Varying Plant Density and Harvest Time to Optimize Cowpea Leaf Yield and Nutrient Content

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  • 1 National Aeronautics and Space Administration Specialized Center of Research and Training in Bioregenerative Life Support, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907

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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