Growers using containers to produce vegetable crops have options when it comes to growing in plant-based substrates. Small- to medium-sized growers of vining vegetable crops, including cucumbers and tomatoes, have traditionally used Dutch buckets filled with perlite as the growing substrate. While some growers may be concerned with the sustainability of perlite because of disposal issues, there are options when it comes to using alternative plant-based substrates.
Uttara Samarakoon, an associate professor and program coordinator for greenhouse and nursery management at Ohio State University, CFAES Wooster, has been studying ways controlled environment growers can improve the sustainability of containerized vegetable production.
"The main theme of my research program is on sustainability for controlled environment agriculture," Samarakoon said. "The research we are currently doing focuses specifically on high wire crops, including cucumbers and tomatoes, produced in Dutch bucket systems."
"My experience when visiting small- to medium-size vegetable growers is that many of them are using perlite as the substrate in Dutch bucket systems. In addition to concerns with disposal issues for perlite, it also has a low water-holding capacity resulting in higher rates of leachate. I have been using perlite in my research for some time because that is the traditional substrate for Dutch buckets."
Dutch buckets are not the common production system used in most large-scale controlled-environment vegetable operations. "Large-size vegetable operations tend to use hanging gutters with rockwool or coir slabs for high wire crop production of cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers," Samarakoon said. "Recirculation of the fertilizer solution occurs primarily with large-scale commercial growers. Most small- to medium-size growers don't have the capacity to do recirculation."
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