Research from the Horticulture Innovation Fund

The economics and quality of field grown blueberries were compared to hydroponically grown blueberries.

Hydroponic growing methods of blueberries offers the industry a means of reducing maintenance costs and reducing water waste. Research focused on the nutritional needs of hydroponic blueberries and the use of nutrition to maximise fruit production without sacrificing plant health and fruit quality.

  • Research Question 1 comparing the economics of field and hydroponically grown blueberries. This was addressed using historical data and data collected during the growing season and the harvest of the trial bushes.
  • Research Question 2 comparing the quantity and quality of fruit grown using the three treatments using data collected during the harvest and taste testing of blueberries from the trial bushes.

Tuckerberry Hill - Comparing hydroponic to field blueberry production: Download Powerpoint presentation

Intro slide
Research questions
Research Question 1
Question 1 Yield comparison
Research Question 1 -  How do the economics of hydroponics compare with the economics of standard blueberry practices?
Research Question 2: What is the impact on fruit production quantity and quality of increased nutrient solutions for hydroponic blueberry productions?
Research Question 2 - results

Literature review

Comparing hydroponic to soil grown blueberries

Blueberries are not an easy plant to grow commercially. They have a unique root system that requires abundant clean water, and specific soil types and nutrients to achieve healthy bushes and abundant crops (Eck & Childers, 1966, p.32). The soil required is typically acidic, free draining with high levels of organic matter. Water supply for growing healthy blueberry bushes needs to be very low in salts and plentiful in supply. Therefore, the availability of suitable blueberry growing land with water is limited. The concurrence of an owner of such land wanting to grow blueberries adds an extra layer of complexity. This dilemma has given rise to horticulturalists wanting to grow blueberries on land other than the ideal soil type and climate. Investigating methods other than growing them in the existing soil and climate therefore make sense. Many growers have modified their existing soil by adding nutrients and mulch and brought in water supplies to supplement rainfall. However, there is an alternative that needs research and comparison with growing blueberries in soil and climate that need modification.

This research investigates the use of substrates that do not contain soil as a growing medium for blueberries as an alternative to modifying the soil on your land or using land with suitable soil and climate. Blueberries grown in substrate in pots above the soil require the grower to provide all the nutrients for healthy, productive blueberry plants. These nutrients are provided as elements dissolved in water, thus watering and fertilising the plants in the same process - fertigation. This method of growing is called hydroponic.

Access to journal databases Elsevier, Science Direct and Wiley during a review of the available literature on comparing field and hydroponically grown blueberries and the nutrient requirements and impacts on hydroponically grown blueberries, revealed very few specific results. A recent search of the ScienceDirect database revealed 12,415 results to the search term Blueberry however when narrowed by the term Hydroponic it revealed only 127 results. Very rarely did any of these results relate to the aspect of commercial productivity that was required by this research. Thus, the sparse literature located in these searches was rarely relevant to this research and mostly referred to articles already located and referred to by this research. No literature was found comparing field grown blueberries to hydroponically grown blueberries. Typical searches conducted on journal databases used search terms such as Nutrient mix, Hydroponic systems, and Yields.

Acknowledgements Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements: Agriculture Victoria, Monash University, Tuckerberry Hill, Forbes and Associates Consulting