Icebox watermelons first appeared in the United States about 50 years ago. They weigh between 6 and 12 pounds and come in a variety of shapes and colors. With a rising interest in local production, organic produce, and direct marketing, farmers in Washington are looking to diversify crop varieties to meet these demands. Icebox watermelons offer a means of locally producing high-quality watermelons. In 2004 and 2005, we evaluated icebox watermelon varieties to determine which are most suitable for production in our region. In 2004, we evaluated 44 varieties of icebox watermelon and in 2005 we evaluated 100 varieties at WSU Vancouver REU. Varieties were seeded in the greenhouse mid-April and transplanted to the field by mid-June. The greenhouse and field were managed organically. The study design was a randomized complete-block with three replications. Plots were single rows, 6.1 m long, with seven plants per plot. Spacing was 1 m between plants and 3 m between rows. Plants were mulched with black plastic and drip-irrigated 2.5 cm per week. Melons were harvested twice weekly, from mid-August through mid-October. Fruit weight, number, and size were measured, and percentage of soluble solids was measured using a °Brix meter. General eating quality was also evaluated. Summaries of selected varieties will be presented here. To view other varieties included in the trial, see our website, http://agsyst.wsu.edu. Results of this study show significant differences among icebox watermelon varieties in total yield, number of fruit per plot, average fruit weight, number of days to harvest, and percentage of soluble solids. These preliminary findings indicate that more than 80 varieties of icebox watermelon can be grown productively in our region.
Carol A. Miles, Kathryn Kolker, Tracy Smith, Jenn Reed, Gail Becker, and Carolyn Adams
Carol A. Miles, Thomas S. Collins, Yao Mu, and Travis Robert Alexander
Two studies were performed in Mount Vernon, WA, to identify bulb fennel (Foeniculum ×vulgare) cultivars and seeding practices best suited for the region. The first study evaluated 13 cultivars (Bronze, Finale, Florence, Genesi, Idillio, Orazio, Orion, Perfection, Preludio, Solaris, Tauro, Tenace, and Zefa Fino) over the course of 2 years; during the second year, the additional main factor of the seeding date was included. The second study evaluated three bulb fennel cultivars (Finale, Tauro, and Zefa Fino), four seeding dates (17 May, 31 May, 14 June, and 28 June 2018), and two planting methods (direct and transplant). Results of the two studies demonstrated that ‘Finale’, ‘Orazio’, ‘Preludio’, ‘Solaris’, and ‘Tenace’ had the greatest bulb production rate and yield and good bulb quality that met marketability standards. ‘Genesi’, ‘Orion’, and ‘Perfection’ had good bulb production during only 1 of the 2 years, whereas ‘Bronze’, ‘Florence’, ‘Idillio’, and ‘Zefa Fino’ had very low bulb productivity both years due to bolting. ‘Perfection’ and ‘Tauro’ exhibited internal cracking both years (incidence rates of 9.5% and 12.8%, respectively). The first harvest was 94 to 112 days after seeding during the first study. Direct seeded bulb fennel required 32 fewer days to harvest than transplanted bulb fennel during the second study. The average bulb circumference was 28.1 cm, with little variation between studies. Bulb tenderness for both studies was 617 g-force, on average, and the soluble solids concentration of bulbs in both studies was 4.9%. Ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry based on 38 tentatively identified compounds demonstrated no difference in the phenolic content of bulb fennel due to the cultivar. In conclusion, bulb fennel cultivars well-suited for production in northwest Washington were identified and direct seeding was demonstrated to be a better planting method than transplanting.
Travis R. Alexander, Thomas S. Collins, and Carol A. Miles
‘Brown Snout’ cider apple (Malus ×domestica) is desired by cider makers for its relatively high levels of phenolics, and over-the-row machine harvesting of ‘Brown Snout’ has been demonstrated to provide similar yield to hand harvest at a significantly lower cost. The purpose of this study was to determine if there is a measurable impact of harvest method on the phenolic profile of ‘Brown Snout’ juice and cider to better inform equipment adoption recommendations. Using a redox titration assay, the titratable tannin content (± SE) of juice (0.19% ± 0.01%) and cider (0.19% ± 0.01%) were found not to differ due to harvest method. Using a protein precipitation assay, juice from machine-harvested fruit was found to have lower levels of total tannins [231 ± 36 mg·L−1 catechin equivalents (CE)] than juice from hand-harvested fruit (420 ± 14 mg·L−1 CE). However, the total tannins of cider did not differ due to harvest method, the overall average for machine and hand harvest was 203 ± 22 mg·L−1 CE. The total phenolics of juice and cider did not differ due to harvest method (1415 ± 98 mg·L−1 CE and 1431 ± 73 mg·L−1 CE, respectively). Discriminant analysis based on an average of 33 tentatively identified phenolic compounds, as measured by ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled with quadrupole time of flight mass spectrometry, showed no separation due to harvest method in juice or cider. In conclusion, over-the-row machine harvesting of ‘Brown Snout’ resulted in a final product of similar quality at reduced labor costs, and thus shows potential for increasing the commercial sustainability of cider apple operations.
