New Growing Media Advancements Giving Growers More Options
A number of advancements in growing media components have surfaced over the past few years, providing growers with new options for building the best possible foundation for growing healthy plants.
Growers who are mixing their own growing media want to develop precise recipes that will ensure optimal growth for a large range of crops at an affordable price. Those who purchase pre-blends appreciate the convenience, consistency, and innovation that goes into the mixes expert growing media companies provide. These suppliers also offer the ability to mix a grower’s custom blend.
Here are some of the newest advancements in growing media components and premixes for growers today.
Peat-based Premixes And Raw Materials
Whether for plant propagation or crop production, Berger offers a large assortment of high-quality substrates for consistently healthy crops. Berger’s core business is growing media pre-mixes, and growers can choose blends that include different components, including peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, rice hulls, and wood fiber, to fit their needs. Berger also adds biofungicides like Actino-iron and Rootshield, beneficial micro-organisms to help root establishment and health.
“With every bag of Berger’s products comes the expertise and support of a great, dedicated team that our customers can benefit from,” says Berger’s Elizabeth Raymond. “Our high-quality control process also allows growers to rely on the same growing performance and consistency from one bag to another, year after year.”
Growers can also buy individual components from Berger including peat, perlite, or vermiculite, which all work with growers’ existing mix lines, and blend well with all components. Berger offers personalized customer service, technical services, lab analysis, and equipment optimization services.
One of the first Sphagnum peat moss suppliers to offer growing media mixes, Heveco provides substrates for a range of uses, from propagation to finished growing. Heveco plug mixes are the result of several years of research aimed at developing a mix that produces the healthiest seedlings with a vigorous and well developed root system. Additionally, the Canada-based supplier offers raw material Sphagnum peat moss for growers who want to buy in bulk.
Heveco is a block-cut peat moss producer. Using this distinctive technique, which preserves the quality and coarseness of the peat, Heveco is able to produce distinctive, high-performance mixes and raw material. Products produced by Heveco are available to growers under the Heveco peat moss and Hecomix names. The company is now part of Scotts Canada.
Heveco mixes and raw material can be used with existing mix lines, and amended with other components.
Jiffy Products International
Supplying a wide range of ready-to-use substrates, Jiffy Products International offers mixes that include peat moss, coconut coir, and mineral additives like binders, Bara clay, Florisol clay, pumice, quartz sand, volcanic sand, wood, and fiber-free Maritime pine bark. Growers mixing their own substrates can buy raw materials, like chunky peat, in different gradations.
The company is working on additional mineral binders, a line of water management substrates, mold suppressive media, and more. The family of water management substrates will allow growers to give water according to the plant needs; the products will have a much higher water content without compromising aeration, says Miguel Meneses of Jiffy.
“The mixes maintain a very high capillarity throughout the entire cropping time, increasing the efficiency of existing irrigation systems,” he says. “As a result, leaf surface will be kept dry longer, plants will be hardier, and the mix will have more reserve water for transportation and an increased shelf life. At the same time, the total amount of water and fertilizer will be greatly reduced.”
All Jiffy mixes and raw materials work with existing in-line systems. Mixes are ready to use, and do not need additives.
A registered organic rice hull product from Riceland Foods, Inc., PBH Nature’s Media Amendment is a uniquely parboiled, natural co-product of rice processed under edible food standards.
Compared to perlite, PBH offers slight porosity, air-filled pore space, and drainage advantages. PBH mixes can hold more water than perlite mixes, depending on the amount of PBH used. Dramatically less dusty than perlite, PBH rice hulls are a renewable and sustainable material with economic, environmental, and horticultural advantages.
PBH rice hulls are compatible with peat, coir, and bark, as well as mycorrhizae and hydrogel. It also works well with existing soil mix line technology, and offers the benefit of generating minimal dust.
Growers can check with their media blenders to learn what is available, but primarily, Riceland works with growers who custom blend their media.
As a replacement for perlite in growing media, PBH offers a lower basic cost, as well as highly compressed packaging to reduce storage, handling, and freight. Growers deal with 33% less packaging, 33% fewer truckloads, and 33% less storage.
With its new HydraFiber Advanced Substrate technology, Profile Products is aiming to reduce growers’ reliance on any one main raw component, while providing a readily available, reliable, consistent raw material. Because of the patented, thermally refined process used to make HydraFiber, the fiber strands have tremendous surface area, which helps to more effectively manage water in growing media. Compared to a standard peat/perlite mix, a peat/HydraFiber mix delivers around 10% more available water, and 30% more compared to peat/coir blends. Growers have seen enhanced root development, which ultimately develops healthier plants. The material is OMRI listed, natural, and renewable. It is sterile, inert, and consistent, and a variety of additives can be pre-blended, from fertilizers to biological agents.
With HydraFiber, growers can rethink their soil and media strategy, says Profile Products’ Jennifer Neujahr.
Costs stay stable due to the consistent manufacturing of the product, and growers typically save money on freight, as HydraFiber lowers the overall weight of the mix. Pre-mixed blends are available from Berger and Oldcastle, and other blending partners will offer their products within 12 months. Growers blending their own mixes will save yard space because HydraFiber is so highly compressed that growers will need to unload and store fewer loads. Plus, there is easy access and a quick turnaround on delivery.
