The most common substrate used in horticulture for growing seedlings and soilless plants cultivation is peat, alone or in mixture (Chavez et al., 2008), because of its good chemical and physical properties. Unfortunately, peat is a very expensive material, especially in Mediterranean countries, because it is imported mainly from northern and central Europe. Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands are the main users of peat in Europe (Orfeo and Orlandi, 2009). Furthermore, peat is a non-renewable resource and its extraction can degrade wetlands ecosystems so that European policy strongly encourages the use of peat alternatives (Bustamante et al., 2008; Grigatti et al., 2007). As a consequence, the EU Commission (2001) decision states that to receive the European Union “eco-label,” growing media (including soil improvers) should not contain any peat materials, encouraging the use of organic matter derived from the processing and/or re-use of waste (EU Commission, 2006).
Numerous studies have sought to identify alternatives to peat, focusing on renewable, locally available and low-cost materials derived from renewable and local available low-cost sources. Several waste materials can be successfully used, after composting, as alternative growing media for transplant production (Bernal-Vicente et al., 2008; Bustamante et al., 2008; Ribeiro et al., 2007; Sánchez-Monedero et al., 2004). Through this oxidative transformation of organic wastes, nutrients are retained onto humic-like substances of the composted materials thus providing an appropriate level of available nutrients that could reduce fertilizer consumption and costs. Furthermore, composts tend to have good porosity and aeration properties (Chong, 2005), to improve the organic matter content of the substrates (Qazi et al., 2009), and to provide nutrients and growth regulators (Perez-Murcia et al., 2006). On the other hand, composts characterized by a high salinity level can negatively affect the germination of seeds and the growing of seedlings when used as a substrate component (Ribeiro et al., 2007).
Posidonia [Posidonia oceanica (L.) Delile] is a marine phanerogam endemic of the Mediterranean Sea that grows all along the coast forming extensive meadows (Duarte, 1991). Every year, mostly in the fall, posidonia leaves senesce and detach off the rhizomes so that, in many areas, very conspicuous wedge-shaped deposits of posidonia debris are beached along vast areas of the coast ranging from a few centimeters in the water to several meters inshore (Ott, 1980).
According to Duarte (2004), a 1-km wide belt of seagrass may delivery an excess of 125 kg of dry seagrass material per meter of coastline each year. The large volumes of the beached plant residues along the Mediterranean coasts in Italy (De Falco et al., 2008; Mininni et al., 2009) represent a serious concern for the local authorities for a number of environmental, social, and economical implications. Common national regulations consider these plant biomasses as a special kind of solid waste material to be disposed into landfills, thus resulting in an enormous loss of organic materials, nutrients, and useful biomolecules (Saidi et al., 2009) and also in additional problems transferred to the waste dumps (Castaldi and Melis, 2004).
The greenhouse nurseries’ production of seedlings in containers is a highly competitive business, where uniform seedling emergence and rapid growth are essential for efficient productions. Therefore, the use of good growing media appears crucial for achieving positive results (Sterrett, 2001).
The vegetable transplant industry relies entirely on soilless media for seedling production and peat represents the most widely used growing media. The impact of the substrate costs on the production of plants varies from 12% to 22%, depending on the type of plant and cultivation technique (Zaccheo and Cattivello, 2009). Previous studies showed the positive chemical features and the absence of phytotoxicity phenomena (Cocozza et al., 2011a) and the good overall qualities of posidonia residue-based compost (Orquin et al., 2001; Saidi et al., 2009). Posidonia-based compost has been used in horticulture for greenhouse tomato (Castaldi and Melis, 2004; Verlodt et al., 1984) and lettuce (Gizas et al., 2012) cultivation, and for nursery production (Ben Jenana et al., 2009).
The objectives of the present study were: 1) to evaluate the main physical and chemical properties of five growing media obtained by mixing posidonia-based compost and peat in different ratios; and 2) to ascertain the potential use of these substrates as growing media for commercial lettuce seedling production.
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