Preliminary evaluation of the performance of zeolite-based NEREA® as a hydroponic media substitute for commercial production of leafy greens in Canada
International Zeolite Corporation (IZC) is an international marketer and supplier of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products. IZC has recently established a contractual agreement with the Foundation of the University of Havana, Cuba. Through this collaboration, IZC has acquired permission to test a zeolite-based substrate, embedded with nutrients, developed at the University of Havana called NEREA®, with the goal of assessing potential market adoption by and corresponding benefit to the greenhouse sector of agriculture in Canada and the US.
The NEREA® technology is based on charging zeolite with nutrients. It differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems in that the plants access the nutrients from the zeolite and receive only water, rather than constantly replenishing nutrients in solution.
A small-scale trial on leafy greens, specifically lettuce, in Niagara College’s greenhouse hydroponic system was performed using NEREA® as substrate embedded with nutrients. NEREA® acted as a hydroponic substrate substitution for rockwool media. Crop performance was measured from germination to harvest in the trial comparing NEREA® and rockwool (Oasis®) as substrates.
Results showed that the NEREA® substrate demonstrated faster and more abundant germination of Lactuca sativa (lettuce) var. ‘Buttercrunch’. Faster germination in NEREA® demonstrated a potential for shortened cropping, allow more crops grown per year. NEREA® provided nutrients for leaf and root growth with no observable deficiencies from the control, indicating that NEREA® can provide all necessary nutrients for growth of Lettuce over 28 days. Lettuce grown in NEREA® was larger with more leaves than in Oasis®. Seedlings in NEREA® were however inconsistent in size, leading to potential variability at harvest. Future research using a solid substrate containing NEREA® may offer improved size consistency.
Funding: The project is being funded in part by the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).