Written by Tinia Pina
Nitrogen is one of the key nutrients to plant growth and forms a part of chlorophyll. Nitrogen, when in good amounts in leaves, leads to the occurrence of photosynthesis at high rates. Yellowing of leaves is clearly an indication of lack of nitrogen, which needs to be addressed by external provision. The problem doesn’t end here when it comes to nitrogen availability and plant growth.
As most of you must have experienced, nitrogen availability for plants has been an age-old issue, especially when obtaining it from natural resources. The three main forms in which plants usually uptake Nitrogen are – nitrates, ammonium ions and urea. Conversions between these three forms take place when applied to the growing medium – urea gets converted to ammonium, or ammonium to nitrate. Plants can readily store excess nitrates but an excess of ammonium could lead to toxicity in them with visible damage. And so, it is very important for nitrogen to be available in the right form for plants, for better uptake and better plant growth.
When dealing with food waste, we figured that food waste alone was (1) Not rich in nitrogen, and (2) Mostly in the form of ammonium-nitrogen. To supplement nitrogen by natural resources, animal by-products such as composted manure, poultry manure, mineral resources such as Chilean nitrate, or plant-derived resources such as alfalfa meal are commonly used for most soil-based plants. But, with soilless farms, it’s a different ball game.
Several factors influence the choice of a nitrogen supplement such as odor, solubility in water, microbial growth and Sodium levels to name a few, that need to be taken into account for soilless systems. Our nitrogen-hunt involved extensive research and testing. From checking the current available natural alternatives and their estimated nitrogen content, to processing it to make it available in the form of nitrates for easy plant uptake, ensuring it met the standards sensitive to soilless nutrient solutions and plant growth.