Soilless Culture: Theory and Practice

Soilless Culture: Theory and Practice

1st Edition - December 17, 2007

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  • Editors: Michael Raviv, J. Heinrich Lieth
  • eBook ISBN: 9780080556420

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Plant production in hydroponics and soilless culture is rapidly expanding throughout the world, raising a great interest in the scientific community. For the first time in an authoritative reference book, authors cover both theoretical and practical aspects of hydroponics (growing plants without the use of soil). This reference book covers the state-of-the-art in this area, while offering a clear view of supplying plants with nutrients other than soil. Soilless Culture provides the reader with an understanding of the properties of the various soiless media and how these properties affect plant performance in relation to basic horticultural operations, such as irrigation and fertilization. This book is ideal for agronomists, horticulturalists, greenhouse and nursery managers, extension specialists, and people involved with the production of plants.

Key Features

* Comprehensive discussion of hydroponic systems, irrigation, and control measures allows readers to achieve optimal performance
* State-of-the-art book on all theoretical aspects of hydroponics and soilless culture including a thorough description of the root system, its functions and limitation posed by restricted root volume
* Critical and updated reviews of current analytical methods and how to translate their results to irrigation and fertilization practices
* Definitive chapters on recycled, no-discharge systems including salinity and nutrition management and pathogen eradication
* Up-to-date description of all important types of growing media


