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Amanda Wiberg, Richard Koenig, and Teresa Cerny-Koenig

Popular press articles report that consumers often experience inconsistent results with retail potting media; however, few reports in the popular or scientific literature have quantified the variability in media properties. The purpose of this study was to assess the variability in physical and chemical properties among different brands of retail potting media and within certain brands. Twenty-four different packages of branded media, and multiple packages of five brands, were acquired from nine regional and national retail chain stores located in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area. Samples were analyzed for five physical and nine chemical properties. The coefficients of variation (cvs) among brands for initial gravimetric water content, bulk density, porosity, water retention, and air space were 85%, 74%, 21%, 59%, and 44%, respectively. The cvs among brands for saturated media (SM) pH, SM extract electrical conductivity (EC), nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), total carbon (C), total nitrogen (N), and C:N ratio were 18%, 81%, 132%, 153%, 96%, 78%, 71%, 36%, 45%, and 49%, respectively. Only one of the 24 brands met all published standards for chemical properties of premium media. Thirteen of the brands did not meet standards for NO3-N; 12 did not meet standards for pH; and six did not meet standards for EC. There was more variation in physical and chemical properties among brands than within a brand of media. Label information describing media composition was not consistent with certain physical and chemical properties. No recommendations can be made which would allow consumers to select media that meets published standards. These results indicate better awareness of and/or adherence to standards is needed by the retail media industry to improve product quality and consistency.

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Amanda Wiberg, Richard Koenig, and Teresa Cerny-Koenig

There is extensive variability in physical and chemical properties among brands of retail potting media. The purpose of this study was to assess variability in seed germination and plant growth responses among and within brands. Twenty-four different brands of media, and multiple bags of five brands, were purchased at nine retail stores. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) seeds were germinated in 11 different brands of media and in media from different bags of four of the same brands. Marigold (Tagetes erecta) and petunia (Petunia×hybrida) were grown to flowering in 10 brands of media. Germination varied significantly among media brands and among bags of one of the brands. Plant performance also varied significantly, with several of the brands producing plants with few flowers, long times to flowering, and low shoot and root dry weights even though all treatments received uniform applications of a complete fertilizer solution three times per week. Few relationships could be discerned between individual physical and chemical properties of the media and plant performance. Results indicate improvements in quality among brands and quality control within brands are needed in the retail potting media industry. Quality assessment tools emphasizing plant performance could improve overall media quality.

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Nickolee Zollinger, Richard Koenig, Teresa Cerny-Koenig, and Roger Kjelgren

The authors investigated salinity tolerance of four intermountain western United States native (Penstemon palmeri, Mirabilis multiflora, Geranium viscosissimum, and Eriogonum jamesii) and four common (Echinacea purpurea, Lavandula angustifolia, Leucanthemum ×superbum ‘Alaska’, and ×Penstemon mexicali ‘Red Rocks’) ornamental herbaceous perennials. Each was irrigated with a solution containing 2 CaCl2 : 1 NaCl (m ratio) at salinity levels of 0 (control), 1000, 3000, and 5000 mg·L−1 during two 8-week experiments. They measured weekly visual quality and gas exchange and final shoot and root dry weights. Mirabilis multiflora, L. ×superbum, and L. angustifolia maintained high visual quality and 100% survival across salinity levels. However, dry weights for L. ×superbum decreased at salt levels ≥ 3000 mg·L−1 in both experiments and for L. angustifolia in one experiment. Mortality rates of 12% to 100% were observed for the remaining five species irrigated with 3000 and 5000-mg·L−1 solutions. Visual quality of P. palmeri, G. viscosissimum, and E. purpurea varied with time of year the experiment was conducted, with low visual quality associated with high temperatures and light intensities, whereas dry matter and gas exchange responses to salinity were similar between the two experiments. Penstemon ×mexicali and E. jamesii exhibited high mortality, low visual quality, and low gas exchange in the case of E. jamesii at high salinity treatments regardless of when experiments were conducted. Based on visual quality responses, M. multiflora, L. ×superbum, and L. angustifolia are relatively more salt tolerant, and P. ×mexicali and E. jamesii are relatively more intolerant, than the three other species. Penstemon palmeri, G. viscosissimum, and E. purpurea exhibited intermediate tolerance to salinity with acceptable quality during periods of cool temperatures and lower light intensities.

