growth and is involved in almost every aspect of a plant’s development. Your plant will show Calcium deficiencies in a few different ways if you pay close attention. New leaves may appear crinkled and distorted while they might also show dead spots where the leaves will turn brown and die-off.

Most Coco Coir on the market these days is washed but it may not be nutrient buffered so please make sure you know exactly what your buying.

That concludes the guide to preparing and buffering Coco! For information on how to grow using the finer coco peat substrate please see our article  “Growing hydroponically with Coco Peat”

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Need more information on coco peat?

Some of the best coco peat on offer:

Jiffy Peat Pellet from R 2.00
Jiffy Peat Pellets are the very best for seed starting! Each one contains weed-free professional grade Canadian Sphagnum peat. Jiffy Pellets are perfect for propagation and come wrapped in a bio degradable netting. They come in four different sizes being the 20mm, 30mm, 40mm and 50mm. Add water and the Jiffy Peat Pellets quickly swell to 7 x it's original size to become a perfect self contained pot with its own perfect medium for starting seeds. Seeds are nurtured within the pellet to germinate faster into young seedlings. Roots emerge easily through the porous walls of the pellet as a result of the enhanced air circulation created by the unique design and characteristics of the Jiffy Peat Pellet. The superior root development then assures stronger, healthier plants for transplanting. The Jiffy Peat Pellet - complete with the started plant inside - goes directly into the ground. As a result, no transplant shock occurs, and the plant has full vigor to mature faster. All the young, tender roots remain totally intact.
Jiffy Peat Preforma Glue Plug from R 3.50
Jiffy Peat Preforma Glue Plugs are an extremely uniform substrate. The plug is structured with hundreds of micro air pockets evenly distributed throughout the plug. The glue plugs are perfect for clones or cutting and will stimulate vigorous root growth throughout the full depth and volume of the plug. With the Jiffy Peat Preforma Glue Plugs substrate been fully bound, transplanting is easy. The glue plugs dont have the net around them, allowing for optimum root development for when you pot them up in the final growing medium Cuttings growing in glue plugs produce noticeably cleaner callous than others in different substrates. The active root callous are noticeably increased and stimulates fast multiple root development.
Premium Coco Peat 650g R 29.00
Our easy-to-use bricks are 20 x 10 x 7 cm in size and work in the same way as our 5kg blocks. Coco Peat derives from Coconut husk. They have been washed, treated and graded before they are processed into bricks. They hold onto moisture and nutrients which is directly available to the root zone and because of its light texture, it also holds onto more oxygen which prevents the plant from having wet feet. Simply add water, allow it to soak through and your ready to start growing. Small size and light weight make them ideal for home usage. You won't have the same pests you have with soil growing as it is an unsuitable home for pests. 1kg expands to 15 litres of moist Coco Peat. Holds 8-9 times it's weight in water. It is naturally resistant to bacterial and fungal growth. 100% environmentally friendly.
Premium Coco Peat 5kg R 145.00
Buffered Coco Peat is made from the mesocarp of the coconut and intended for hydroponics, substrate, and growing media. This homogeneous product offers a high yield (liters per kilogram expanded) and excellent quality with a guaranteed product. Our 5 kg blocks are made of 100% pure compressed coco peat of various ratios of peat, coco chips, and fibre. Simply add water and the block will expand to 60-70L of hydrated, ready-to-use Coco Peat. Available in Fine or Coarse Grade You won't have the same pests you have with soil growing as it is an unsuitable home for pests. Holds 8-9 times its weight in water. It is naturally resistant to bacterial and fungal growth. 100% environmentally friendly.
Premium Coco Peat 5kg Bundle - Fine from R 250.00
Take advantage of this bundle deal on our Premium Coco Peat. 3 x 5kg Compressed Coco Peat bricks in either Fine or Coarse grade. You won’t have the same pests you have with soil growing as it is an unsuitable home for pests. Holds 8-9 times it’s weight in water. It is naturally resistant to bacterial and fungal growth. 100% environmentally friendly.
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Premium Coco Peat 5kg Bundle - Coarse R 399.00
Take advantage of this bundle deal on our Premium Coco Peat. 3 x 5kg Compressed Coco Peat bricks in either Fine or Coarse grade. You won’t have the same pests you have with soil growing as it is an unsuitable home for pests. Holds 8-9 times it’s weight in water. It is naturally resistant to bacterial and fungal growth. 100% environmentally friendly.
Gold Label Coco Substrate R 325.00