Agronomists, horticulturalists, farmers, practitioners confronting problems

Table of Contents

  • List of Contributors


    1 Significance of Soilless Culture in Agriculture

    1.1 Historical Facets of Soilless Production

    1.2 Hydroponics

    1.3 Soilless Production Agriculture


    2 Functions of the Root System

    2.1 The Functions of the Root System

    2.2 Depth of Root Penetration

    2.3 Water Uptake

    2.4 Response of Root Growth to Local Nutrient Concentrations

    2.4.1 Nutrient Uptake

    2.4.2 Root Elongation and P Uptake

    2.4.3 Influence of N Form and Concentration

    2.5 Interactions Between Environmental Conditions and Form of N Nutrition

    2.5.1 Temperature and Root Growth

    2.5.2 Role of Ca in Root Elongation

    2.5.3 Light Intensity

    2.5.4 pH

    2.5.5 Urea

    2.5.6 Mycorrhiza–Root Association

    2.6 Roots as Source and Sink for Organic Compounds and Plant Hormones

    2.6.1 Hormone Activity


    Further Readings

    3 Physical Characteristics of Soilless Media

    3.1 Physical Properties of Soilless Media

    3.1.1 Bulk Density

    3.1.2 Particle Size Distribution

    3.1.3 Porosity

    3.1.4 Pore Distribution

    3.2 Water Content and Water Potential in Soilless Media

    3.2.1 Water Content

    3.2.2 Capillarity, Water Potential and its Components

    3.2.3 Water Retention Curve and Hysteresis

    3.3 Water Movement in Soilless Media

    3.3.1 Flow in Saturated Media

    3.3.2 Flow in an Unsaturated Media

    3.3.3 Richards Equation, Boundary and Initial Conditions

    3.3.4 Wetting and Redistribution of Water in Soilless Media – Container Capacity

    3.4 Uptake of Water by Plants in Soilless Media and Water Availability

    3.4.1 Root Water Uptake

    3.4.2 Modeling Root Water Uptake

    3.4.3 Determining Momentary and Daily Water Uptake Rate

    3.4.4 Roots Uptake Distribution Within Growing Containers

    3.4.5 Water Availability vs. Atmospheric Demand

    3.5 Solute Transport in Soilless Media

    3.5.1 Transport Mechanisms – Diffusion, Dispersion, Convection

    3.5.2 Convection–Dispersion Equation

    3.5.3 Adsorption – Linear and Non-linear

    3.5.4 Non-equilibrium Transport – Physical and Chemical Non-equilibria

    3.5.5 Modeling Root Nutrient Uptake – Single-root and Root-system

    3.6 Gas Transport in Soilless Media

    3.6.1 General Concepts

    3.6.2 Mechanisms of Gas Transport

    3.6.3 Modeling Gas Transport in Soilless Media


    4 Irrigation in Soilless Production

    4.1 Introduction

    4.1.1 Water Movement in Plants

    4.1.2 Water Potential

    4.1.3 The Root Zone

    4.1.4 Water Quality

    4.2 Root Zone Moisture Dynamics

    4.2.1 During an Irrigation Event

    4.2.2 Between Irrigation Events

    4.2.3 Prior to an Irrigation Event

    4.3 Irrigation Objectives and Design Characteristics

    4.3.1 Capacity

    4.3.2 Uniformity

    4.4 Irrigation Delivery Systems

    4.4.1 Overhead Systems

    4.4.2 Surface Systems

    4.4.3 Subsurface

    4.5 Irrigation System Control Methods

    4.5.1 Occasional Irrigation

    4.5.2 Pulse Irrigation

    4.5.3 High Frequency Irrigation

    4.5.4 Continuous Irrigation

    4.6 Irrigation Decisions

    4.6.1 Irrigation Frequency

    4.6.2 Duration of Irrigation Event

    4.7 Approaches to Making Irrigation Decisions

    4.7.1 ‘Look and Feel’ Method

    4.7.2 Gravimetric Method

    4.7.3 Time-based Method

    4.7.4 Sensor-based Methods

    4.7.5 Model-based Irrigation

    4.8 Future Research Directions


    5 Technical Equipment in Soilless Production Systems

    5.1 Introduction

    5.2 Water and Irrigation

    5.2.1 Water Supply

    5.2.2 Irrigation Approaches

    5.2.3 Fertigation Hardware

    5.3 Production Systems

    5.3.1 Systems on the Ground

    5.3.2 Above-ground Production Systems

    5.4 Examples of Specific Soilless Crop Production Systems

    5.4.1 Fruiting Vegetables

    5.4.2 Single-harvest Leaf Vegetables

    5.4.3 Single-harvest Sown Vegetables

    5.4.4 Other Speciality Crops

    5.4.5 Cut Flowers

    5.4.6 Potted Plants

    5.5 Discussion and Conclusion


    6 Chemical Characteristics of Soilless Media

    6.1 Charge Characteristics

    6.1.1 Adsorption of Nutritional Elements to Exchange Sites

    6.2 Specific Adsorption and Interactions Between Cations/Anions and Substrate Solids

    6.2.1 Phosphorus

    6.2.2 Zinc

    6.2.3 Effects of P and Zn Addition on Solution Si Concentration

    6.3 Plant-induced Changes in the Rhizosphere