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Haly L. Neely, Richard T. Koenig, Carol A. Miles, Teresa C. Koenig, and Meriam G. Karlsson

Tissue nitrate (NO3) concentration (TNC) in leafy greens generally decreases with increasing light intensity and photoperiod in controlled environment studies. Harvesting late in the day has been recommended as a way to produce leafy greens with lower TNC, although data from field research do not support this recommendation. This study investigated the effect of time of day of harvest on TNC in lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) grown in the field during the summer at Pullman, WA (lat. 46° N) and Fairbanks, AK (lat. 64° N). Whole plants were sampled every 2 h on three separate, 24-h harvest dates at each latitude. Plants were dried, ground, and analyzed for NO3-N. At the high-latitude location, TNC decreased linearly during the day (1000 to 2300 hr) on all three dates for spinach and one for lettuce. At the low-latitude location, TNC decreased linearly during the day (1000 to 1900 hr) on one date and increased linearly during the night (2000 to 0400 hr) on two dates for lettuce. The TNC (average 287 to 607 mg NO3-N/kg fresh weight for lettuce and 141 to 189 mg NO3-N/kg fresh weight for spinach) and magnitude of diurnal fluctuation (generally less than 25%) should not pose a human health risk regardless of when plants are harvested.

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Kristy A. Ott-Borrelli, Richard T. Koenig, and Carol A. Miles

Leafy green vegetables such as lettuce (Lactuca sativa), Asian greens (Brassica spp.) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea) have a tendency to accumulate high concentrations of potentially harmful nitrate–nitrogen (NO3-N). It would be advantageous for growers to have rapid and inexpensive methods to accurately measure plant tissue NO3-N to make fertility and harvest management decisions for these crops. This study compared fresh sap expressed from whole leaves and analyzed with a Cardy meter with the analysis of dry leaf tissue extracts analyzed with a benchtop ion selective electrode (ISE) and an automated colorimetric method for determining NO3-N concentration. Results from ISE and colorimetric analysis of the same dry leaf tissue extracts had a strong relationship (r 2 = 0.92). The ISE was relatively easy to operate and affordable, suggesting it is an adequate substitute for automated colorimetric analysis of dry plant tissue extracts. Results of fresh whole leaf sap analyzed with the Cardy meter showed a poor relationship with dry leaf tissue extracted and analyzed using the ISE (r 2 = 0.25) or with colorimetric analysis (r 2 = 0.21). When fresh whole leaf sap was diluted 1:1 with aluminum sulfate [Al2(SO4)3] to adjust for potential matrix effects, there was still a relatively poor relationship (r 2 = 0.41) between the diluted sap samples analyzed with a Cardy meter and the dry leaf tissue extracted and analyzed with the ISE. When the same dry leaf tissue extracts were analyzed with the Cardy meter and the ISE, the results related well (r 2 = 0.96). As a result of tissue processing and/or instrument differences, Cardy meter analysis of sap expressed from whole leaves was not comparable to ISE or colorimetric analyses of dry leaf tissue extracts for leafy green vegetables.

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Kristy Borrelli, Richard T. Koenig, Brad M. Jaeckel, and Carol A. Miles

Season extension structures like high tunnels make it possible to produce cold-tolerant crops during winter months for both a longer cropping season and a winter market season. The effects of location and planting date on the fresh yield of several cultivars of Asian greens (Brassica rapa L.), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.), and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) were examined at Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA, and Vancouver, WA, a cold temperate climate and a mild marine climate, respectively. In Winter 2005–06, 20 cultivars were evaluated and in Winter 2006–07 a subset of 12 cultivars were evaluated. Location impacted yield, and higher yields overall were attained at Vancouver than at Moscow/Pullman, likely as a result of more consistent, warmer soil and air temperatures as well as increasing irradiance in February and March at Vancouver. Asian green cultivars had the highest overall yield resulting from faster growth compared with spinach and lettuce cultivars at both locations. Although most lettuce cultivars grew throughout the winter, further research is needed to identify the most suitable cultivars, seeding dates, and planting densities to optimize winter production of this crop and for Asian greens and spinach. Planting date influenced yields with the highest yields obtained for the third planting date for all trials except at Moscow/Pullman in the second year. Overall, this research suggests that it is possible to grow many cold-tolerant cultivars of Asian greens, spinach, and lettuce in a high tunnel during the winter months in both mild and cold temperate northern climates.