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J.W. Prevatt, G.A. Clark, and C.D. Stanley

Three vegetable irrigation systems, semi-closed subirrigation (seepage), fully enclosed subirrigation (seepage), and drip irrigation, were evaluated for use on sandy soils with naturally high water tables to determine comparative irrigation costs for tomato production. Investment, fixed (ownership), and variable (operating) costs were estimated for each irrigation system. The investment costs of the drip irrigation system were significantly greater than those for the semi-closed and fully enclosed irrigation systems. The variable costs, however, for the semi-closed system were considerably less than those for the fully enclosed and drip irrigation systems. The semi-closed irrigation system, therefore, was determined to be the least-cost tomato irrigation system under present fuel cost and nonlimiting water supply conditions.

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P. Tardif, J. Caron, I. Duchesne, and J. Gallichand

Overhead sprinkler systems in nurseries use large amount of water and fertilizers and generate runoff losses that may alter the quality of surface or subsurface water. Moreover, the cost associated with these losses is important. Water recycling may reduce that cost and the losses to the environment. Our objective was to evaluate the performance of two recycling systems (recycling and storing water in a tank and recycling solution through subirrigation on capillary mats) relative to a conventional overhead sprinkler system with no recycling. Two species (Prunus × Cistena and Spirea japonica `Little Princess') and seven substrates were used on plots subject to these irrigation practices. Treatments were compared for the water balance and the plant growth. After the first season, preliminary results showed that water and nutrient consumption were 65% less for sprinkler irrigation with recycling and with subirrigation on capillary mats. Plant yield and soil water content were statistically the same for the three treatments.

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C. D. Stanley and G. A. Clark

The use of the recently developed fully-enclosed seepage subirrigation system for fresh market tomato production has demonstrated an improved ability to maintain a water table at a desired level (when compared to conventional ditch-conveyed seepage subirrigation) by means of more precisely controlled application and a greater uniformity throughout the field. This is achieved through use of microirrigation tubing rather than open ditches to convey water to raise the water table to desired levels. When manually controlled, the system has shown to save 30-40% in irrigation amounts primarily due to almost total elimination of surface runoff. An automated control system was designed and evaluated with respect to practicality, durability, and performance of various designs of level-sensing switches. The advantages and limitations of the designs in relation to water table control for tomato production will be presented.

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Jaime K. Morvant, John M. Dole, and Janet C. Cole

Euphorbia pulcherrima `Gutbier V-14 Glory' were grown with 220 mg·liter–1 N (20N–4.4P–16.6K) using ebb-and-flow (EF), capillary mat (CAP), microtube (MIC), and hand-watering (HAN) and were irrigated either daily (pulse - P) or as needed (regular - R). For all irrigation systems, pulse irrigation produced the greatest total dry weight. HAN-R produced lower total dry weight than all other irrigation systems and frequencies. Root dry weight was highest with pulse subirrigation (EF and CAP). MIC-P, EF-P, and EF-R were the most water-efficient treatments. The experiment was repeated twice with similar results. In a second experiment, Pelargonium ×hortorum `Pinto Red' root balls were sliced into three equal segments; top, middle, and bottom. For all irrigation systems, root counts were lowest in the top region. EF root counts were greatest in the middle region, while MIC root counts were greatest in the bottom region. The two subirrigation systems had higher average root counts than the two top-irrigated systems (HAN and MIC). In general, there was less difference in EC between regions for top-irrigated than for subirrigated root balls. The EC was lowest in the bottom and middle regions of EF and the bottom region of MIC and CAP. For subirrigation, the highest EC was in the top region. For all systems, pH was lowest in the bottom region.

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Troy M. Buechel, David J. Beattie, and E. Jay Holcomb

A characteristic problem with peat moss is its difficulty in initial wetting and rewetting, especially in a subirrigation system. Wetting agents improve wetting characteristics primarily by reducing the surface tension of water. This results in a rapid, uniform movement of water by capillary rise through the growing medium.

Two methods were used to compare the effectiveness of different wetting agents: gravimetric and electrical. Ten cm pots containing peat moss were placed in a subirrigation system. The gravimetric method used a laboratory scale where pots were periodically weighed to determine the amount of water absorbed. The electrical method utilized thin beam load cells, which have strain gages bound to the surface, to determine the weight of a suspended object. Load cells were coupled with a Campbell Scientific datalogger to collect data every minute without removing the pot from subirrigation. Because the effect of buoyancy altered the true weights, equations were generated to adjust the water uptake values. Corrected weights were used to create absorption curves for comparison of the slopes to determine which wetting agent has the fastest rate of absorption. The load cell reliably and accurately described the wetting characteristics of Peat moss and we found good agreement with the gravimetric method.

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John Kabashima

Several production nurseries were surveyed about techniques used to reduce water usage and runoff. The nurseries surveyed used from 400,000 gallons of water per day to 5,000,000 gallons of water per day during peak usage. Water availability and the potential for nitrate runoff from large production nurseries to contaminate the environment have resulted in requirements by regulatory agencies to decrease water usage and runoff. Nurseries have complied by using techniques such as drip irrigation, subirrigation, pulsing, recycling, and computer controlled irrigation systems. The use of techniques such as recycling and “better management practices” have resulted in significant decreases (approximately 30%) in water usage.

