Evaluating soil media for vertical hydroponic strawberry production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $6,521.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Roscommon Berry Farm
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Joseph Hannan
Roscommon Berry Farm


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)


  • Production Systems: hydroponics

    Proposal summary:

    Vertical hydroponic production is a novel method of producing day neutral strawberries that increases productivity and allows workers to harvest fruit without bending over.  Unfortunately, coir peat + perlite, the media commonly used in this system, does not dry out uniformly.  Farmers end up over or under watering the pots causing nutrient deficiencies (iron and boron) that greatly reduce yield and fruit quality.  Coir peat also comes in hard, dry bricks that must be rehydrated and broken apart before it can be put into pots for planting, which is a very labor-intensive process.  Our project will evaluate three different types of media for ease of filling pots (reduced labor), uniformity of moisture management (better quality), earliness, and total yield (increased income).  Each of these media are partially or completely sourced from renewable sources unlike many types of media used in hydroponic systems.  Our goals are to increase profitability by reducing input labor, identify simpler methods to grow strawberries, make it easier to harvest strawberries, deliver a premium product to market, and demonstrate our methods to other farmers. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate three different types of media mixes for strawberries grown in vertical hydroponic towers.
    2. Identify the pros and cons of each type of media mix.
    3. Share results with other farmers through a field day, social media, and at the Iowa Specialty Crops Conference.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.