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Berl M. Thomas

The containerized transplant commercial industry started in the United States in the 1960's. Since then, several different types of growing containers have been developed for the vegetable, tobacco, ornamental and forestry seedling industries. Two basic irrigation methods have developed including overhead and sub-irrigation systems. The irrigation system used depends on the crop needs, value, availability of water, and the need to reduce pesticide use and risk of disease. Sub-irrigation systems have reduced the spread of seed-borne and naturally occurring diseases. Overhead irrigation systems were predominantly used during the early years, but at present, both systems are used and selected for their respective advantages. Future developments in the transplant industry include reduction of production risks and to improve cost per production unit by reducing both nursery and farm labor requirements.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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C.D. Stanley and G.A. Clark

The effect of water table level and fertilizer rates on bell pepper production grown with the fully enclosed subirrigation (FES) system was studied over three fall growing seasons (1992–94). The FES system uses buried microirrigation tubing in the field to convey water for maintaining a water table level and has shown to achieve application savings of 30% to 40% compared to the conventional subirrigation method that maintains a high water table using lateral field ditches. Controlled water table levels of 45, 60, and 75 cm below soil surface and fertilizer rates of 1194, 1716, and 2239 kg·ha–1 (18–0–21 expressed as N–P–K) were used as treatments replicated in time over 3 growing seasons. The 45-cm water table level and 2239 kg·ha–1 fertilizer rate are considered the conventional commercial practices. Results showed that comparable seasonal production levels were achieved among fertilizer rates and water table levels with no significant interactions between treatments. These data indicate that using a lower target water table level allows lower rates of fertilizer to be used because the susceptibility of the fertilizer to leaching caused by excessive rainfall is lessened due to increased soil water storage capacity.