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M.S. Albahou and J.L. Green

Incidence of blossom-end rot (BER) of tomato is known to increase with increasing salinity in hydroponics and field tomato crops due to osmotic stress and imbalanced ionic ratio in the media solution. The present investigation evaluated salinity effects on the occurrence of BER of tomato in a completely closed root environment known as the closed insulated pallet system (CIPS). The CIPS is a continuous sub-irrigation capillary system with water moving from reservoir to rootzone in response to plant uptake and loss through transpiration and growth. In CIPS, fertilizer reserve is placed at the top surface of the root matrix, so fertilizer ions move downward by diffusion. Various tomato genotypes were seeded directly into CIPS in Spring. The experiment was terminated at a 100-day growing period. The incidence of BER was calculated as percent affected fruits. Salinity treatments consisted of five concentrations ranging from 0 to 10 g/L NaCl. One salinity treatment was 1 g/L CaCl2. In CIPS, the salt gradient created by uptake of saline water had lowest concentration at the top of root compartment where fertilizer was placed. Therefore, there was minimal ionic interactions between fertilizer ions and ions from the saline water. The uptake of water and plant growth decreased with increasing salinity concentration. The addition of Ca in the sub-irrigation water had no effect on the occurrence of BER. The incidence of BER correlated negatively with salinity level and plant growth in the CIPS.

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John M. Dole, Janet C. Cole, and Sharon L. von Broembsen

`Gutbier V-14 Glory' poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. Ex. Klotzsch) grown with ebb-and-flow irrigation used the least amount of water and produced the least runoff, and plants grown with capillary mats used the greatest amount of water and produced the most runoff, compared to microtube and hand-watering systems. The maximum amount of water retained by the pots and media was greatest for the microtube and ebb-and-flow systems and became progressively lower for the hand-watering and capillary mat systems. The media and leachate electrical conductivity from plants grown with subirrigation systems was higher than those grown with top irrigation. For the two top-irrigation systems (microtube and hand-watering), plants grown with 250 mg N/liter from a 20N-4.4P-16.6K water-soluble fertilizer had greater leaf, stem, and total dry weights than those grown with 175 mg N/liter. The two subirrigation systems (ebb-and-flow and capillary mat) produced plants that were taller and had greater leaf, stem, and total dry weights when grown with 175 than with 250 mg N/liter. The higher fertilizer concentration led to increased N, P, Fe, and Mn concentration in the foliage. Nitrogen concentration was higher in top-irrigated plants than in subirrigated plants. The ebb-and-flow system produced the greatest total dry weight per liter of water applied and per liter of runoff; capillary mat watering was the least efficient in regard to water applied and runoff.

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John A. Biernbaum, William R. Argo, Brian Weesies, Allen Weesies, and Karen Haack

A series of experiments was conducted to quantify the rate of nutrient loss from a container medium in a 15-cm-wide (1.3-liter) pot with a container capacity (CC) of 0.7 liter/pot under mist propagation and to determine the effectiveness of reapplying fertilizer to medium at 90% of CC with either top watering or subirrigation. Reducing the volume of water applied per day decreased the rate of nutrient leaching. Based on CC leached (CCL), the rate of nutrient loss was similar for all treatments. Differences in the rate of macronutrient removal from the media were measured, but, by 2 CCL, the concentration of all nutrients tested was below acceptable levels for the saturated media extract. With top watering, reapplying water-soluble fertilizer (WSF) at volumes under 0.2 liter/pot did not affect the nutrient concentration in the lower half of the pot at WSF concentrations up to 86 mol N/m3. Applying up to 0.8 liter/pot did increase nutrient concentrations in the lower half of the pot, but the media nutrient concentrations were lower than that of the applied WSF concentration. Applying WSF with subirrigation was limited by the moisture content of the media prior to the irrigation.

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Marc van Iersel and Jong-Goo Kang

Subirrigation is an economically attractive irrigation method for producing bedding plants. Because excess fertilizer salts are not leached from the growing medium, salts can accumulate in the growing medium. Fertilizer guidelines developed for overhead irrigation may not be appropriate for subirrigation systems. Our objective was to quantify the effect of the fertilizer concentration (N at 0, 135, 285, and 440 mg·L–1) on whole-plant CO2 exchange and growth of subirrigated pansies. Whole plant CO2 exchange rate (net photosynthesis and dark respiration) was measured once every 10 min for 31 days. Whole-plant photosynthesis, dark respiration, and carbon use efficiency increased during the experiment. Fertilizer concentration started to affect the growth rate of the plants after approximately 7 days. Maximum photosynthesis and growth were achieved with N at about 280 mg·L–1 in the fertilizer solution [electrical conductivity = 2 dS·m–1]. Growth was reduced by ≈10% when the plants were fertilized with N at 135 and 440 mg·L–1 compared to 280 mg·L–1. Growth of plants watered without any fertilizer was greatly reduced, and plants showed symptoms of N and K deficiency. The size of the root system decreased and the shoot: root ratio increased with increasing fertilizer concentration, but the size of the root system was adequate in all treatments. These results indicate that subirrigated pansies can tolerate a wide range of fertilizer concentrations with relatively little effect on plant growth.