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  • Author or Editor: Edward E. Carey x
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High tunnels, unheated greenhouses, have been shown to be a profitable season-extending production tool for many horticultural crops. Production of cool-season vegetables during hot summer months can be achieved using shaded high tunnels. Microclimate in high tunnels and open field was monitored during summer trials of leaf lettuce, in which unshaded tunnels and shaded tunnels (39% PAK white shadecloth) were used, respectively, in 2002 and 2003. Wind speed was consistently lower in high tunnels. Compared to open field, daily air temperature was about 0.7 °C higher in unshaded high tunnels, and 0.5 °C lower in shaded high tunnels. Relative humidity was slightly lower in unshaded tunnels, but tended to increase in shaded tunnels, in comparison to the open field. When using shadecloth, soil temperature was lowered by 1∼3 °C and the leaf surface temperature was significantly reduced by 1.5∼2.5 °C. In shaded high tunnels, PAR light dropped by at least 50% relative to the outside, where the maximum PAR light intensity reached 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1. Overall, shaded high tunnels resulted in higher quality lettuce, with less bolting and bitterness. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ET0) was estimated from meteorological data on a daily basis using the FAO-56 method. ET0 was lowest in shaded high tunnels, and highest in the open field. Relatively lower ET0 in high tunnels indicated a likely lower water requirement and therefore improved water use efficiency compared with the open field.

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An experiment was conducted at Olathe, Kan., in Spring 2004 to investigate the influence of organic and conventional fertilizer sources and application rates on antioxidant levels of pac choi (Brassica rapa L. cv. Mei Qing) in open fields and poly-covered high-tunnel plots. Organic plots received pre-plant application of composted cattle manure and alfalfa (Hu-More 1–1–1) at 0 kg/ha N, 156 kg/ha N, or 314 kg/ha N, and conventional plots received preplant application of 13N–13P–13K at 0 kg/ha N, 78 kg/ha N, or 156 kg/ha N. Antioxidant levels were measured using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. There were significant effects of fertilizer source and high-tunnel environment on the antioxidant capacity of pac choi. Organic fertilization significantly increased hydrophilic ORAC of pac choi in open field plots, but not in high tunnels. Regardless of the fertilizer source, pac choi grown in the open field had significantly higher hydrophilic ORAC than that grown in tunnels. Lipophilic ORAC was significantly increased by organic fertilization but was not affected by high-tunnel production. Total ORAC (hydrophilic + lipophilic) was significantly higher in pac choi from organic or open-field plots, compared to conventional and high-tunnel plots, respectively. Although fertilizer rate did not show significant impact on antioxidant level of pac choi, hydrophilic and total ORAC seemed to decrease as the fertilizer rate increased, especially under conventional fertilization, while lipophilic ORAC reached the highest level at the medium fertilizer rate. Differences in antioxidant levels were likely associated with the enhanced phytochemical content of pac choi from organically fertilized and open-field plots.

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Compost teas, made using an aerated brewing process, have been reported to have potential for controlling a range of plant diseases and improving crop health. Septoria leaf spot of tomato, caused by the fungus Septoria lycopersici, is a common and destructive disease of tomato in Kansas. A field trial was conducted at Wichita, Kansas during Summer 2003 to evaluate the potential of pre-plant compost, and compost tea applied as a foliar spray or through drip fertigation, to control Septoria leaf spot of tomato. The experimental design included three factors: Pre-plant application of 13N-13P-13K or vermicompost; fertigation with CaNO3 or compost tea; and foliar spray with compost tea, fungicide (Dithane) or water. A split plot design was used with fertigation treatments as main plots and the other two factors as sub-plots. There were 3 replications. Tomato cultivar Merced was used and individual plots consisted of 5 plants grown on beds covered with red plastic mulch and supported by stake and weave system. Aerated compost tea was brewed weekly using a vermicompost-based recipe including alfalfa pellets, molasses, humic acid, fish emulsion and yucca extract and applied to plots starting 2 weeks after transplanting. Disease incidence and severity were recorded weekly for 3 weeks following the appearance of disease. Plots were harvested twice weekly and counts of No. 1, No 2 and cull grade tomatoes were recorded. There were no effects of pre-plant or fertigation treatments on Septoria leaf spot disease, but there was a significant effect due to foliar sprays, with mean severity of compost-tea-sprayed plots (26.3%) and fungicide-sprayed plots (31.9%) significantly lower than water-sprayed plots (45.9%) at trial termination.

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Consumers of organic food tend to believe that it tastes better than its conventional counterpart. However, there is a lack of scientific studies on sensory analysis of organic food. A consumer taste test was conducted to compare the acceptability of organically and conventionally grown spinach. Spinach samples were collected from organically and conventionally managed plots at the Kansas State University Research and Extension Center, Olathe. One hundred-twenty-two untrained panelists (80 female and 42 male) participated in this consumer study. Fresh and 1-week-old spinach leaves were evaluated by 60 and 62 consumers, respectively, using a 9-point hedonic scale (9 = like extremely, 5 = neither like nor dislike, 1 = dislike extremely). The ANOVA results showed that fresh organic spinach had a higher preference score than corresponding conventional spinach, although not at a significant level (P = 0.1790). For the 1-week-old spinach, the difference diminished, and instead, conventional spinach had a higher preference rating. Among 61 consumers who made comments regarding the sensory evaluation, 29 claimed that organic spinach was more tasty and flavorful; 19 consumers thought conventional spinach was better; 13 consumers could not tell the difference. Even though this consumer study did not reveal significant differences in consumer preference for organic vs. conventional spinach, further well-designed sensory tests are warranted given the trends indicated in our study. Assessment of sensory attributes of organic vegetables after storage also deserves further attention. Ideally, both consumer tests and descriptive analysis using trained panelists will be considered.

