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  • Author or Editor: Youbin Zheng x
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Copper is one of the essential micro-nutrient elements for plants, but when in excess, is toxic to plants and other living organisms. Electrolytically generated copper and cupric sulphate are increasingly used by the greenhouse industry to control diseases and algae in hydroponic systems. However, there is little information regarding appropriate strategies for employing copper in greenhouse crop production. We investigated the physiological responses, growth and production of several ornamental crops (miniature rose, chrysanthemum and geranium) and greenhouse vegetable crops (pepper, cucumber, and tomato) with respect to Cu2+ concentration in the root zone. Tests were conducted using plants grown in nutrient solution, Promix and rockwool. Results showed that phytotoxic levels of Cu2+ were dependent on the crop species and growing substrate. Plants grown in nutrient solution exhibited symptoms of phytotoxicity at lower Cu2+ concentrations than those on the solid substrates. The ability of copper to control Pythium aphanidermatum and green algae was evaluated under both laboratory and greenhouse conditions. Copper was effective in suppressing green algae in nutrient solution, but did not control Pythium effectively. This presentation is a comprehensive summary of the research conducted over the last three years by our group on copper application in greenhouse systems.

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Recycled irrigation water is one of the major sources of inoculum and may spread plant pathogens throughout the nursery or greenhouse operation. Chlorination is the most economical method of disinfecting water and has been adopted by some North American commercial growers. However, chlorine has not been assessed as a disinfectant for the common plant pathogens Phytophthora infestans, Phytophthora cactorum, Pythium aphanidermatum, Fusarium oxysporum, and Rhizoctonia solani. These pathogens were exposed to five different initially free chlorine solution concentrations ranging from 0.3 to 14 mg·L−1 in combination with five contact times of 0.5, 1.5, 3, 6, and 10 min to determine the free chlorine threshold and critical contact time required to kill each pathogen. Results indicated that the free chlorine threshold and critical contact time for control of P. infestans, P. cactorum, P. aphanidermatum, F. oxysporum, and R. solani were 1, 0.3, 2, 14, and 12 mg·L−1 for 3, 6, 3, 6, and 10 min, respectively.

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The recycling of irrigation water may cause the dispersal of plant pathogens. Irrigation water disinfected with 2.4 mg·L−1 of free chlorine for 5 min was overhead-applied to 17 container-grown nursery plants for 11 weeks in a commercial nursery to evaluate the response of container-grown nursery plants to chlorine. No visual symptoms of injury or growth reduction were observed on the evergreen shrubs (Juniperus horizontalis, Thuja occidentalis, Buxus microphylla, Picea glauca, Rhododendron catawbiense, Taxus media, and Chamaecyparis pisifera), but there were visual injuries and/or growth reduction on some of the deciduous shrubs (Salix integra, Hydrangea paniculata, Prunus ×cistena, Weigela florida, Physocarpus opulifolius). Symptoms of anthracnose were reduced on Cornus alba plants treated with chlorinated water. The chlorine treatment did not affect leaf chlorophyll content. The chlorine treatment killed all fungi and oomycetes in the irrigation water (DNA multiscan). Although there were visible leaf injuries and growth reduction on some of the deciduous plants, chlorine injury did not render them unsalable. Results suggest that irrigation water treated with 2.4 mg·L−1 free chlorine for 5 min will effectively control the dispersal of common plant pathogens without reducing the market value of container-grown plants.

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The phytotoxic threshold of five woody perennial nursery crops to applications of aqueous ozone was investigated to determine if aqueous ozone could be used for remediation of recycled nursery irrigation water and for pathogen control. The perennial nursery crops [Salix integra Thunb. ‘Hakura Nishiki’; Weigela florida Thunb. ‘Alexandra’; Spiraea japonica L.f. ‘Goldmound’; Hydrangea paniculata Seib. ‘Grandiflora’; Physocarpus opulifolius L. Maxim. ‘Summer Wine’] were evaluated for aqueous ozone phytotoxicity after 6 weeks of overhead spray irrigation in which five aqueous ozone treatments (0, 10.4, 31.2, 62.5, 125.0 μmol·L−1) were applied on a daily basis. The concentrations applied represent levels useful for irrigation system maintenance (pathogen and biofilm control) with the highest levels selected to clearly demonstrate phytotoxicity. Aqueous ozone solutions were prepared and injected in-line during irrigation for 7.5 min every day for 6 weeks, after which growth parameters (leaf area, shoot dry weight, root dry weight, height, flower number) were measured and leaf injury was evaluated. High residual aqueous ozone (62.5 μmol·L−1 or greater at emitter discharge; 0.3 m from canopy) in the irrigation water was shown to negatively affect the growth parameters measured; however, low residual ozone concentrations (31.2 μmol·L−1 or less at emitter discharge; 0.3 m from canopy) did not present any measurable risk to plant growth. Furthermore, even at higher dose levels, leaves produced during the treatment period showed reduced damage levels. It is concluded that ozone residuals of 31.2 μmol·L−1 (at emitter discharge) can remain in overhead irrigation water without negatively affecting the crop species examined under the application protocols used. At the ozone concentrations demonstrated to be tolerable by the crop species examined, it is reasonable to surmise that control of pathogens at all points within the irrigation system will be achievable using aqueous ozone as part of an irrigation management strategy. The use of aqueous ozone in this fashion could also aid in dramatically reducing chemical residuals on crops by reducing the input requirements of traditional chemical controls.