Gold Label coco substrate is a growing medium comprised of high-quality coco fibres that have been washed and are ready to use immediately out of the bag. Made in the Netherlands, this is a dutch high-quality medium for hydroponics. Gold Label Coco is manufactured using the fibres from the husk of the coconut. Only matured woody brown husk is used for optimum quality and stability of the substrate. The husk fibres are washed to remove excess EC, buffered to remove potassium and then sieved into fine fibres. All the processing is done in an environmentally friendly way under the supervision of the RHP authority. Gold Label Coco is RHP Horticulture certified thus ensuring quality, stability, and crop safety. Mineral, as well as organic nutrients, can be used with this fully organic, recyclable top quality substrate. The lightweight makes it easy to handle and process. Gold label Coco XL is a lightweight substrate made from our best-buffered Cocos with very low EC. Gold Label Coco XL carries an RHP certificate for Horticulture. This not only guarantees a clean and stable substrate, but also a production process that is environmentally friendly. Gold Label Coco XL is an ideal substrate for hydro-culture: It is a renewable organic material, extra light and expanding. Coco XL can absorb more than 10 times its weight in water, it has a strong capillary function and a stable pH, and it can be recycled in the compost. Volume: 40L  Net weight: 17.5kg Recommended Nutrients: Coco Regime Imported straight to our Port Elizabeth harbor and available in South Africa with nationwide delivery to your door. Coco Single Hydroponic Substrate Directions for use to get the best results with coco XL. Gold Label Coco XL is a rather inert substrate and buffers no plant nutrients. You need to add nutrients when you first water the substrate (use your nutrient supplier's recommendations). For the first time watering do not flush or completely saturate the substrate. Allow the plants to root and water again after 4-7 days. Keep plugs or cubes wet after initial planting to prevent cuttings from drying out. The recommended pH range is 5.2 -> 6.2 - However, this depends on the nutrient used. We recommend Gold Label Nutrients for Coco and follow the feeding schedule. These professional hydroponic nutrients' quality ingredients facilitate the plant's nutritional uptake process.  1 to 2 doses per day of water is generally enough for Coco XL. Let the substrate dry out moderately again before watering again. Roots need air, and a saturated substrate will not leave enough air for the roots, inhibiting them from taking up water and nutrients. Remark: Small size pot with large plants dries the substrate quickly, adjust the watering frequency accordingly. You can use Coco XL watering systems with or without a drain. If you use a watering system without drain we recommend flushing your substrate regularly to prevent the build-up of residual salts. You can use enzymes to flush or add them to the nutrient solution continuously throughout the grow cycle (read Gold Label Nutrient Schedules) In recirculating or drain to waste systems we recommend 30% drain. The structure of Coco XL can be used for both ebb/flow as overhead irrigation systems. If you recirculate your nutrients make sure that the pH and EC stay within range. Work clean to prevent the spread of pathogens throughout the crop. Clean your tank and replace your nutrients a least once every week.    
Gold Label Coco Peat Perlite 70/30 R 299.00
Gold label Coco Perlite is a very lightweight high porosity hydroponic substrate that combines tremendous air volume with great water retention and capillary action. Clean supercharged raw coco peat fiber and added perlite mixed in order to create the ultimate grow medium. Flushed and buffered in the Netherlands with spring water which guarantees low salts and low heavy metal content. Pre-charged with Ca and natural trace elements for a health kick start. Gold Label Coco Peat Perlite 70/30 is a suitable mix for ebb/flow, automated top-irrigation systems, one-pot hydroponic growing systems, easy to flush, and therefore less vulnerable for acidic or unwashed micro-organism content. How to get the best results with Coco Perlite 70/30:  This is a pre-fertilized hydroponic substrate mix and contains nutrients that are an ideal start for young plants. Initially starting with a low EC/pH, nutrition program, we recommend the utilization of roots stimulators. Recommended EC 0.5-0.7 and pH 5.2-5.5 during the first week, gradually increase EC/pH values steps. At the start, saturate the substrate abundant for sufficient watering content. Recommended pH 5.2 for the start and gradually increase to 6.2 pH in later stages depending on nutrients used. 70/30 is a very airy substrate mix, a continuous generous watering gift is highly recommended. The medium can be easily rinsed in order to flush away accumulated salts. In case of the sue of recirculation systems, make sure the pH and EC stay within range and work clean in order to prevent the spread of pathogens throughout the crop. Clean the tank and replace the nutrient solution weekly. The structure of the Coco Perlite 70/30 mix is suitable for both ebb/flow as top-irrigation. In the case of the utilization of organic fertilizers, top irrigation is highly recommended. Volume: 39L
Gold Label HydroCoco 60/40 Substrate R 395.00
