By Gabriella Nashiva
Have you heard of Soilless farming? This a practice that is getting very popular day by day.
You might ask yourself why?
Well, Soilless farming systems are sterile environments, aid faster growth of produce, save on water usage, and require less space as compared to its counterpart and it’s a controlled environment allowing you all year production anywhere!
Global warming and climate change, a decline in soil fertility, increase in populations yet hunger and food scarcity remain unsolved.
These are just but a few, of the challenges facing food security in Kenya and other nations.
In a nutshell, it offers a solution to sustainable production in Agriculture.
Growing media is simply the material used in place of soil. Growing media has unique properties to sustain growth which include its ability to withstand prolonged watering without collapsing, well-aerated, partially sterile that is free from pests and diseases, and well-drained.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring (hydrated magnesium, iron, and aluminum silicate) mineral that expands when exposed to heat: a process called exfoliation.
Exfoliated vermiculite is lightweight and has poor thermal conductivity. Vermiculite improves seed germination success, encourages root growth as it provides good anchoring for roots.
Vermiculite is lightweight, despite that it withstands prolonged watering without collapsing. It retains water and releases it according to the plant’s needs therefore minimal root rot.
Similarly, it promotes consistent release of fertilizers and has the ability to supply magnesium, potassium and other minerals to the soil.
Vermiculite is well aerated, sterile, has a neutral PH and it doesn’t mold or rot making it suitable as container media.
On the downside, vermiculite is expensive a 20kg bag of perlite costly roughly 46,000 KES. However, considering the benefits, it has on plant health and growth, it could prove to be cost-effective in the long run.
It is a non-renewable resource and less durable than perlite.
Perlite has better aeration properties and is a naturally occurring mineral hence improves soil quality.
Pumice retains oxygen when mixed with naturally occurring poorly drained soils improve the soil’s water retention and make it less compact. However, it has less water retention properties.
There are a number of growing media or substrates that can be used peat, peat moss, leaf molds among others.