Aidan Kendall, Travis R. Alexander, Gabriel T. LaHue, and Carol A. Miles
Mechanical hedging was evaluated at Washington State University Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, Mount Vernon, WA, in 2019 and 2020 on eight cider apple (Malus ×domestica) cultivars with four bearing habits: tip—Golden Russet, Harrison; spur—Brown Snout, Cap of Liberty; semispur—Tom Putt, Campfield; and crab—Puget Spice, Hewe’s Virginia Crab. Trees were planted on ‘Geneva 935’ (Malus hybrid) rootstock in one replicate block in 2014 and the second replicate block in 2016 and the central leader of all trees was headed in 2017 to equalize tree size and stage of development. Summer hedging was carried out on all cultivars on 16 July in 2019 and 7 July in 2020. The response of different cultivars was evaluated both years by measuring canopy area removed, shoot biomass removed, and fruit removed, and the amount of time to hedge was measured. Additionally, fruit diameter and fruit yield per tree were measured at harvest both years, and fruit weight was measured at harvest only in 2020. The hedger traveled at an average speed of 1.32 mph; it took 6 seconds on average to hedge both sides of one tree when in-row spacing was 6 ft and took 1.25 minutes to maneuver around the end of a row. The estimated time to hedge 1 acre was 1.45 hours when the hedger traveled at 116 ft/min and the orchard had 10 rows spaced 12 ft apart. Biomass removed on an area and weight basis was less in 2020 than in 2019, whereas yield per tree was 2.6 times greater in 2020 than 2019, and cultivars within a bearing habit differed in these responses to hedging both years. Fruit damaged by the hedger was assessed but observed to be negligible for all cultivars. Yield per tree was negatively correlated with fruit diameter (P < 0.001) and positively correlated with the number of fruit removed per tree (P < 0.025). Further research is needed to assess the long-term effects of hedging on biomass removal, yield, and biennialism to determine whether summer mechanical hedging is a cost-effective and suitable method for managing cider apple orchards.
Suzette P. Galinato, Aidan Kendall, and Carol A. Miles
Growers need reliable information on costs and returns they can expect for a cider apple (Malus ×domestica) orchard suitable for mechanization because specialty cider apples can only be used for making cider, and returns are expected to be lower than for fresh table apples. This study estimates the costs, returns, and net profit that growers may realize by planting cider apples in either a freestanding or tall spindle system that use a mechanical harvester (both systems) and mechanical hedger (tall spindle system only). Results show that both production systems have positive net returns during full production, and their respective break-even returns are lower than the current market price, demonstrating that both systems are potentially profitable investments. Results also show that the tall spindle system is potentially more profitable due to the advantages of earlier start of fruiting and higher crop yield. The estimated net returns of the tall spindle system during full production are nearly 4 times higher than that of a freestanding system. At a discount rate of 10%, the net present value (NPV) of the tall spindle system is positive and payback period is 13 years, whereas the NPV of the freestanding system is negative. The discount rate represents the time value of money and reflects the perception of risk for the investment. The break-even discount rates (i.e., NPV = 0) are ≈6.88% for the freestanding system and 10.78% for the tall spindle system. Sensitivity scenarios found that when all else was constant, profitability increased as market price, crop yield, and production area increase and also when the cost of the harvester decreased. Because mechanical harvesters are expensive, profitability tends to be more favorable for larger farms due to economies of scale. Also, a high picking efficiency is important because fruit that falls on the ground is considered crop yield loss and reduces the gross income from cider apples.
