Plant density and harvest time were manipulated to optimize vegetative (foliar) productivity of cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] canopies for future dietary use in controlled ecological life-support systems as vegetables or salad greens. Productivity was measured as total shoot and edible dry weights (DW), edible yield rate [(EYR) grams DW per square meter per day], shoot harvest index [(SHI) grams DW per edible gram DW total shoot], and yield-efficiency rate [(YER) grams DW edible per square meter per day per grams DW nonedible]. Cowpeas were grown in a greenhouse for leaf-only harvest at 14, 28, 42, 56, 84, or 99 plants/m2 and were harvested 20, 30, 40, or 50 days after planting (DAP). Shoot and edible dry weights increased as plant density and time to harvest increased. A maximum of 1189 g shoot DW/m2 and 594 g edible DW/m2 were achieved at an estimated plant density of 85 plants/m2 and harvest 50 DAP. EYR also increased as plant density and time to harvest increased. An EYR of 11 g·m–2·day–1 was predicted to occur at 86 plants/m2 and harvest 50 DAP. SHI and YER were not affected by plant density. However, the highest values of SHI (64%) and YER (1.3 g·m–2·day–1·g–1) were attained when cowpeas were harvested 20 DAP. The average fat and ash contents [dry-weight basis (dwb)] of harvested leaves remained constant regardless of harvest time. Average protein content increased from 25% DW at 30 DAP to 45% DW at 50 DAP. Carbohydrate content declined from 50% DW at 30 DAP to 45% DW at 50 DAP. Total dietary fiber content (dwb) of the leaves increased from 19% to 26% as time to harvest increased from 20 to 50 days.
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