Cultivate ’15, American Hort’s horticulture trade show, drew to a close this week. Hundreds of exhibitors, from tray and container manufacturers to fertilizer companies to growing media producers such as Quick Plug North America, displayed their products in a riot of color and enthusiasm. In this blog, I will review the highlights from three educational sessions I attended that reflect changing trends in horticulture.
CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture) was a more prominent feature this year than in the past. Hydroponic systems, media designed specifically for hydroponic systems and educational sessions about hydroponic production were all a part of the show. One such educational session was given by Dr. Michael Evans from the University of Arkansas. His talk was entitled Best Media for Hydroponic Greens Production. His team tested 8 propagation media in 2 irrigations systems with 3 types of lettuce (butterhead, romaine, leaf). One irrigation method was sub-irrigation in propagation trays and the other was in flats. The results were based on propagation stage only. Further testing of the nursery stage will be performed in the fall.
Dr. Evans’ take home message is that no one can tell you what the “best” medium is for your system. Factors that will determine what works best for you are your specific system, how you water (sub-irrigation works best for lettuce) and whether or not you have a nursery stage. Another take home message was to fertilize right away, from the moment you seed your media. If you wait until germination, time will be lost because the nutrients will not be taken up into the medium immediately.
Dr. Evans has not yet formalized the results of this trial. However, click here for his companion article, Evaluating field-bred lettuce varieties for hydroponic greenhouse production.
Another educational session, Water Enhancement and Hydroponic Production, was given by Dr. Peter Konjoian who is researching hydroponic food crop production. The focus of this presentation was the necessity of keeping the water in recirculating hydroponic systems free of bacteria and algae. He listed three irrigation system design flaws that lead to algae and biofilm proliferation in irrigation systems:
- Inadequate filtration
- Raw concrete surfaces
- Design variability
Dr. Konjoian stated that the most common filtration dimensions are 200 mesh size and 74 microns. He feels this is not fine enough. 25 microns is not unreasonable. For more information on this topic, see Water Treatment for Pathogens and Algae– Edited by Dr. Paul Fisher. Peter Konjoian is a contributing author.
Biocontrols were another hot topic at this year’s Cultivate. Suzanne Wainright-Evans from Buglady Consulting, gave a talk entitled Recognize the Pests Before They Destroy the Plants. She said that the days of blanket use of broad spectrum insecticides are gone. Biocontrols are here to stay. Here are three of her tips for the successful use of beneficial insects.
- Identify your pests
- Understand the life stages of your pests and beneficials
- Learn which pesticides are compatible with your biocontrols
Yes, she says, this takes time and effort, but so does mixing chemicals, donning a spray suit and applying a pesticide. Wainright-Evans says she will never support the banning of all pesticides, but she does absolutely advocate for their judicious and appropriate use.
As one of the premier horticultural tradeshows in the U.S., Cultivate reflects what is trending in the industry. Historically, the focus was on ornamentals. In recent years, Cultivate has reflected the rise in greenhouse vegetable production, hydroponics and the use of beneficial insects. These trends are becoming mainstream, and it sounds like they are here to stay!