A sustainable dairy manure amendment for soilless crop growth systems was evaluated for its ability to provide nutrients and serve as a major component of the growing media. After manure liquid/solid separation, the solids stream containing organic N and P was pelletized and used as a nutrient source for cherry tomato (Solanum lycopersicum
) culture in soilless media. The pellets are low in moisture, odor, and pathogens, and they can be hauled at lower cost over longer distances and more easily stored than raw or composted manure. Manure pellet additions to soilless media were evaluated at 0%, 2.5%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, 40%, and 50% by volume. Manure pellets had a total N content of 3.7%. Fruit size, ripeness, and biomass, plant height, nutrients value in tissue/pellets/media, and time to complete growth cycle were analyzed. Overall, manure pellet treatments improved plant height and growth rate compared to the negative control, especially when pellets were 15% to 50% of the soilless media. This indicates that the nutrients in the manure were being mineralized, and plants were able to utilize the manure-based nutrients for growth. Leaf tissue nutrient analysis revealed that N, K, Zn, and Fe in leaf tissue were not at sufficiency levels at any level of manure pellet addition. Phosphorus and Cu reached sufficiency levels with 10% or greater manure pellet additions. Calcium, Mg, S, Mn, and B were sufficient in all plants, regardless of fertilizer or manure pellet treatment. Manure pellets demonstrate the potential to be used as a substrate and partial growth medium to reduce synthetic fertilizer use for more sustainable soilless container culture.
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