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Microbial tea from a commercial source and a homemade manure tea were evaluated for 2 years under organic and conventional fertility regimens. Testing with different fertility regimens allowed broader assessment of tea efficacy. Collard green (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala cv. Top Bunch) yield and soil microbial activity were measured after microbial tea applications were made in three fertility treatments (conventional, organic, or no fertilizer amendment) on a previously unfertilized sandy loam soil. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L. cv. Hellcat) and collard green yields were determined after commercial microbial tea application to a silt loam soil previously managed with organic or conventional vegetable crops in open fields and under high tunnels. Results indicated that nutrient additions influenced crop yields, even doubling yield. This demonstrated that improved nutrient availability would affect yield at the chosen locations. However, microbial tea applications did not affect crop yield. These results did not support the hypothesis that microbial tea improves plant nutrient uptake. Additionally, soil microbial respiration and biomass were unaffected after two or three tea applications.

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As the largest group of phytochemicals, dietary phenolics play an important role in human health and disease prevention. Cultural practices have been shown to have the potential for affecting phenolic compounds in food crops. Spring and summer trials were conducted in 2003 to examine the effects of organic fertilization and high tunnel environments on phenolic constituents of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) cultivars Red Sails and Kalura. Effects of postharvest storage at 4 °C for 16 days on total phenolics of lettuce harvested from the summer trial were also evaluated. Total phenolics, excluding anthocyanins, were measured spectrophotometrically, and major phenolic constituents were identified and quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography. Chlorogenic acid and quercetin glycosides were found to be predominant in lettuce. ‘Red Sails’ consistently exhibited significantly higher phenolic concentrations than ‘Kalura’. Organic (compost + fish emulsion) and conventional (N–P–K + CaNO3) fertilization did not consistently differentially affect lettuce phenolics in our recently established organic and conventional plots. The high tunnel environment generally reduced phenolic levels in lettuce relative to the open field. However, differences between high tunnel and open field varied with cultivar and season. Effects of production factors on lettuce phenolics were maintained during cold storage. There was a substantial increase in total phenolics during storage, likely correlated with declining lettuce quality. Further studies are warranted to more fully assess the impact of cultivar and production management, including organic fertilization, on lettuce phenolics.

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Growers have indicated that changes in soil quality under production in high tunnels is an important problem, but these have not yet been quantified or critically assessed in the central Great Plains of the United States. We conducted surveys of grower perceptions of soil quality in their tunnels (n = 81) and compared selected soil quality indicators (salinity and particulate organic matter carbon) under high tunnels of varying ages with those of adjacent fields at sites in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa in the United States. Fourteen percent of growers surveyed considered soil quality to be a problem in their high tunnels, and there were significant correlations between grower perceptions of soil quality problems and reported observations of clod formation and surface crusting and to a lesser extent surface mineral deposition. Grower perception of soil quality and grower observation of soil characteristics were not related to high tunnel age. Soil surface salinity was elevated in some high tunnels compared with adjacent fields but was not related to time under the high tunnel. In the soil upper 5 cm, salinity in fields did not exceed 2 dS·m−1 and was less than 2 dS·m−1 under 74% of high tunnels and less than 4 dS·m−1 in 97% of high tunnels. The particulate organic matter carbon fraction was higher in high tunnels than adjacent fields at 73% of locations sampled. Particulate organic matter carbon measured 0.11 to 0.67 g particulate organic matter per g of the total carbon under high tunnels sampled. Particulate organic matter carbon in the soil was also not correlated to age of high tunnel. Soil quality as measured in this study was not negatively impacted by use of high tunnel structures over time.

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The sustainability of soil quality under high tunnels will influence management of high tunnels currently in use and grower decisions regarding design and management of new high tunnels to be constructed. Soil quality was quantified using measures of soil pH, salinity, total carbon, and particulate organic matter (POM) carbon in a silt loam soil that had been in vegetable production under high tunnels at the research station in Olathe, KS, for eight years. Soil under high tunnels was compared with that in adjacent fields in both a conventional and an organic management system. The eight-year presence of high tunnels under the conventional management system resulted in increased soil pH and salinity but did not affect soil carbon. In the organic management system, high tunnels did not affect soil pH, increased soil salinity, and influenced soil carbon (C) pools with an increase in POM carbon. The increases in soil salinity were not enough to be detrimental to crops. These results indicate that soil quality was not adversely affected by eight years under stationary high tunnels managed with conventionally or organically produced vegetable crops.

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