Lisa W. DeVetter, Huan Zhang, Shuresh Ghimire, Sean Watkinson, and Carol A. Miles
Day-neutral strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) is typically grown in plasticulture production systems that use black polyethylene (PE) mulch for weed management and promotion of crop growth and yield. The objectives of this research were to evaluate several commercial plastic and paper biodegradable mulch (BDM) products [Bio360, Experimental Prototype (Exp. Prototype), and WeedGuardPlus] in comparison with standard black PE mulch and bare ground cultivation in day-neutral strawberry grown in an annual system in northwestern Washington. Mulch performance [as percent visual cover (PVC)], weed suppression, marketable yield, plant biomass, and fruit quality were evaluated in ‘Albion’ and ‘Seascape’ strawberry grown in 2014 and 2015. PVC measured at the end of the production season was lowest for the Exp. Prototype (8%) in 2014 and was greatest for Bio360 (90%), WeedGuardPlus (90%), and PE (98%). In 2015, PVC at the end of the production season was again lowest for Exp. Prototype (62%), followed by WeedGuardPlus (64%), Bio360 (93%), and PE mulch (97%). Overall, weed pressure was higher in 2015 relative to 2014 and was greatest in the bare ground treatment in both years of the study. By the end of the 2015 season, weed cover in the bare ground treatment was 95%, followed by WeedGuardPlus (50%), Exp. Prototype (34%), PE (25%), and Bio360 (15%). Yield showed year and cultivar effects and was higher in mulched treatments. Plant biomass showed varying effects; root biomass was lowest in ‘Seascape’ in 2015 under the bare ground treatment and greatest under Bio360, which was similar to PE mulch and WeedGuardPlus. Leaf biomass was lowest in the bare ground treatment and highest in mulched treatments (except in 2015, when leaf biomass was intermediate for plants grown with WeedGuardPlus). Crown biomass showed a similar trend and was overall greater for plants grown in mulched treatments except for Bio360 in 2014, which was the same as the bare ground treatment. Overall, fruit quality was maintained among strawberry grown with BDMs, with soluble solids concentration (SSC, %) and titratable acidity (TA) being the only variables to show treatment effects. SCC tended to be lower in fruit from bare ground plots. TA was different for ‘Seascape’ in 2015 with fruit from bare ground and Exp. Prototype treatments having higher TA than the PE treatment. This study demonstrates that BDMs can be comparable to PE mulch in terms of performance and impacts on crop productivity in day-neutral strawberry, suggesting that BDMs could be a viable alternative to PE mulch for strawberry growers in the Pacific Northwest.
Russell W. Wallace, Annette L. Wszelaki, Carol A. Miles, Jeremy S. Cowan, Jeffrey Martin, Jonathan Roozen, Babette Gundersen, and Debra A. Inglis
Field studies were conducted during 2010 and 2011 in Knoxville, TN; Lubbock, TX; and Mount Vernon, WA; to compare high tunnel and open-field organic production systems for season extension and adverse climate protection on lettuce (Lactuca sativa) yield and quality. The climates of these locations are diverse and can be typified as hot and humid (Knoxville), hot and dry (Lubbock), and cool and humid (Mount Vernon). In both years, 6-week-old lettuce seedlings of ‘New Red Fire’ and ‘Green Star’ (leafy type), ‘Adriana’ and ‘Ermosa’ (butterhead type), and ‘Coastal Star’ and ‘Jericho’ (romaine type) were transplanted in the late winter or early spring into subplots covered with black plastic and grown to maturity (43 to 65 days). Lettuce harvest in Knoxville occurred at 50 to 62 days after transplanting (DAT), with open-field lettuce harvested an average of 9 days earlier compared with high tunnel plots both years (P > 0.0001). The earlier than anticipated harvests in the open-field in Knoxville in 2010 were due to lettuce bolting. In Lubbock, high tunnel lettuce was harvested an average 16 days earlier in 2010 compared with open-field lettuce (P > 0.0001), while in 2011, high temperatures and bolting required that open-field lettuce be harvested 4 days earlier than lettuce grown in high tunnels. On average, lettuce cultivars at Mount Vernon matured and were harvested 56 to 61 DAT in 2010 and 54 to 64 DAT in 2011 with no significant differences between high tunnel and open-field production systems. Total and marketable yields at Mount Vernon and Lubbock averaged across cultivars were comparable in both high tunnel and open-field plots. At Knoxville, although total yields were significantly higher (P > 0.0062) in high tunnels than open-field plots, incidence of insect, disease, and physiological damage in high tunnel plots reduced lettuce quality and marketable yield (P > 0.0002). Lettuce head length:diameter ratio (LDR) averaged across cultivars was equal between high tunnel and the open field at all three locations. High tunnel production systems offer greater control of environments suitable for lettuce production, especially in climates like Knoxville and Lubbock where later-planted open-field systems may be more susceptible to temperature swings that may affect lettuce quality. These results suggest that although high tunnel culture alone may influence lettuce yield and quality, regional climates likely play a critical role in determining the impact of these two production systems on marketable lettuce yields.
Carol A. Miles, Travis R. Alexander, Gregory Peck, Suzette P. Galinato, Christopher Gottschalk, and Steve van Nocker
Hard cider, made by fermenting apple (Malus ×domestica) juice, was at one time the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in America. Largely abandoned after Prohibition, within the past 2 decades the rise in popularity of craft beverages has led to the reemergence of hard cider as an alternative to beer, wine, and spirits. Today, hard cider represents one of the fastest growing sectors within the craft beverage industry. The recent interest in cider presents additional marketing opportunities for apple growers and businesses currently involved in, or considering entering, the apple cider or craft beverages industries. However, the lack of a strong history or experience in selecting, producing, and using cider apples poses a significant challenge to this emerging market. This article reviews the current state of research in cider apple production, including economic feasibility, mechanized management, and cultivar evaluation and improvement.