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Open access

Shuresh Ghimire, Edward Scheenstra and Carol A. Miles

Plastic mulch is commonly used to produce many vegetable crops because of its potential to decrease days to harvest, control weeds, and improve soil moisture conservation. However, use of plastic mulch is relatively new for sweet corn (Zea mays L.) in North America. We compared five plastic soil-biodegradable mulches [BDMs; Bio360, Organix AG, Clear Organix AG, Naturecycle, and Experimental polylactic acid/polyhydroxyalkanoates (Metabolix, Inc., Cambridge, MA)] and a paper mulch (WeedGuardPlus) against standard black polyethylene (PE; nonbiodegradable) mulch and bare ground cultivation for growth, yield, and quality of sweet corn cultivar Xtra Tender 2171. This field experiment was carried out in Mount Vernon, WA, which has a Mediterranean-type climate with an average air temperature of 16.1 °C during the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons. The experiment was drip irrigated; and in both years, preemergence herbicides were applied to the entire experimental area 1 to 2 days after seeding, and post-emergence herbicides were applied to alleys. While most mulches remained intact until the end of the growing season, Clear Organix AG started to split shortly after laying, resulting in significant weed pressure by midseason in both 2017 and 2018. Plant height toward the end of the season was lowest for plants grown on bare ground, intermediate for Clear Organix AG and WeedGuardPlus, and highest for the black plastic BDM and PE mulch treatments both years, except for Bio360 in 2018 where plant height was intermediate. Days to 50% tasseling and 50% silking were delayed 9 and 13 days, respectively, for bare ground and WeedGuardPlus compared with all other treatments in both years. Marketable ear yield was highest with the black plastic BDMs and PE mulch and lowest with bare ground, WeedGuardPlus, and Clear Organix AG treatments in both years. Total soluble solid content of kernels, and length and diameter of ears grown on the plastic BDM and PE mulch treatments were equal to or greater than, but never lower than, bare ground and WeedGuardPlus. These results indicate that growth, yield, and quality of sweet corn grown with black plastic BDMs are comparable to PE mulch, making black plastic BDMs an effective alternative to black PE mulch for sweet corn production in a Mediterranean-type climate.

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Travis Robert Alexander, Jaqueline King, Edward Scheenstra and Carol A. Miles

In this 2-year study, ‘Brown Snout’ specialty cider apples (Malus ×domestica) that had been hand harvested or machine harvested with an over-the-row shake-and-catch small fruit harvester were ambient stored (56 °F mean temperature) for 0, 2, and 4 weeks to evaluate yield, fruit damage, yield loss, and juice quality characteristics. The average yield (pounds per acre) of fruit picked and retained by the mechanical harvester was 74% that of the hand-harvest yield and 81% that of the hand-harvest yield when fruit that fell out of the harvester was included in the machine-harvest yield. Percent fruit bruised and cut were greater for machine harvest (97.5% and 25.5%, respectively) than for hand harvest (47% and 0.5%, respectively), on average for 2014 and 2015. Yield loss to rot was greater for machine harvest than for hand harvest, and increased for both methods over time; percent rot doubled from 2 to 4 weeks storage for machine harvest (22% to 41%), and while negligible, tripled from 2 to 4 weeks storage for hand harvest (0.7% to 2.1%). Juice quality characteristics did not differ due to harvest method, but did differ due to year and storage time. Soluble solids concentration [SSC (%)] and specific gravity (SG) did not change due to storage in 2014, but in 2015, SSC and SG were greater on average for 2 and 4 weeks storage duration (15% and 1.062, respectively) than at harvest (13.31% and 1.056, respectively). Titratable acidity (grams per liter malic acid) decreased in 2014 from 2.98 g·L−1 at harvest to 2.70 g·L−1 on average for 2 and 4 weeks storage duration, but did not differ due to storage in 2015. Tannin [tannic acid equivalent (%)] was unchanged in 2014 from harvest to 4 weeks storage, but increased in 2015 from 0.16% at harvest to 0.19% by 4 weeks storage. These results indicate that harvest efficiency could be improved with some engineering modifications of the over-the-row mechanical harvester and training modifications for the trees. A comparison of the aromatic and phenolic contents of mechanically harvested and hand-harvested ‘Brown Snout’ would be a valuable next step in evaluating shake-and-catch mechanical harvest technology for cider apple production.

