2023 marked five years since CapillaryFlow implemented its first Capillary Hydroponics system, which uses an oxygenated and fertilized moving water table to grow strong and durable grass anywhere, with significantly less maintenance and environmental impact.
One of the most significant benefits of using Capillary Hydroponics to grow grass is the huge savings in water consumption. According to CapillaryFlow’s own studies, the system uses up to 85% less water.
But Martin Sternberg, founder, chief innovator and CEO of CapillaryFlow, wanted to be absolutely sure. He wanted scientific validation. “We want to scientifically prove the 85% water savings,” said Sternberg. “We want to scientifically prove the cleaning effects – that less fertilizers and pesticides are being used and there is less leaching. Basically, we wanted to prove all the benefits of the hydroponic system in a scientific manner.”
A chance encounter with Dr Thomas Nikolai, Senior Turfgrass Academic Specialist and the Doctor of Green Speed in 2018, planted the seed for research that is aimed at establishing just that.
The study, which is comparing CapillaryFlow’s hydroponic subsurface irrigation to variable depth overhead irrigation systems, started in June 2022 at Michigan State University’s prestigious Hancock Turfgrass Research Centre, which has been at the cutting-edge of turfgrass research since 1978.
For this project, six 36’x36’ identical greens were constructed. Three are Capillary Hydroponic Greens and three are Variable-Depth Rootzones, the latest in USGA technology. All six of the greens were constructed with the same sand that is within USGA recommendations. Incidentally, Variable-Depth Rootzones is the predominant way to build high performing grass surfaces today in football stadiums, golf courses, parks and everywhere where high-performance grass is needed.
All the greens were initially grown with overhead irrigation. Later, the Capillary Hydroponic Greens started receiving sub surface irrigation while the variable depth greens continued to get overhead irrigation.
The cavity of the Capillary Hydroponic greens is divided into two equal parts. A 55-gallon control basin is placed on the outside and has pipes that feed into the middle of each cavity. The control basin automatically oxygenates and pumps water mixed with nutrients back and forth between the two sections several times a day, watering the roots as it goes. The level of the water table is completely controllable and the water moves between each cavity at a fully adjustable rate too.
The subgrade of the greens start with a level soil surface with 2 four-inch inlet pipes, a liner that is sealed around the inlet pipes, a four inch pea stone layer, four inch perforated drainage encased in the pea stone, two inches of CapillaryFlow’s patented Capillary Material and finally a sand rootzone. Capillary Material ensures a perfectly flat and level base beneath the rootzone, which is crucial for the functioning of a hydroponic system.
Dr Nikolai and his research team will compare the two systems for economic and environmental impacts but the focus in the first two years will be water consumption.
The first reliable results of the study will only be out in mid-2023 but very preliminary results have shown a 90% water savings in the Capillary Hydroponic Greens, said Sternberg.
Besides water savings, the other benefits according to CapillaryFlow’s own research include greater turf quality, longer lifespan of soil profile, greatly reduced soil temperature in hot climates, increased soil temperatures in cold climates and no leakage of microplastics, pesticides or fertilizers into the soil.
Sternberg is confident the system’s other benefits will also be validated by the research. “You do scientific trials to be absolutely sure, to be able to say, ‘Yes, this is 100% validated,” he said. “That is exactly why we are doing this project with MSU.”
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