Drip Irrigation Management Affects Celery Yield and Quality

in HortScience
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  • 1 Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Trials in nine commercial celery (Apium graveolens L.) fields were conducted between 1997-99 to evaluate grower drip irrigation management practices and their effects on yield and quality. Surface drip irrigation tapes with flow rates higher and lower than the grower-installed tapes were spliced into the field system; as the cooperating growers irrigated and applied N fertigation according to their routine practices these drip tapes delivered either more or less water and N than the field drip system. Total grower water application during the drip-irrigated portion of the season ranged from 85% to 414% of seasonal reference evapotranspiration (ETo). Water volume per irrigation varied among fields from 1.8 to 3.8 cm, with irrigation frequency varying from an average of every other day to once a week. Grower management of drip irrigation was not consistently successful in maintaining soil water tension (SWT) in a desirable range. SWT was often below -30 kPa, and in some cases below -70 kPa. These transient stresses were more often a result of inappropriate irrigation frequency than applied water volume. In four of the fields plots receiving less water than that delivered by the field system produced equivalent marketable yield and quality, indicating a significant potential for water savings. An economically important incidence of petiole pithiness (collapse of parenchyma tissue) was observed in four fields. Infrequent irrigation under high ETo summer conditions, rather than irrigation volume applied, appeared to be the major factor in pith development. N fertigation amount and crop N status appeared to be unrelated to pithiness severity. We conclude that celery drip irrigation management could be substantially improved by maintaining a closer proportionality between irrigation and crop evapotranspiration (ETc), increasing irrigation frequency, and reducing volume per irrigation.

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