The work is led by Professor Pedro Palencia García, whose team compared the development of strawberry plants in two growing mediums in order to determine their impact on their growth, as well as on the production and quality of the fruit. The tests were carried out in two different stages of the crop cycle (early and late) over two years. Strawberry plants and their fruits were studied on a weekly basis.
This showed that strawberries grown in coconut fibre "performed better in terms of fruit yield per plant, fruit weight, firmness, salinity, total soluble solids (amount of sugar), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), anthocyanins and phenolic compounds," according to the University of Oviedo.
All the research was carried out in a greenhouse under natural light and temperature conditions, using short-day strawberry plants of the Sabrina variety, fertigated (fertilizer provided with irrigation) with localised irrigation (drip). Some plants were placed in the coconut fibre and others in a sandy soil with low water retention and a pH of 7.21 to make the comparison. The researchers registered the level of chlorophyll in the leaves weekly, while the fruits were sorted after each harvest by size and external colour to evaluate their quality.
Coconut fibre is a natural product, biodegradable and has great capacity for aeration and water retention. The soil-less production system with coconut fibre "has many advantages, such as a better control in the use of water, allowing for re-circulation and avoiding leachate (residual liquid), with all that this entails," they say. They also point out that "it can be produced in those areas where the soil can be a limiting factor and the fruit can be harvested more comfortably, as it is possible to raise the plants to the desired height."
This type of cultivation with coconut fibre is already being used worldwide, although "strawberry production is still mostly done in the traditional way, with the same cultivation system in the same areas of land year after year, making use of chemical soil disinfection."
Strawberries account for 70% of the acreage devoted to berries in Spain. The production amounts to 350,000 tonnes, mainly intended for export, with these shipments generating over $360 million.