Plant Sensors that Work in LECA
Ever wondered if you could use Leaflet in LECA? Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) has gained popularity for its superior drainage, root aeration, and water retention properties. However, these distinct physical properties have caused some of our users to ask–will this sensor work as well in LECA as it does in traditional soil?
The short answer is yes! The leaflet sensor works in LECA. Keep reading to see the full results of our experiment.
LECA: What It Is and Why It’s Used
Understanding the Composition of LECA
Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate, commonly known as LECA, is made from clay that has been heated to high temperatures, causing it to expand like popcorn. The result is small, lightweight, porous pebbles that have a variety of uses in construction and horticulture. The primary component of LECA is clay, a natural material, which contributes to its environmentally friendly profile.
Benefits of LECA for Plant Growth
- Improved Drainage: Due to the porous nature of LECA, it facilitates excellent drainage. This ensures that the roots of plants do not become waterlogged, which can be detrimental to their health.
- Root Aeration: The spaces between the LECA pebbles allow for air to easily reach the roots. This is essential for the respiration process of the plant roots and contributes to healthier and stronger plant growth.
- Water Retention: LECA pebbles can also retain water, which can be gradually released to the plants. This is particularly beneficial for plants that do not require constant wet conditions, as it allows for a steady supply of water.
- Non-Compacting: Unlike soil, LECA does not compact over time. This is advantageous for root growth, as roots can easily expand and grow within the medium without being constricted.
- Pest Control: As LECA is inorganic, it doesn’t harbor organic pathogens or pests. This reduces the need for pesticides and contributes to the overall health of the plants.
- Reusability and Sustainability: LECA can be reused multiple times. After a growing cycle, it can be cleaned and sterilized to be used again, making it a sustainable alternative to traditional potting soils.
Historical Limitations and the Quest for Monitoring in LECA Systems
Historically, one limitation of using LECA as a growing medium was the difficulty in monitoring the conditions within it. In traditional soil, gardeners could easily assess the soil's moisture by feeling it, and other factors such as pH and nutrients could be tested using simple tools. However, LECA's unique properties made these traditional methods of assessment less applicable. As a result, there was a need for alternative ways to monitor and manage the growing conditions within LECA, to ensure optimal plant growth. This need paved the way for the integration of sensor technology with LECA, which is why having a sensor that calibrates in LECA is not only feasible but highly advantageous for modern gardening and agriculture.
The Experiment: Leaflet in Leca
Step 1: Leaflet in LECA
To explore the integration of our leaflet sensor into a Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) based growing system, we sourced high-quality LECA for the experiment. Using this very fancy plastic cup, we created a LECA-based growing environment for the plant. While planting, we ensured that the roots were adequately surrounded by LECA for proper support and growth.
We strategically inserted the sensor into the LECA, positioning it at a depth where it would be in close contact with the roots, but without causing any damage to them. During the course of the experiment, our team regularly checked the readings.
Step 2: The Data
This is a raw reading of leaflet moisture data over time. The gradual dropping off is the sensor detecting the LECA drying out. The probe was able to detect the LECA drying out, which means despite its distinct physical properties, the leaflet sensor works just as well in LECA as it does in traditional soil.
Leaflet successfully integrates in LECA! To read more about how our sensors work, read Sensors 101.