Gold Label HydroCoco 60/40 Mix substrate is specifically designed for growing hydroponically. Dutch quality medium for hydroponics. Gold Label Hydrocorn and Coco is an ideal match for high water capacity, lower watering frequency and better rooting. We utilize the 8-16mm Hydrocorn from Gold Label and the purest Gold Label Coco to give you the perfect ebb and flood growing media which also works well in any pot based systems. The 60/40 mix allows you to feed less frequently than in straight Hydrocorn and gives a buffer on the watering times. Gold Label HydroCoco 60/40 is a mix of 60% RHP Gold Label Hydrocorn (clay pebbles) and 40% Coco. The combination of these two horticulture substrates and the long coco fibres improves capillary action, provides a good base for fast root development and decrease the number of times you need to water compared to clay pebbles. Volume: 40L  Net weight: 18.5kg Recommended Nutrients: Coco Regime Imported straight to our Port Elizabeth harbor and available in South Africa with nationwide delivery to your door. Directions for use to get the best results with HydroCoco 60/40 Gold Label hydroCoco by itself is an almost inert substrate. You need to add nutrients when you first water the substrate (use your nutrients supplier,s recommendations) Unlike Coco you need to flush the substrate first time you use it in order to saturate the clay pebbles initially. Keep plugs or cubes wet after planting in order to prevent them from drying out. The recommended ph range is 5.2 - 6.5 however, this depends on the nutrients used. During the vegetive stage start with a lower pH (5.2-5.6) to balance the pH in your substrate, in the generative stage move to a slightly higher pH (5.9-6.3) We recommend using Gold Label Hydro nutrients on 60/40. These professional hydroponic nutrients' quality ingredients facilitate the plant's nutritional uptake process.  As 60/40 is a much more airy substrate than the Coco you need to water more often, depending on container size and plant uptake. 2 to 3 feeds per day are generally enough for 60/40. Small size pots and bigger plants dry out the substrate quicker, so adjust the water frequency accordingly. We recommend using 60/40 with watering systems with a drain. Flush your substrate regularly to prevent salts from building up. You can use enzymes to flush or add them to the nutrient solution throughout the grow cycle. In a recirculating or waste to drain system use 30% drain. If you recirculate your nutrients make sure that the ph and EC levels stay within range. Work very clean tp prevent the spread of pathogens throughout the crop. Clean your tank and replace your nutrient solution at least once a week.  
Gold Label HydroCoco 80/20 Substrate R 335.00
Gold Label HydroCoco 80/20 Mix substrate is specifically designed for growing hydroponically. Dutch quality medium for hydroponics. Gold Label Hydrocorn and Coco is an ideal match for high water capacity, lower watering frequency and better rooting. We utilize the 8-16mm Hydrocorn from Gold Label and the purest Gold Label Coco to give you the perfect ebb and flood growing substrate that also works well in any pot based systems. The 80/20 mix allows you to feed less frequently than in straight Hydrocorn but more frequently than 60/40. This gives you a buffer on the watering times but still allows you to feed regularly without overwatering. Gold Label HydroCoco 80/20 is a mix of 805 RHP Gold Label Hydrocorn (clay pebbles) and 20% Coco fibres. The combination of these two horticultural substrates and the long coco fibres improves capillary action, provides a good base for fast root development and decrease the number of times you need to water compared to clay pebbles. Volume: 40L  Net weight: 18.5kg Recommended Nutrients: Coco Regime Imported straight to our Port Elizabeth harbor and available in South Africa with nationwide delivery to your door. Directions for use to get the best results with HydroCoco 80/20 Gold Label HydroCoco by itself is an almost inert substrate. You need to add nutrients when you first water the substrate (use your nutrient supplier,s recommendations) Unlike Coco you need to flush the substrate first time you use it in order to saturate the clay pebbles initially. Keep plugs or cubes wet after initial planting in order to prevent them from drying out. The recommended pH range is 5.2-6.5, however, this depends on the nutrients used. During the vegetative stage start with a lower pH (5.2-5.6)to balance the ph in your substrate, in the generative stage move to a slightly higher ph (5.9-6.3) We recommend using Gold Label Hydro nutrients on 80/20. These professional hydroponic nutrients' quality ingredients facilitate the plant's nutritional uptake process.  As 80/20 is a much more airy substrate than the Coco you need to water more often, depending on container size and plant uptake. 2 to 3 feeds per day are generally enough for 80/20. Small size pots and bigger plants dry out the substrate quicker, so adjust the water frequency accordingly. We recommend using 80/20 with watering systems with a drain. Flush your substrate regularly to prevent salts from building up. You can use enzymes to flush or add them to the nutrient solution throughout the grow cycle. In a recirculating or waste to drain system use 30% drain. If you recirculate your nutrients make sure that the ph and EC levels stay within range. Work very clean tp prevent the spread of pathogens throughout the crop. Clean your tank and replace your nutrient solution at least once a week.     
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