Solution Electrical Conductivity and Ratio of Nitrate to Other Nutrients Affect Accumulation of Nitrate in Hydroponic Lettuce

in HortScience
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  • 1 Dept. of Forestry and Horticulture, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT 06504-1106

Solution electrical conductivity (EC) and the supply of nitrate in proportion to other elements (nitrate supply ratio) should effect tissue composition of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) grown in hydroponic solution. These parameters were varied in several series of successive plantings in greenhouses in the northeast United States. In 1996, when the treatments differed only in EC, 0.65 and 0.9 dS·m-1, but not in nitrate supply ratio, leaf tissue had more nitrate and total reduced-N and lettuce grew faster in the solution with higher EC. Over four series of plantings in 1997 and 1998, the nitrate supply ratio of a low-N treatment was only 60% of that for a high-N treatment, and EC was varied from 1.2 to 2.0 dS·m-1. In 1997 and 1998, tissue nitrate was lower in the low-N treatment only when EC was less than in the high-N treatment. However, under irradiance greater than 10 MJ m-2 per day, the lower EC also slowed growth. Stepwise regression over data from all experiments showed leaf nitrate was primarily a function of EC, and a term that described the interaction between irradiance and EC. Due to selective uptake by the plants, the ratio of elements in the recirculating solution differed from the ratio in which they were supplied. Under irradiance less than 10 MJ m-2 per day and solution EC greater than 1.5 dS·m-1, nitrate accumulated in solution to a concentration greater than expected from simple dilution of the concentrates. Tissue nitrate was also related to solution nitrate, increasing by 0.08-0.09 mg·g-1 dry weight per 1 mg·L-1 increase in solution nitrate. To prevent a rise in tissue and solution nitrate under low irradiance, both solution EC and nitrate supply ratio had to be reduced by about one-third, compared to the conditions required for rapid growth under high irradiance.