High Tunnels Can Promote Growth, Yield, and Fruit Quality of Organic Bitter Melons (Momordica charantia) in Regions with Cool and Short Growing Seasons

in HortScience

There is a potentially large market for locally produced organic bitter melons (Momordica charantia L.) in Canada, but it is a great challenge to grow this warm-season crop in open fields (OFs) due to the cool and short growing season. To test the feasibility of using high tunnels (HTs) for organic production of bitter melons in southern Ontario, plant growth, fruit yield and quality, and pest and disease incidence were compared among three production systems: OF, HT, and high tunnel with anti-insect netting (HTN) at Guelph in 2015. The highest marketable fruit yield was achieved in HTN (≈36 t·ha−1), followed by HT (≈29 t·ha−1), with the lowest yield obtained in OF (≈3 t·ha−1). Compared with OF, there were several other benefits for bitter melon production in HT and HTN: increased plant growth, advanced harvest timing, reduced pest numbers and disease incidence, and improved fruit quality traits such as increased individual fruit weight and size, and reduced postharvest water loss. In addition to higher yield, HTN had fewer insect pests and disease incidence compared with HT. The results suggest that HTs can be used for organic production of bitter melon in southern Ontario and regions with similar climates. Also, the addition of anti-insect netting to HTs is beneficial to production if combined with an effective pollination strategy.

Contributor Notes

This project was supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Organic Cluster Research Program and managed by Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs supported on-site climate characterization through the University of Guelph Partnership program.

We thank Nora Alsafi, Patrick Kelly, and Amy Kong for their excellent technical support. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their very useful and helpful suggestions on the revision of this manuscript.

Corresponding author. E-mail: yzheng@uoguelph.ca.

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Article Figures

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    Side (left) and aerial (right) views of HT (10.8 m × 7.2 m × 3.8 m) and OF plots for the 2015 bitter melon production trial at the Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    Monthly variation of (A) daily mean air temperature, (B) soil temperature, (C) daily light integrals (DLI) in different cultivation systems, and (D) monthly precipitation in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2015. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    Growth rate of the leader vine at different growth stages in bitter melon plants under different cultivation systems. Data are means ± se. Bars bearing the same letter are not significantly different at P ≤ 0.05 according to Duncan’s new multiple range test. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    (A) Initiation time of the first female flowers and (B) growth days of the first fruits in bitter melon plants under different cultivation systems. Flower initiation time was calculated as the number of days between transplanting and the appearance of the first female flower. Fruit growth days were calculated as the number of days between the appearance of the first female flower to the harvesting of its fruit. Data are means ± se. Bars bearing the same letter are not significantly different at P ≤ 0.05 according to Duncan’s new multiple range test. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    (A) Weekly variation in cumulative marketable fruit weight and (B) number of harvested bitter melon fruits grown under different cultivation systems. Data are means ± se. For the final cumulative yield, data marked with different letters are significantly different at P ≤ 0.05 according to Duncan’s new multiple range test. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    (A) Percentage of scarred and (B) deformed bitter melon fruits in different cultivation systems. Data are means ± se. Bars bearing the same letter are not significantly different at P ≤ 0.05 according to Duncan’s new multiple range test. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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    (A) Numbers of trapped insects and (B) disease incidence in bitter melon plants under different cultivation systems. The insect numbers per trap in each plot are cumulative values over a 7-week collection period. Disease outbreak occurred in late June in OF, and in early October in HT and HTN. Data are means ± se. Bars bearing the same letter are not significantly different at P ≤ 0.05 according to Duncan’s new multiple range test. OF = open field; HT = high tunnel; HTN = high tunnel with anti-insect netting.

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