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Suzanne O’Connell

The potential to expand the production of ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) grown as a specialty cut flower in the southeastern United States appears promising, especially for the winter holidays. This 2-year replicated study investigated the effects of two fall plantings and three cultivars on ornamental kale yields grown under organic high tunnels. In addition to the production study, informal interviews of local florists were conducted. The earlier planting dates resulted in longer stem lengths (≥5 cm) and fewer days to harvest (≥5 days) across both seasons. Commercial stem length goals were not achieved (≥60 cm) but local florists did not appear to have the same standards (≥31 cm). The cultivars Crane Bicolor and Lucir White had longer stems and larger heads than Crane Red. Our high tunnel system provided favorable air temperatures for vegetative growth from late September through early November indicating an earlier planting date may be possible. Commonly accepted nighttime temperatures required to induce color changes occurred in early to mid-November during our study period.

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Suzanne O’Connell and Robert Tate

There is a lack of information related to adapting high tunnel systems to humid, subtropical climates in the Southeastern United States, resulting in a disadvantage for their use to extend growing seasons and meet the increasing demand for local horticulture products. This research project explored the possibility of growing organic broccoli and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea L.) under high tunnels during two consecutive fall/winter seasons in northeast Georgia (USDA plant hardiness zone 8a), particularly evaluating questions related to crop feasibility, planting dates and cultivar choices. Marketable yields for high tunnel broccoli ranged from ≈11,800 to 15,800 kg·ha−1 and were not consistently affected by either planting date or cultivar type. Broccoli required an additional 8–45 days to reach maturity compared with seed catalog estimates with harvesting occurring during mid-December to mid-January. Marketable yields for high tunnel cauliflower ranged from ≈8600 to 26,000 kg·ha−1 and were affected primarily by the cultivar type. Cauliflower required an additional 19–56 days to mature with harvesting occurring during the entire month of January. The first season was cooler than the second with the lowest growing degree days (GDD) units accumulated during the months of January and February. Differences in air temperature at the crop canopy between the high tunnel system and open field were largely related to high tunnel ventilation protocols that changed as the season progressed. An average heat gain of 7 to 8 °C under the high tunnels at crop canopy height was documented on the coldest days and an average of 1 °C gain on the warmest days compared with the open field. Overall, winter broccoli appeared more adaptable to high tunnels than cauliflower but production of both crops may be possible if planting dates and cultivar types are taken into account for the region.

Open access

George E. Boyhan, Suzanne O’Connell, Ryan McNeill and Suzanne Stone

Organic production is a fast-growing sector of agriculture in need of variety evaluations under their unique production systems. This study evaluated 16 watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) varieties for their performance characteristics under organic production practices. Plants were grown on plastic mulch-covered beds on land that had been certified organic in accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program. Six of the entries were F1 hybrids; the remaining entries were open-pollinated (OP) varieties. Of the 10 OP varieties, three were considered heirloom varieties, including Cream of Saskatchewan, Georgia Rattlesnake, and Moon & Stars. ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’ was the highest yielding variety and had the greatest average fruit weight. Along with ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’, ‘Nunhems 800’, ‘Nunhems 860’, ‘Orangeglo’, and ‘SSX 8585’ were included in the top five yielding varieties. The top five yielding varieties had fruit size that averaged more than 20 lb. Fruit size correlated with rind thickness, with lighter fruit having thinner rind (Pearson’s correlation, r = 0.779), which is not unexpected. ‘Sangria’ had the greatest average soluble solids content at 11.2%, which was greater than all entries with soluble solids less than 10%.

Open access

Theekshana C. Jayalath, George E. Boyhan, Elizabeth L. Little, Robert I. Tate and Suzanne O’Connell

High tunnels may help mitigate unfavorable climate and weather on lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) production leading to greater yields and quality, yet information for using these systems in the Southeast region is lacking. This study evaluated the effect of high tunnels and three planting dates (PDs) (early March, late-March, and mid-April) on spring organic lettuce production. A 25% to 36% increase in marketable fresh weight for butterhead and romaine lettuce, respectively, was observed under high tunnels compared with the field in 2016, but there was no difference among the two growing systems in 2015. High tunnel lettuce was harvested ≈2 to 7 days earlier than in the field in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Pest and disease pressure (e.g., Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) as well as the incidence of physiological disorders (i.e., bolting, tip burn, and undersized heads) were similar between the two systems indicating that our high tunnel system did not provide a benefit for these issues. High tunnel air temperatures were ≈3 to 5 °C greater on the coldest mornings and only 1 °C greater on the warmest days compared with the field. Average relative humidity (RH), leaf wetness, and light levels were all lower under the high tunnels. Our results indicate that high tunnels can help increase the production of spring organic lettuce in Georgia, but that the advantage may depend on yearly weather conditions.