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Six individual growing substrate components were selected. From the individual components, 35 growing substrates were constructed. Preliminary analyses, which included pH, electrical conductivity, and macro- and micronutrient concentrations, combined with environmental and cost implications were conducted to identify which substrates had the appropriate properties for growing tomatoes. From the 35 combinations, four growing substrates were chosen as having preferred properties required for organic greenhouse tomato production. A 22-week growth experiment was performed to determine if any of the selected substrates could improve the marketable yield of tomatoes when compared with rockwool (RW) under greenhouse conditions. The greenhouse crop used for this experiment was Lycopersicon esculentum ‘beefsteak’ tomato, cultivar Matrix F1 Hybrid. Within the experiment, Forterra Royal GRO 1 (GRO 1; coconut coir/vermicompost) and Forterra Royal GRO 2 (GRO 2; aged pine bark/coconut coir/vermicompost) attained significantly higher marketable yields per plant compared with the plants grown in RW. A similar trend was seen in the incidence of Blossom End Rot (BER) with GRO 1 and GRO 2 having reduced numbers of BER incidences per plant when compared with RW. In conclusion, the addition of vermicompost to organic growing substrates is beneficial for tomato growth and yield.

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To determine the nutrient solution copper (Cu2+) level above which Cucumis sativus L. (cucumber, cv. LOGICA F1) plant growth and fruit yield will be negatively affected, plants were grown on rockwool and irrigated with nutrient solutions containing Cu2+ at 0.05, 0.55, 1.05, 1.55, and 2.05 mg·L−1. Copper treatment began when plants were 4 weeks old and lasted for 10 weeks. During this 10-week period, plants were harvested at 3 weeks (short-term) and 10 weeks (long-term) after the start of Cu2+ treatment. Neither visible leaf injury nor negative Cu2+ effect was observed on plant growth (leaf number, leaf area, leaf dry weight, and stem dry weight) after 3 weeks of continuous Cu2+ treatment. However, after 10 weeks of continuous Cu2+ application, cucumber leaf dry weight was significantly reduced by Cu2+ levels 1.05 mg·L−1 or greater; leaf number, leaf area, and stem dry weight were significantly reduced by Cu2+ levels 1.55 mg·L−1 or greater. Copper (Cu2+ levels 1.05 mg·L−1 or greater) also caused root browning. Some plants under the 2.05 mg·L−1 Cu2+ treatment started to wilt after 6 weeks of continuous Cu2+ treatment. Copper treatment did not result in any change in leaf greenness until after Week 9 from the start of the treatments. There was no sign of a negative Cu2+ effect on cucumber fruit numbers after the first 2 weeks of production, but plants under the highest Cu2+ concentration treatment (2.05 mg·L−1) gradually produced fewer cucumber fruit than the control (0.05 mg·L−1) and eventually resulted in lower cucumber yield. Nutrient solution can be treated with 1.05 mg·L−1 of Cu2+ in cucumber production greenhouses; however, it is not recommended to use Cu2+ concentrations 1.05 mg·L−1 or greater continuously long-term (more than 3 weeks). When applying Cu2+, it is suggested that cucumber roots be examined regularly because roots are a better indicator for Cu2+ toxicity than leaf injury.

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Certain ions such as Na+ and Cl can accumulate in recirculating greenhouse nutrient solutions and can reach levels that are damaging to crops. An option for the treatment of this problem is phytodesalinization with Na+ and Cl hyperaccumulating plants that could be added to existing water treatment technologies such as constructed wetlands (CWs). Two microcosm experiments were conducted to evaluate eight plant species including Atriplex prostrata L. (triangle orache), Distichlis spicata (L.) Greene (salt grass), Juncus torreyi Coville. (Torrey’s rush), Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud. (common reed), Spartina alterniflora Loisel. (smooth cordgrass), Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (C.C. Gmel.) Palla (softstem bulrush), Typha angustifolia L. (narrow leaf cattail), and Typha latifolia L. (broad leaf cattail) for their Na+ and Cl accumulation potential. An initial (indoor) experiment determined that J. torreyi, S. tabernaemontani, T. angustifolia, and T. latifolia were the best candidates for phytodesalinization because they had the highest Na+ and Cl tissue contents after exposure to Na+ and Cl-rich nutrient solutions. A second (outdoor) experiment quantified the Na+ and Cl ion uptake (grams of each ion accumulated per m2 of microcosm). J. torreyi, S. tabernaemontani, T. angustifolia, and T. latifolia accumulated 5.8, 3.9, 8.3, and 9.2 g·m−2 of Na+ and 25.7, 18.2, 31.6, and 27.2 g·m−2 of Cl, respectively. Of the eight species, T. latifolia and S. tabernaemontani showed the greatest potential to accumulate Na+ and Cl in a CW environment, whereas S. alterniflora, D. spicata, and P. australis showed the least potential.

