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Vegetables. Growing Tomatoes and Cucumbers in Perlite

Vegetables. Growing Tomatoes and Cucumbers in Perlite

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Published by: Sharad Bhutoria on Aug 04, 2010
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HS927
Keys to Successful Tomato and Cucumber Production inPerlite Media
1
George J. Hochmuth and Robert C. Hochmuth
2
1. This document is Factsheet HS927, one of a series of Department of Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: January 1996. Updated: January 2003. Please visit the EDIS Web site athttp://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.2. George J. Hochmuth, professor and center director, North Florida Research and Education Center - Quincy, and Robert C. Hochmuth, multi countyextension agent, North Florida Research and Education Center - Suwannee Valley, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,Gainesville, FL 32611
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educationalinformation and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida CooperativeExtension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean.
Introduction
Tomato and cucumber are popular and importantcrops for greenhouse production in Florida.Profitability from production of tomato andcucumber requires attention to the many details of crop culture. The major keys to successfulgreenhouse production of tomato and cucumber arepresented in this publication. This guide is directed atthe small to medium-sized grower with one to severalhouses, but much of the information is also useful forlarger operations. The information in this guidefocuses on tomato (Figure 1 and Figure 2) andcucumber (Figure 3 and Figure 4), but also applies toother crops grown in soilless media, includingpepper, eggplant, melons, lettuce, and cut-flowers(Figure 5, Figure 6, and Figure 7). Although thisguide focuses on perlite media in lay-flat bags, mostof the principles also pertain to other soilless media,such as rockwool slabs and peat-mix bags (Figure 8).In addition, many of these principles apply to usingperlite, pine bark, or similar media in containers, suchas nursery containers. More details on each subjectare available from the Florida Greenhouse VegetableProduction Handbook (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ TOPIC_BOOK_Florida_Greenhouse_Vegetable_Production_Handbook).
Figure 1.
Greenhouse-grown cluster tomatoes ready forharvest.
Perlite
What is it?
Perlite is a mined mineral that iscrushed, then expanded under high temperature. Thecrushed material expands like popcorn, is cooled, andsieved into various grades based on particle size.Perlite is white in color, very light weight, and has
 
Keys to Successful Tomato and Cucumber Production in Perlite Media2
Figure 2.
Greenhouse beefsteak tomatoes packed forshipment to market.
Figure 3.
European cucumbers ready for harvest.
Figure 4.
Freshly harvested and shrink-wrappedcucumbers.
Figure 5.
Butterhead lettuce growing in perlite-filled trays.
Figure 6.
Freshly harvested yellow pepper.
high water holding capacity and high aerationproperties (Figure 8).
Sources.
Perlite is locally available in Florida(e.g., Vero Beach or Jacksonville). Price and salessupport might vary among perlite suppliers. Thereare negligible differences in grades of perlite as far ascrop performance is concerned. Most crops growequally well in coarse or medium size horticulturalgrade perlite.
 Availability.
Perlite can be purchased ready touse in pre-made, lay flat bags, approximately threefeet long, six to eight inches wide, and four inches tall(Figure 9). Perlite also can be purchased in bulk bagsor in medium-sized bags of about four cubic feet.Growers can then purchase rolls of polyethylene
 
Keys to Successful Tomato and Cucumber Production in Perlite Media3
Figure 7.
Zinnias for cut-flowers.
Figure 8.
Various types of growing media.
sleeving material from greenhouse supply companiesand make up their own growing bags. The sleevingmaterial should be black-on-white with black on theinside to minimize light penetration inside the bag.
 Media Re-Use.
Reuse of unsterilized perlite isrisky. Cost in re-use (handling, sterilization,rewrapping) is significant. High levels of organicmatter in re-used media might affect the irrigationscheduling program early in second crop season.Re-used media holds more water because of organicmatter (old roots). Old root material might harbordisease organisms from previous crops.
 Bag Positioning.
In double-row systems, bagsare placed on a very slight incline toward leachatecollection trough (Figure 9 and Figure 10). Analternative system uses a single bag from which plantsare positioned toward two overhead trellis wires sotwo rows of plants are created. In the single-bagsystem, care should be taken to provide adequatemedia volume per plant. Both systems have beensuccessfully used in Florida. Once bags have beenplaced in the greenhouse, the perlite media should bethoroughly wetted by allowing the irrigation systemto apply plain water. Once wetted, the drainage slitscan be made in the bags.
Figure 9.
Lay-flat bags of perlite, newly planted withtomato.
Figure 10.
Inclined concrete leachate troughs on whichgrowing bags are placed.
 Drainage.
Small slits should be made in thenear bottom of the bags so that excess water will notbuild up and drown roots. A large reservoir of waterin the bag is not required so slits can be positioned toprovide nearly complete drainage. A large reservoirmaintained in the bag only reduces the volume of aerated root zone, which plants need to growoptimally.
Transplanting.
Transplants for the perlitesystem can be produced in several media typesincluding rockwool, perlite, or vermiculite(Figure11). The large rockwool growing blocks arenot needed in Florida. Care should be taken tocompletely bury the root media ball of the transplantso that the perlite media in the bag does not wick themoisture from the transplant ball. This is why

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