Development of the Press Extraction Method for Plug Substrate Analysis: Effects of Variable Extraction Force on pH, Electrical Conductivity, and Nutrient Analysis

in HortTechnology
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  • 1 Virginia Tech, Dept. of Horticulture, 301 Saunders Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061.
  • | 2 Department of Horticultural Science, Box 7609, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609.

Substrate solution testing is an essential management tool for greenhouse plug production. Current methods of plug solution extraction and testing can be confounded by subjective aspects of their techniques. The press extraction method (PEM) developed at North Carolina State University offers a convenient and timely method of solution extraction. The rooting substrate is brought to container capacity and after a period of one hour, pressing the plug surface with a finger or thumb is sufficient to expel the solution. This series of experiments serves to quantify possible variation that may occur in pH, Electrical conductivity (EC), and nutrient analysis from differing manual extraction forces. A modified press was designed to apply a range of force [53, 71, 89, 106, and 124 N (5.0, 6.7, 8.3, 10.0, and 11.6 lb/inch2)], and sampling protocol consistency was verified. For all three experiments, the range of extraction forces within a single fertilizer rate did not significantly affect solution pH or EC. When testing included a range of fertilizer rates, results were significantly different among the fertilizer rates, demonstrating the method's ability to detect changes in pH and EC resulting from increases in fertility levels. Nutrient analysis (NO3-, NH4+, P, K, Ca, Mg, Na, B, Cu, Fe, Mn, and Zn) of solution extracted from two different rooting substrates (peat-based and coir-based) showed no differences within substrates for the range of force treatments.