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Microgreens are specialty vegetables that contain human health-promoting phytochemicals. Typically, microgreens are cultivated in controlled environments under red and blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). However, the impact of varying the proportions of these light qualities on the composition of diverse phytochemicals in indoor-grown microgreens is unclear. To address this problem, the levels of chlorophylls, carotenoids, ascorbates, phenolics, anthocyanins, and nitrate were examined in arugula (Eruca sativa L.), ‘Red Russian’ kale [Brassica napus L. subsp. napus var. pabularia (DC.) Alef.], ‘Mizuna’ mustard (Brassica juncea L.), and red cabbage (Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata f. rubra) microgreens following cultivation under LEDs supplying varying proportions of blue light (5% to 30%) and red light (70% to 95%). Varying the proportion of blue light did not affect the extractable levels of total chlorophyll, total carotenoids, or nitrate in all four microgreen species. Generally, the levels of reduced and total ascorbate were greatest in arugula, kale, and mustard microgreens at 20% blue light, and a minor decrease was apparent at 30% blue light. These metabolite profiles were not impacted by the blue light percentage in red cabbage. Kale and mustard accumulated more total phenolics at 30% blue light than all other blue light regimens; however, this phytochemical attribute was unaffected in arugula and red cabbage. The total anthocyanin concentration increased proportionally with the percentage of supplied blue light up to 30% in all microgreens, with the exception of mustard. Our research showed that 20% blue light supplied from LED arrays is ideal for achieving optimal levels of both reduced and total ascorbate in all microgreens except red cabbage, and that 30% blue light promotes the greatest accumulation of total anthocyanin in indoor-grown Brassicaceae microgreens, with the exception of mustard.

Open Access

Indoor farming is an increasingly popular approach for growing leafy vegetables, and under this production system, artificial light provides the sole source (SS) of radiation for photosynthesis and light signaling. With newer horticultural light-emitting diodes (LEDs), growers have the ability to manipulate the lighting environment to achieve specific production goals. However, there is limited research on LED lighting specific to microgreen production, and available research shows that there is variability in how microgreens respond to their lighting environment. The present study examined the effects of SS light intensity (LI) on growth, yield, and quality of kale (Brassica napus L. ‘Red Russian’), cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.), arugula (Eruca sativa L.), and mustard (Brassica juncea L. ‘Ruby Streaks’) microgreens grown in a walk-in growth chamber. SS LEDs were used to provide six target photosynthetic photon flux density density (PPFD) treatments: 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, and 600 μmol·m−2·s−1 with a photon flux ratio of 15 blue: 85 red and a 16-hour photoperiod. As LI increased from 100 to 600 μmol·m−2· s−1, fresh weight (FW) increased by 0.59 kg·m−2 (36%), 0.70 kg·m−2 (56%), 0.71 kg·m−2 (76%), and 0.67 kg·m−2 (82%) for kale, cabbage, arugula, and mustard, respectively. Similarly, dry weight (DW) increased by 47 g·m−2 (65%), 45 g·m−2 (69%), 64 g·m−2 (122%), and 65 g·m−2 (145%) for kale, cabbage, arugula, and mustard, respectively, as LI increased from 100 to 600 μmol·m−2· s−1. Increasing LI decreased hypocotyl length and hue angle linearly in all genotypes. Saturation of cabbage and mustard decreased linearly by 18% and 36%, respectively, as LI increased from 100 to 600 μmol·m−2·s−1. Growers can use the results of this study to optimize SS LI for their production systems, genotypes, and production goals.

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One principle for reducing undesirable stem extension in greenhouse production is to counteract the decrease in red-to-far red ratio that occurs naturally during twilight periods. This study evaluated three lighting treatments on the morphology of easter lily (Lilium longiflorum): 1) a 1-hour end-of-day treatment providing 20 μmol·m−2·s−1 of monochromatic red light (EOD R), 2) blackout curtains closed 45 to 75 minutes before sunset and kept closed until 0 to 60 minutes after sunrise (BO), and 3) a control with natural twilight (CTRL). Plants under the BO treatment were 11% shorter than CTRL, while plants exposed to EOD R did not differ in height compared with BO or CTRL. There were no treatment effects on any other measured parameters, including aspects of flowering.

Open Access