Boosting efficiency in plant growth through hydroponic media substitute

5 plants with treatments, 2 weeks after planting.
Five plants with different treatments applied, showing visible differences only two weeks after planting. (Photo credit: Niagara College Canada)
Business needed to understand the extent to which nutrient levels may be reduced in leachate from NEREA® media blends

Research trials conducted using blends of peat moss, NEREA® and raw zeolite and examined nutrient content in leachate for basil plants

Data from research helps business make important decisions about best use and application for new technologies

International Zeolite Corporation (IZ) is an international marketer and supplier of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products. Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral found in volcanic ash that can be used for several different products and applications. In horticulture, zeolite can be used within growing media in the form of raw granules or granules embedded with plant nutrients. 

Zeolites are microporous, aluminosilicate minerals with high cation adsorption capacity, which are commonly used as commercial adsorbents and catalysts. The capacity for cation adsorption and exchange (referred to as CEC) can be a highly desirable attribute in plant growth substrates. IZC is in relationship with the University of Havana who have developed a proprietary technology to produce a zeolite-based product with embedded nutrients called NEREA®. The production of NEREA® is accomplished with the understanding of plants’ complete nutrient requirements for a growing season. 

Although NEREA® has the potential to be blended with peat moss to create a novel growing media with the necessary physical and chemical characteristics for plant growth, previous trials have shown there is some nutrient loss through the leachate. Nitrate and phosphate were observed to leach in high quantities from NEREA®.

Plants in full harvest. (Photo credit: Niagara College Canada)

The Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) team at Niagara College created a follow-up trial using blends of peat moss, NEREA®, and raw zeolite to examine whether nutrient content within the leachate was affected by the presence of the basil plants. The findings of this study indicate that rinsing NEREA® does reduce the nutrient content, however it is mostly negative ions (anions) that are rinsed. Rinsing the NEREA® did appear to negatively affect plant growth and health, while still leaching nutrients over the entire growth period. While the presence of a basil crop did appear to slightly reduce the concentration of nutrients leached, it was not significant. Overall, the treatment that produced a healthy crop while leaching fewer nutrients than the conventionally fertilized method was the 50/50 blend of NEREA® and raw zeolite.

This research project identified a better use of nutrient resources that can support growers’ profitability.

This project was made possible by funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, through the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network.

Visit Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) website to learn more about its resources and capabilities.

(Project #NC125)