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Carol A. Miles, Jacqueline King, Travis Robert Alexander and Edward Scheenstra

Little information exists on the bloom and fruit characteristics of cider apple (Malus ×domestica) cultivars grown in the United States for the juice and alcoholic beverage markets. In this study, a total of 17 cider apple cultivars, including 4 American, 9 English, and 4 French, plus 1 Danish standard dessert apple cultivar (Red Gravenstein, Worthen strain) commonly used for cider, all grown in northwest Washington, were evaluated from 2000 to 2015 for commercially relevant traits. Trees were rated each year and the cultivars were categorized accordingly by relative bloom time, bloom habit, and productivity. The mean full bloom (FB) date of the 18 apple cultivars evaluated ranged from 25 Apr. to 25 May, with 6 cultivars categorized as early season bloomers, 9 as midseason, and 3 as late season. The mean bloom density (BD) rating (measured on a scale of 1–5) for all cultivars was (mean ± sd) 3.8 ± 0.6 (moderate bloom), with the bloom habit of 1 cultivar categorized as biennial, 11 as consistent, and 6 as strongly consistent. The mean productivity rating (measured on a scale of 1–5) for all cultivars was 2.9 ± 0.6 (light fruiting), with the productivity of 4 cultivars categorized as biennial, 10 as consistent, and 4 as strongly consistent. The mean fruit diameter of the 18 apple cultivars was 2.7 ± 0.4 inches (medium sized), with the fruit size of 2 cultivars categorized as small-fruited, 15 as medium-fruited, and 1 as large-fruited. For the 18 cultivars, the mean tannin and titratable acidity (TA) were 0.20% ± 0.14% and 0.54% ± 0.28%, respectively, and using the English cider apple classification system of juice type, 4 of the cultivars were classified as bittersweet, 1 as bittersharp, 3 as sweet, and 10 as sharp. Three of the cultivars had tannin content lower than what was historically recorded at the Long Ashton Research Station (LARS) in Bristol, England, for those same cultivars. The mean specific gravity (SG) of the 18 cultivars was 1.052 ± 0.007, the average predicted alcohol by volume (ABV) was 6.9% ± 0.9%, and the mean pH was 3.68 ± 0.39. Classification of three cultivars in northwest Washington, based on juice characteristics, differed from their historical classification in England, likely because of differences in climate and management. Only cultivars Golden Russet (sharp), Grimes Golden (sharp), and Yarlington Mill (sweet, but borderline bittersweet) were strongly consistent in productivity, but none produced high levels of tannin, whereas only cultivars Bramtot (bittersweet), Chisel Jersey (bittersweet), and Breakwell Seedling (bittersharp) were consistent in productivity and produced high levels of tannin.

Open access

Huan Zhang, Lisa Wasko DeVetter, Edward Scheenstra and Carol Miles

A soil-biodegradable mulch (BDM) is designed to be tilled into the soil at the end of the growing season, and is a successful alternative to polyethylene (PE) mulch if it suppresses weeds and improves soil temperature and moisture, crop yield, and fruit quality. This study compared one clear plastic BDM (COX), two black plastic BDMs (BOX and BFO), and two paper BDMs (WGP and AMX) to clear and black plastic PE mulch (CPE and BPE, respectively) for weed control, yield, and mulch adhesion of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) in a Mediterranean climate where increased soil temperature from mulch is desirable. BDMs in this study are advertised as soil-biodegradable, and we tested functionality but not biodegradability. Mulch deterioration during the growing season was measured as percent soil exposure (PSE), and remained low at the end of the growing season for all BDM and PE treatments both years (5% on average) except COX (68%). Weed number and biomass were low early, mid, and late season for all treatments except COX in 2018 and COX and CPE in 2019. Soil temperature with PE mulches (20.7 °C on average) was similar or slightly higher than with plastic BDMs (19.8 °C on average), which was higher than with paper BDMs (18.9 °C on average). Total fruit number and yield were similar for PE mulches (19.3 and 24.5 kg, respectively) and black plastic BDMs (17.3 and 21.2 kg, respectively), which were higher than COX and paper BDMs (15.7 and 19.8 kg, respectively). Mulch adhesion occurred on fruit in all BDM treatments, with more mulch adhesion in BFO in 2018 and WGP in 2019 than in other BDM treatments each year. The number of wipes is a proxy for the impact on harvest labor and can influence overall on-farm profitability. The number of wipes to remove adhered mulch (1.2 wipes on average) was similar for fruit harvested at four times of day (0800, 1000, 1200, and 1400 hr), but more wipes were needed to remove adhered mulch when fruit were stored up to 4 hours postharvest (5.4 wipes). Number of wipes to remove adhered mulch was negatively correlated to the amount of moisture on the fruit surface (R 2 = 0.31). Overall, these findings demonstrate that all black plastic and paper BDMs remained intact throughout the growing season and controlled weeds as well as black PE mulch, while clear BDM had higher weed pressure because it degraded during the growing season. Pumpkin yield was similar for black plastic BDMs and PE mulches and lower for clear and paper BDMs. However, all BDMs in this study adhered to the fruit surface and their removal became more difficult as the fruit surface dried.