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Suzanne O’Connell, Cary Rivard, Mary M. Peet, Chris Harlow and Frank Louws

Organic and heirloom tomatoes are high-value products with growing demand but there are many challenges to successful cultivation. A systems comparison study was carried out to evaluate the production of the popular heirloom tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ (Solanum lycopersicum L.) under high tunnel and open field systems in North Carolina from 2007 to 2008. Management of the high tunnel (i.e., temperature and irrigation), weather events as well as pest and disease pressure influenced crop quality and yield. The high tunnel and field systems achieved similar total yields (100 t·ha−1) the first season but yields were 33% greater in the high tunnel system than the field system in the second year (100 t·ha−1 and 67 t·ha−1, respectively). Both years, the tomatoes were planted in high tunnels 1 month earlier and harvested 3 weeks earlier than the field. The accumulation of ≈1100 growing degree-days (GDD) was required in both systems before 50% of the fruit was harvested. Fruit cracking, cat-facing, blossom-end rot, and insect damage were the major categories of defects in both systems. Incidence of both Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) and Gray Leaf Spot (GLS) were lower in the high tunnel compared with the field in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Results of this study suggest that with proper management techniques, high tunnels can optimize yields, increase fruit quality, and provide season extension opportunities for high-value horticultural crops.

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Cary L. Rivard, Olha Sydorovych, Suzanne O'Connell, Mary M. Peet and Frank J. Louws

The grafting of herbaceous vegetables is an emerging development in the United States. This report provides an estimate of the variable costs of grafting within U.S. tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) transplant production systems. Grafted and nongrafted plants were propagated at two commercial farming operations in Ivanhoe, NC (NC) and Strasburg, PA (PA) and the farm in NC produced certified organic transplants. Detailed economic production sequences were generated for each site, and grafted and nongrafted transplant production costs were $0.59 and $0.13 in NC, and $1.25 and $0.51 in PA, respectively. Direct costs associated with grafting (e.g., grafting labor, clips, chamber, etc.) accounted for 37% to 38% of the added cost of grafting, and grafting labor was 11.1% to 14.4% of the cost of grafted transplant production. Seed costs represented 52% and 33% of the added cost of grafting at the two sites, and indirect costs (e.g., soil, trays, and heating) accounted for 10% and 30% of the added cost of grafting. Our findings suggest that under current seed prices and with similar production practices, the feasibility of grafting in the United States is not disproportionately affected by domestic labor costs. Additionally, the economic models presented in this report identify the cost of production at various transplant stages, and provide a valuable tool for growers interested in grafted tomato transplant production and utilization.

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Olha Sydorovych, Cary L. Rivard, Suzanne O’Connell, Chris D. Harlow, Mary M. Peet and Frank J. Louws

In this study, we conducted an economic analysis of high tunnel and open-field production systems of heirloom tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) based on a two-year study at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) located in Goldsboro, eastern North Carolina. The research site was transitional organic using organically certified inputs and practices on land not yet certified. Production costs and returns were documented in each system and provide a useful decision tool for growers. Climatic conditions varied dramatically in 2007 compared with 2008 and differentially affected total and marketable yields in each system. Profits were higher in the open-field system and the high tunnels in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Sensitivity analysis was conducted using a range of market prices from $1.60/lb to $3.60/lb and a range of fruit marketability levels from 35% to 80%. Both systems were profitable except at the lowest price point and the lowest percent marketability level in high tunnel in 2007. At $2.60/lb, seasonal average sale price reported by growers for this region, and depending on percent marketability levels, the payback period for high tunnels ranged from two to five years. Presented sensitivity tables will enable decision makers to knowledgably estimate economic potential of open-field and high tunnel systems based on expected local prices and fruit quality parameters.