Conventional media for growing crops in a greenhouse are commonly peat-based, and require nutrients to be applied at each watering. In a commercial greenhouse, a blended media consisting of sphagnum peat moss, perlite and lime, is used to contain the roots, moisture, and air for crop growth. These substrates typically have limited to no capacity to hold onto nutrients. Zeolite is a mined mineral which carries a naturally high cation exchange capacity (CEC). Nutrients that are essential for plant growth are taken up through plant roots as charged particles, both cations and anions. International Zeolite Corporation (IZC) has partnered with the University of Havana to introduce a novel zeolite-based product called NEREA® to the North American greenhouse industry. Of particular interest is the ability of NEREA® to adsorb charged particles. Verifying the assertion of this broader ability of NEREA® to hold all plant nutrients is of considerable importance. Independent research needs to be performed to validate the assertion that NEREA® can be a viable nutrient-rich substrate for greenhouse crops in peat-based growing media.
IZC and Niagara College partnered together to assess the performance of NEREA® as a provider of a short-term crop’s complete nutritional requirements. A small-scale trial was performed at the Niagara College Teaching Greenhouse comparing germination and performance of Ocimum basilicum (basil) across a range of percentages of NEREA® blended with sphagnum peat moss. Final results showed that a blend of 25% NEREA® with 75% peat moss (by volume) outperformed all other treatments, including the control. Plant health, as observed via seed germination and growth in both leaves and roots, was highest in the 25% NEREA® blend. Media chemical properties such as pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and CEC, were also the most ideal for supporting plant growth in the 25% NEREA® blend, when compared with all other treatments (including control).