Over the last decade there has been a significant shift in global agricultural practice. Because the rapid increase of human population poses unprecedented challenges to production of an adequate and economically feasible food supply for undernourished populations, soilless greenhouse production systems are regaining increased worldwide attention. The optimal control of water availability and aeration is an essential prerequisite to successfully operate plant growth systems with soilless substrates such as aggregated foamed glass, perlite, rockwool, coconut coir, or mixtures thereof. While there are considerable empirical and theoretical efforts devoted to characterize water retention and aeration substrate properties, a holistic, physically-based approach considering water retention and aeration concurrently is lacking. In this study, the previously developed concept of integral water storage and energy was expanded to dual-porosity substrates and an analog integral oxygen diffusivity parameter was introduced to simultaneously characterize aeration properties of four common soilless greenhouse growth media. Integral parameters were derived for greenhouse crops in general, as well as for tomatoes. The integral approach provided important insights for irrigation management and for potential optimization of substrate properties. Furthermore, an observed relationship between the integral parameters for water availability and oxygen diffusivity can be potentially applied for the design of advanced irrigation and management strategies to ensure stress-free growth conditions, while conserving water resources.
Journal of Hydrology, 2013, Vol 502, p. 120-127
Soilless plant growth substrates; Plant available water; Substrate water characteristic; Integral water storage; Integral energy; Integral oxygen diffusivity