“A truckload of HydraFiber can be made in less than a day at our factory in North Carolina,” Neujahr says. “No need to store the material — we can set up delivery to take place at just-in-time intervals.”
Profile Products developed equipment that allows growers and blending partners the ease to incorporate HydraFiber into blends. The company has partnered with AgriNomix to manufacture and install the equipment at grower and blender partner operations. Growers can either lease or buy the equipment, and a quick return on investment is expected, Neujahr says. Contact Jennifer Neujahr, 847-353-2151.
Pindstrup continues to develop and refine Forest Gold, a natural, fibrous material manufactured in a thermomechanical process, where wood chips are transformed into wood fiber, then stabilized by mixing with fine Sphagnum peat.
“When mixed with peat, Forest Gold influences the physical characteristics of the root zone through better water distribution and higher air/water ratio,” says Pindstrup’s Soren Møller Nielsen. “We recommend that growers buy premixed blends, as this will ensure quality, as well as quantity of substrate.”
Pindstrup offers the product in a 70% peat, 30% Forest Gold substrate, but growers can also buy Forest Gold as a raw material packaged in big bags or bales. It can be used with existing equipment, and can be mixed with other components.
Pure, untreated, coconut coir, RainSoil Raw is intended to be used as a soilless growing medium or soil amendment for various planting applications including flowers, vegetables, and other crops. This product can be mixed with other components, and used with existing greenhouse technology.
Mycorrhizal Applications can produce beneficial mycorrhizal fungi both in vivo (in the plant) and in vitro (in the laboratory). Products contain a scientifically selected blend of nine different species of mycorrhizal fungi. Other products on the market contain only one or two species, says Mycorrhizal Applications’ Graham Hetland.
“The diversity is important because different species perform best under different environmental conditions, and different species are responsible for different benefits, including drought tolerance, salt tolerance, better nutrient uptake, and tolerance to high fertility levels,” Hetland says. “The mycorrhizal fungi composition in the soil changes during the season because of the changing plant phenology and environmental conditions. The species don’t compete against each other, but complement one another for the benefit of the plant.”
Mycorrhizal fungi increase the surface absorbing area of the roots by 100 to 1,000 times, improving the plant’s ability to access soil resources. Mycorrhizal fungi increase nutrient uptake not only by increasing the surface absorbing area of the roots, but also by releasing powerful enzymes into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, such as organic nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other tightly bound soil nutrients. In return, the plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates from its photosynthesis.
By applying mycorrhizal fungi, growers can reduce nutrient fertilizers and irrigation water, and in some cases these fungi protect plants from selected diseases.
Mycorrhizal fungi can be easily mixed with growing media, and either granular or powder formulations can be used with soil mix line technology. Many growing media manufacturers incorporate mycorrhizal inoculant into their finished product.
Mycorrhizae interacts very well with all other growing media elements, Hedland says.
“Since mycorrhizal fungi live in symbiosis with the host plant, everything in the growing medium that benefits the host plant benefits the fungi, as well,” he says. “The cost of mycorrhizae is very low compared to other inputs, but the effect is profound.”
A newer formulation, Stockosorb 660 from Evonik is a polyacrylate material that is free of toxicity listings, meaning it can be used in all 50 states. Stockosorb is an advanced hydrogel with unique action that absorbs water in growing media, then releases nutrient-rich water back to the plants when needed. Applied at the recommended rates and homogeneously blended into growing media, hydrogel keeps plants hydrated by simulating reservoirs that release water directly to plant roots and the surrounding environment as growing media begins to dry.
By using only 2 pounds per cubic yard in most growing media, growers have a cost-effective way to maximize water resources, minimize labor inputs, reduce shrink, and improve plant survival rates,” says John Wynne, Evonik. Stockosorb can be blended with peat, wood fiber, PTS, coconut coir, and other additives. Evonik is working with most of the pre-mix blenders in the country, and it can also drop-ship to a grower’s blender of choice. Stockosorb is easily blended into growers’ custom mixes using existing mixing hoppers, Wynne says.
With two manufacturing facilities in the U.S. producing constantly, lead time is 48 hours from order to ship, and ship time is two to five days.
Sun Gro Horticulture
Sun Gro has incorporated the patented Resilience into all of its professional mixes. Resilience, the company’s trade name for silicon, is a beneficial plant nutrient. When added to a growing medium, Resilience helps strengthen cell walls, making plants stronger. Numerous university and USDA studies have documented a beneficial role of silicon in reducing stress from disease, pest, and nutrient toxicity, according to the USDA (silicon studies) website (https://goo.gl/OpnvNq).
“We are continuing our research on the use of Resilience and the potential savings for the grower,” says Bruce Adams, Director of Marketing, Sun Gro Horticulture. “We will be looking at compact growth studies for greenhouse production square footage and the number of plants per shipping cart, for examples of cost savings.”
Resilience is exclusive to Sun Gro, and cannot be added to custom mixes, but all of Sun Gro’s professional mixes are suitable for any mix line technology, Adams says.