    6.3.1 Effects on Chemical Properties of Surfaces of Substrate Solids

    6.3.2 Effects on Nutrients Availability

    6.3.3 Assessing the Impact of Plants: The Effect of Citric Acid Addition on P Availability

    6.4 Nutrient Release from Inorganic and Organic Substrates


    7 Analytical Methods Used in Soilless Cultivation

    7.1 Introduction

    7.1.1 Why to Analyze Growing Media?

    7.1.2 Variation

    7.1.3 Interrelationships

    7.2 Physical Analysis

    7.2.1 Sample Preparation (Bulk Sampling and Sub-sampling)

    7.2.2 Bulk Sampling Preformed Materials

    7.2.3 Bulk Sampling Loose Material

    7.2.4 Sub-sampling Pre-formed materials

    7.2.5 Sub-sampling Loose Materials

    7.3 Methods

    7.3.1 Bulk Density

    7.3.2 Porosity

    7.3.3 Particle Size

    7.3.4 Water Retention and Air Content

    7.3.5 Rewetting

    7.3.6 Rehydration Rate

    7.3.7 Hydrophobicity (or Water Repellency)

    7.3.8 Shrinkage

    7.3.9 Saturated Hydraulic Conductivity

    7.3.10 Unsaturated Hydraulic Conductivity

    7.3.11 Oxygen Diffusion

    7.3.12 Penetrability

    7.3.13 Hardness, Stickiness

    7.4 Chemical Analysis

    7.4.1 Water-soluble Elements

    7.4.2 Exchangeable, Semi- and Non-water Soluble Elements

    7.4.3 The pH in Loose Media

    7.4.4 Nitrogen Immobilization

    7.4.5 Calcium Carbonate Content

    7.5 Biological Analysis

    7.5.1 Stability (and Rate of Biodegradation)

    7.5.2 Potential Biodegradability

    7.5.3 Heat Evolution (Dewar Test)

    7.5.4 Solvita Test™

    7.5.5 Respiration Rate by CO2 Production

    7.5.6 Respiration Rate by O2 Consumption (The Potential Standard Method)

    7.5.7 Weed Test

    7.5.8 Growth Test


    8 Nutrition of Substrate-grown Plants

    8.1 General

    8.2 Nutrient Requirements of Substrate-grown Plants

    8.2.1 General

    8.2.2 Consumption Curves of Crops

    8.3 Impact of N Source

    8.3.1 Modification of the Rhizosphere pH and Improvement of Nutrient Availability

    8.3.2 Cation-anion Balance in Plant and Growth Disorders Induced by NH4+ Toxicity

    8.4 Integrated Effect of Irrigation Frequency and Nutrients Level

    8.4.1 Nutrient Availability and Uptake by Plants

    8.4.2 Direct and Indirect Outcomes of Irrigation Frequency on Plant Growth

    8.5 Salinity Effect on Crop Production

    8.5.1 General

    8.5.2 Salinity-nutrients Relationships

    8.5.3 Yield Quality Induced by Salinity-nutrients8.6 Composition of Nutrient Solution

    8.6.1 pH Manipulation

    8.6.2 Salinity Control


    9 Fertigation Management and Crops Response to Solution Recycling in Semi-closed Greenhouses

    9.1 System Description

    9.1.1 Essential Components

    9.1.2 Processes and System Variables and Parameters

    9.1.3 Substrate Considerations

    9.1.4 Monitoring

    9.1.5 Control

    9.2 Management

    9.2.1 Inorganic Ion Accumulation

    9.2.2 Organic Carbon Accumulation

    9.2.3 Microflora Accumulation

    9.2.4 Discharge Strategies

    9.2.5 Substrate and Solution Volume Per Plant

    9.2.6 Effect of Substrate Type

    9.2.7 Water and Nutrients Replenishment

    9.2.8 Water Quality Aspects

    9.2.9 Fertigation Frequency

    9.2.10 pH Control: Nitrification and Protons and Carboxylates Excretion by Roots

    9.2.11 Root Zone Temperature

    9.2.12 Interrelationship Between Climate and Solution Recycling

    9.2.13 Effect of N Sources and Concentration on Root Disease Incidence

    9.3 Specific Crops Response to Recirculation

    9.3.1 Vegetable Crops

    9.3.2 Ornamental Crops

    9.4 Modeling the Crop-Recirculation System

    9.4.1 Review of Existing Models

    9.4.2 Examples of Closed-loop Irrigation System Simulations

    9.5 Outlook: Model-based Decision-support Tools for Semi-Closed Systems




    10 Pathogen Detection and Management Strategies in Soilless Plant Growing Systems

    10.1 Introduction

    10.1.1 Interaction Between Growing Systems and Plant Pathogens

    10.1.2 Disease-Management Strategies

    10.1.3 Overview of the Chapter

    10.2 Detection of Pathogens

    10.2.1 Disease Potential in Closed Systems

    10.2.2 Biological and Detection Thresholds

    10.2.3 Method Requirements for Detection and Monitoring

    10.2.4 Detection Techniques

    10.2.5 Possibilities and Drawbacks of Molecular Detection Methods for Practical Application

    10.2.6 Future Developments

    10.3 Microbial Balance

    10.3.1 Microbiological Vacuum

    10.3.2 Microbial Populations in Closed Soilless Systems

