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Hydroponics Grodan Rockwool Versus Jiffy Preforma for Clones & Seedlings

Hydroponics lettuce: bigger and better with Preforma Hydroponics lettuce: bigger and better with Preforma

Myles Lewis is part of a new generation of hydroponics plant scientists who test materials and processes to determine the best strategies for faster growth and bigger yields. He has an Applied Biosciences graduate degree from the University of Arizona, has taught hydroponics classes in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) and other hydroponics topics, and is founder of a plant science and agricultural company called Verdant Earth Technologies. He’s based in Tucson, Arizona. Myles recently completed a test that compared the Jiffy Preforma rooting cubes with Grodan rockwool cubes. As you may be aware, Jiffy Preforma is fast becoming the preferred hydroponics media used for seedlings and clones. When you read what Myles has to say, you’ll see why…

The use of inert (sterile) root zone medias is prevalent in the hydroponics industry. Rockwool cubes and Oasis cubes are two of the well-known names when you’re choosing small self-contained media for clones or seedlings.

These soilless substrates afford many of the qualities that cannot be found in soil. They have no on-board nutrients or other characteristics, so growers can be assured of a neutral material that is easily manipulated to achieve ideal pH and nutrients delivery. In many cases, these materials have better water/oxygen absorption and exchange capacity, which is important for healthy plant metabolism and root development.

As regular soil is depleted of nutrients, hard-packed due to improper tillage, or contaminated with salts and other materials, your need for neutral hydroponics root zone materials will increase.

And as we evolve into a more "green" and environmentally conscious society, we seek hydroponics media products that are made from sustainable materials. We don’t want to use hydroponics root zone materials that decompose poorly so they clog landfills. Even if you don’t care about the environmental effects of hydroponics materials, you’re a hydroponics grower who wants to use the newest and best materials that help your plants root faster, grow faster and yield bigger.

When I did a comparison test between a new cloning/seedling cube made from natural materials and a cube made from rockwool, I was aware that the Jiffy Preforma cube has many of the same traits hydroponics growers seek in traditional soilless substrates like rockwool. These include sterility, favorable internal structure, and a nice, cozy place to start your seedlings and clones.

But Preforma has more usefulness than a rockwool cube or most any other type of starter media. It’s composed of a special blend of materials, slightly juiced with nutrients, and mixed with a safe polymer to hold it all together. The Preforma is biodegradable, but rockwool isn’t biodegradable- because rockwool is made from rock.

The Preforma plug can be wet, re-wet, even immersed in water for a month and it will stay intact. Compressed medias such as rockwool don’t have as much durability. They may fall apart, dissolve, or clump up, leaving a mess to clean or clogging equipment.

Preforma contains coco coir, which is generally considered to have anti-fungal properties to help protect your hydroponics plants against root diseases such as Pythium.

In a recent side-by-side trial that my company Verdant Earth Technologies documented, a hydroponics lettuce farmer used Preforma and rockwool. The farmer has long used rockwool in a variety of experiments, crops, and trials, and speaks very favorably of rockwool.

"It's a sterile media. I know what's going in and coming out. It's inexpensive and lightweight. Love the stuff,” the grower said before we competed rockwool versus Preforma. But the grower was open to testing Preforma because he was interested in root zone media made from natural materials, and he’d seen Jiffy Preforma at the annual Greenhouse Crop Production and Engineering Design Short Course at the University of Arizona.

In preliminary trials that the farmer conducted, Preforma did well, so he set up a hydroponics test using Jiffy Preforma versus Grodan Rockwool in a side-by-side lettuce operation during Fall 2010.

The hydroponics test system was non-recirculating and non-aerated using a standard hydroponics base nutrients solution. The EC and pH for the system were about 1.0 dS/m and 6.0, respectively. The grower grew three different lettuces: two varieties of summercrisp and one butterhead. An initial run of 500 plugs was observed closely throughout all phases of growth. They were transplanted 14 days after seeding. After five weeks, the plants were harvested and weighed.

During the trial, an early difference noted during the first days after germinating was that the Preforma plants had their first true leaves already emerging while the rockwool plants were still in the cotyledon (non-true leaf) stage. The grower decided to let the entire set of plants keep growing before transplanting so that the rockwool seedlings could develop at least one set of true leaves.

This meant that the Preforma plants sat too long untransplanted, so that they were slightly etiolated (stretched out and leggy). However, this didn’t prevent the Preforma plants from exhibiting accelerated growth and overall superior vigor. Indeed, the Preforma plants were ready for harvesting a week ahead of schedule. They had a more lush appearance, in some cases showing increases in leaf pigmentation, giving some a slight red, frilly edge. When you look at the picture of lettuce that accompanies this article, I'm sure you see that the lettuce on the left is the lettuce that was started in Preforma.

It is quite a sight to see that the rockwool-based plants in some cases were dwarfed by the superior growth rates and size of Preforma plants. Some of the rockwool plants had non-marketable appearance and reduced weight.

After harvesting, other differences were noted, such as that the Preforma plants had better size, fullness, and appearance. Fresh weights differed in favor of the Jiffy, with most about 30% - 40% larger than their rockwool counterparts.

And now after more testing of Preforma versus rockwool, the former rockwool-loyal hydroponics grower has adopted Jiffy Preforma as the substrate of choice for starting his hydroponics lettuce and herbs.

Big Mike recommends Roots Excelurator


As you can see from the photos and from what has been reported above, Myles and the hydroponics farmer found that Jiffy Preforma is a superior hydroponics starting medium. High-value hydroponics growers find that Preforma creates faster-rooting plants with bigger, bushier root balls. These plants grow faster, mature earlier, are ready for bloom phase earlier, produce larger harvests, and help plants resist pathogens that attack seedlings and clones. I am a big fan of Grodan rockwool because Grodan has continually re-engineered its product line to give hydroponics growers better-aerated and more controllable sterile hydroponics media. Look at my articles on Grodan rockwool and you will see me singing the praises of the Grodan approach towards upgrading their slabs and cubes to give better performance. On the other hand, I am seeing many hydroponics growers doing what the Arizona lettuce grower did. They’re switching to Preforma because it has unique and powerful advantages over rockwool and all the other hydroponics seedling and clone starter materials.

Preforma lettuce on the left, rockwool on the rightPreforma lettuce on the left, rockwool on the right

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Last modified on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 17:31

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