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Propagation of strawberries with aeroponics

A large portion of LettUs Grow's work is dedicated to exploring the potential of controlled environment agriculture beyond growing herbs, salads, and leafy greens. By using aeroponic technology at key stages of plant development, particularly during propagation phases, they can potentially increase the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of the growth cycles for many different plants. During this set of trials, they explore propagating strawberries in an aeroponic indoor farm.

Problems with growing the UK’s favourite fruit
Approximately 85% of UK-grown strawberries are grown from imported plants. The UK imports ~£180 million of strawberries every year, which accounts for 32% of the market. The overall quality and consistency of propagated plant material is not always high - and plant health or stability results in a large amount of plant waste and money lost. Therefore, propagating in the UK could reduce food miles and produce better quality plants for growers more sustainably by using aeroponics.

What is aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a method of growing crops without soil. Water and nutrients are controlled and delivered directly to plant roots using a mist generated using ultrasonic technology. This method of irrigation boosts plant yields and growth rates by allowing plant roots to access high oxygen levels, which helps them to grow healthier and faster. Using aeroponics at key stages within the strawberry growth cycle, we hoped to demonstrate that this method could reduce waste and increase profit margins for strawberry growers.

Strawberry trials
There are different developmental stages when it comes to growing strawberries. You begin with a tissue culture mother plant, which grows until it produces runners. These then produce daughters, also known as tips. These tips then go on to become plants that will grow the fruit.

It usually takes 4-6 weeks for tissue culture to produce tips, so the first aim of our trial was to reduce this time. Our second aim was to reduce plant loss, which can be as high as 20-30% when using traditional methods.

Using aeroponics, plant loss was reduced to 5%, and the growing period was reduced to 2 weeks.

During the second stage, a tip will traditionally take between 5-6 months to become an established strawberry plant. Using aeroponics, this growing period was reduced to 5 weeks. The strawberry plants in our system also remained free from rust and white fly - diseases typical in strawberry plants - and the nutritional value of the plant was high.

Choosing the right tech for the right stage
It’s at this stage we would recommend the strawberry plant be transferred, whether that be outside or to a polytunnel or greenhouse, in order to operate at maximum efficiency, both energy and cost-wise. This is because controlled environment agriculture is not always appropriate throughout the entire growth cycle - it makes the most sense to utilize it at specific stages.

For more information:
LettUs Grow
[email protected]

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