    10.3.3 Plant as Driving Factor of the Microflora

    10.3.4 Biological Control Agents

    10.3.5 Disease-suppressive Substrate

    10.3.6 Conclusions

    10.4 Disinfestation of the Nutrient Solution

    10.4.1 Recirculation of Drainage Water

    10.4.2 Volume to be Disinfected

    10.4.3 Filtration

    10.4.4 Heat Treatment

    10.4.5 Oxidation

    10.4.6 Electromagnetic Radiation

    10.4.7 Active Carbon Adsorption

    10.4.8 Copper Ionization

    10.4.9 Conclusions

    10.5 Synthesis: Combined Strategies

    10.5.1 Combining Strategies

    10.5.2 Combining Biological Control Agents and Disinfestation

    10.5.3 Non-pathogenic Microflora After Disinfestation

    10.5.4 Addition of Beneficial Microbes to Sand Filters

    10.5.5 Detection of Pathogenic and Beneficial Micro-organisms

    10.5.6 Future



    11 Organic Soilless Media Components

    11.1 Introduction

    11.2 Peat

    11.2.1 Chemical Properties

    11.2.2 Physical Properties

    11.2.3 Nutrition in Peat

    11.3 Coir

    11.3.1 Production of Coir

    11.3.2 Chemical Properties

    11.3.3 Physical Properties

    11.3.4 Plant Growth in Coir

    11.4 Wood Fiber

    11.4.1 Production of Wood Fiber

    11.4.2 Chemical Properties

    11.4.3 Physical Properties

    11.4.4 Nitrogen Immobilization

    11.4.5 Crop Production in Wood Fiber

    11.4.6 The Composting Process

    11.5 Bark

    11.5.1 Chemical Properties

    11.5.2 Nitrogen Immobilization

    11.5.3 Physical Properties

    11.5.4 Plant Growth

    11.6 Sawdust

    11.7 Composted Plant Waste

    11.8 Other Materials

    11.9 Stability of Growing Media

    11.9.1 Physical and Biological Stability

    11.9.2 Pathogen Survival in Compost

    11.10 Disease Suppression by Organic Growing Media

    11.10.1 The Phenomenon and its Description

    11.10.2 Suggested Mechanisms for Suppressiveness of Compost Against Root Diseases

    11.10.3 Horticultural Considerations of Use of Compost as Soilless Substrate


    12 Inorganic and Synthetic Organic Components of Soilless Culture and Potting Mixes

    12.1 Introduction

    12.2 Most Commonly Used Inorganic Substrates in Soilless Culture

    12.2.1 Natural Unmodified Materials

    12.2.2 Processed Materials

    12.2.3 Mineral Wool

    12.3 Most Commonly Used Synthetic Organic Media in Soilless Culture

    12.3.1 Polyurethane

    12.3.2 Polystyrene

    12.3.3 Polyester Fleece

    12.4 Substrates Mixtures — Theory and Practice

    12.4.1 Substrate Mixtures — Physical Properties

    12.4.2 Substrate Mixtures — Chemical Properties

    12.4.3 Substrate Mixtures — Practice

    12.5 Concluding Remarks



    13 Growing Plants in Soilless Culture: Operational Conclusions

    13.1 Evolution of Soilless Production Systems

    13.1.1 Major Limitation of Soilless - vs. Soil-growing Plants

    13.1.2 The Effects of Restricted Root Volume on Crop Performance and Management

    13.1.3 The Effects of Restricted Root Volume on Plant Nutrition

    13.1.4 Root Confinement by Rigid Barriers and Other Contributing Factors

    13.1.5 Root Exposure to Ambient Conditions

    13.1.6 Root Zone Uniformity

    13.2 Development and Change of Soilless Production Systems

    13.2.1 How New Substrates and Growing Systems Emerge (and Disappear)

    13.2.2 Environmental Restrictions and the Use of Closed Systems

    13.2.3 Soilless ‘Organic’ Production Systems

    13.2.4 Tailoring Plants for Soilless Culture: A Challenge for Plant Breeders

    13.2.5 Choosing the Appropriate Medium, Root Volume and Growing System

    13.3 Management of Soilless Production Systems

    13.3.1 Interrelationships Among Various Operational Parameters

    13.3.2 Dynamic Nature of the Soilless Root Zone

    13.3.3 Sensing and Controlling Root-zone Major Parameters: Present and Future


    Index of Organism Names

    Subject Index

Product details

  • No. of pages: 608
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Elsevier Science 2007
  • Published: December 17, 2007
  • Imprint: Elsevier Science
  • eBook ISBN: 9780080556420

About the Editors

Michael Raviv

Newe Ya'ar Research Center, ARO, Department of Environmental Horticulture, Israel

Affiliations and Expertise

Newe Ya'ar Research Center, ARO, Department of Environmental Horticulture, Israel

J. Heinrich Lieth

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Plant Sciences, University of California - Davis, U.S.A.

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