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Nicholas D. Warren, Richard G. Smith and Rebecca G. Sideman

Living mulch systems allow cover crops to be grown during periods of cash crop production, thereby extending the duration of cover crop growth and associated beneficial agroecosystem services. However, living mulches may also result in agroecosystem disservices such as reduced cash crop yields if the living mulch competes with the crop for limiting resources. We examined whether the effects of an Italian ryegrass [Lolium multiflorum (Lam.) Husnot]–white clover (Trifolium repens L., cv. New Zealand) living mulch on broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var. italica) yield and yield components were dependent on fertilizer rate in field experiments conducted in Durham, NH, in 2011 (Expt. 1) and 2012 (Expt. 2). Drip-irrigated broccoli was grown under a range of organic fertilizer application rates in beds covered with plastic, with and without a living mulch growing in the uncovered, interbed space. Broccoli yields were similar in the living mulch and bare soil controls under the highest rates of fertilizer application in Expt. 1. In Expt. 2, living mulch reduced broccoli yields from 28% to 63%, depending on fertilizer rate. Differences in leaf SPAD values suggest that yield reductions were attributable, in part, to competition for nitrogen; however, other factors likely played a role in determining living mulch effects. Despite yield reductions, the living mulch reduced the prevalence of hollow stem in broccoli in Expt. 1. Organic fertilizer may have inconsistent effects on broccoli yields in living mulch systems.

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Nicholas D. Warren, Rebecca G. Sideman and Richard G. Smith

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) growers select cultivars based on a range of performance criteria. Currently, however, information regarding tomato cultivar performance in high tunnels is lacking. We conducted a tomato cultivar trial in an 1800-ft2 plastic-covered high tunnel in Durham, NH, with 15 indeterminate cultivars using organic fertilizers and pesticides. Tomatoes were grown in-ground in a randomized complete block design (n = 4) using raised beds with plastic mulch and drip irrigation. Marketable and unmarketable yield, several yield components, and susceptibility to two common diseases, leaf mold (Fulvia fulva) and powdery mildew (Oidium lycopersici or Leveillula taurica), were evaluated over a 3-year period. Differences between cultivars existed in all areas of interest, and year-to-year variation in performance was noteworthy in this experiment. ‘Geronimo’ consistently had among the highest yields, ‘Arbason’ and ‘Massada’ produced many individual fruit, and several cultivars including Rebelski, Massada, and Geronimo showed no signs of disease. Some cultivars such as Conestoga appeared susceptible to several different physiological disorders while others were relatively robust against this type of marketable yield reduction. Because we assessed multiple yield and quality variables and observed apparent trade-offs in several of these, we used radar plots to summarize and communicate the performance of each cultivar in an intuitive and comparable manner. Based on these data, several tomato cultivars appear particularly well suited for high tunnel production in northern New England.

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Thomas G. Bottoms, Richard F. Smith, Michael D. Cahn and Timothy K. Hartz

As concern over NO3-N pollution of groundwater increases, California lettuce growers are under pressure to improve nitrogen (N) fertilizer efficiency. Crop growth, N uptake, and the value of soil and plant N diagnostic measures were evaluated in 24 iceberg and romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. capitata L., and longifolia Lam., respectively) field trials from 2007 to 2010. The reliability of presidedressing soil nitrate testing (PSNT) to identify fields in which N application could be reduced or eliminated was evaluated in 16 non-replicated strip trials and five replicated trials on commercial farms. All commercial field sites had greater than 20 mg·kg−1 residual soil NO3-N at the time of the first in-season N application. In the strip trials, plots in which the cooperating growers’ initial sidedress N application was eliminated or reduced were compared with the growers’ standard N fertilization program. In the replicated trials, the growers’ N regime was compared with treatments in which one or more N fertigation through drip irrigation was eliminated. Additionally, seasonal N rates from 11 to 336 kg·ha−1 were compared in three replicated drip-irrigated research farm trials. Seasonal N application in the strip trials was reduced by an average of 77 kg·ha−1 (73 kg·ha−1 vs. 150 kg·ha−1 for the grower N regime) with no reduction in fresh biomass produced and only a slight reduction in crop N uptake (151 kg·ha−1 vs. 156 kg·ha−1 for the grower N regime). Similarly, an average seasonal N rate reduction of 88 kg·ha−1 (96 kg·ha−1 vs. 184 kg·ha−1) was achieved in the replicated commercial trials with no biomass reduction. Seasonal N rates between 111 and 192 kg·ha−1 maximized fresh biomass in the research farm trials, which were conducted in fields with lower residual soil NO3-N than the commercial trials. Across fields, lettuce N uptake was slow in the first 4 weeks after planting, averaging less than 0.5 kg·ha−1·d−1. N uptake then increased linearly until harvest (≈9 weeks after planting), averaging ≈4 kg·ha−1·d−1 over that period. Whole plant critical N concentration (Nc, the minimum whole plant N concentration required to maximize growth) was estimated by the equation Nc (g·kg−1) = 42 − 2.8 dry mass (DM, Mg·ha−1); on that basis, critical N uptake (crop N uptake required to maintain whole plant N above Nc) in the commercial fields averaged 116 kg·ha−1 compared with the mean uptake of 145 kg·ha−1 with the grower N regime. Soil NO3-N greater than 20 mg·kg−1 was a reliable indicator that N application could be reduced or delayed. Neither leaf N nor midrib NO3-N was correlated with concurrently measured soil NO3-N and therefore of limited value in directing in-season N fertilization.