An experiment was conducted at Olathe, Kan., in Spring 2004 to investigate the influence of organic and conventional fertilizer sources and application rates on antioxidant levels of pac choi (Brassica rapa L. cv. Mei Qing) in open fields and poly-covered high-tunnel plots. Organic plots received pre-plant application of composted cattle manure and alfalfa (Hu-More 1–1–1) at 0 kg/ha N, 156 kg/ha N, or 314 kg/ha N, and conventional plots received preplant application of 13N–13P–13K at 0 kg/ha N, 78 kg/ha N, or 156 kg/ha N. Antioxidant levels were measured using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. There were significant effects of fertilizer source and high-tunnel environment on the antioxidant capacity of pac choi. Organic fertilization significantly increased hydrophilic ORAC of pac choi in open field plots, but not in high tunnels. Regardless of the fertilizer source, pac choi grown in the open field had significantly higher hydrophilic ORAC than that grown in tunnels. Lipophilic ORAC was significantly increased by organic fertilization but was not affected by high-tunnel production. Total ORAC (hydrophilic + lipophilic) was significantly higher in pac choi from organic or open-field plots, compared to conventional and high-tunnel plots, respectively. Although fertilizer rate did not show significant impact on antioxidant level of pac choi, hydrophilic and total ORAC seemed to decrease as the fertilizer rate increased, especially under conventional fertilization, while lipophilic ORAC reached the highest level at the medium fertilizer rate. Differences in antioxidant levels were likely associated with the enhanced phytochemical content of pac choi from organically fertilized and open-field plots.
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