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  • Author or Editor: Frank Louws x
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Organic heirloom tomato production is limited in the southeastern United States by foliar and soilborne diseases, thermal stress, and weathered soil structure. Heirloom cultivars command a premium market, but tolerance to disease and abiotic stress is often poor. Organic growers need research that supports the advantages of market niches afforded by heirloom tomatoes through the development of integrated systems to manage pests and reduce risks of associated crop losses or low yields. Two major soilborne diseases common in the southeast, bacterial wilt (caused by Ralstonia solanacearum) and fusarium wilt (caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici), were effectively managed using susceptible heirloom scions grafted onto resistant rootstock. In naturally infested soil, bacterial wilt incidence for nongrafted ‘German Johnson’ was 79% and 75% in 2005 and 2006, respectively. ‘German Johnson’ showed no symptoms of bacterial wilt in either year when grafted onto the resistant genotypes CRA 66 or Hawaii 7996. Fusarium wilt incidence was 46% and 50%, respectively, in nongrafted and self-grafted ‘German Johnson’ controls. When ‘Maxifort’ rootstock was grafted with ‘German Johnson’, no symptoms of fusarium wilt were seen, and plants with ‘Robusta’ rootstock had an intermediate level of disease (29%). An evaluation of commercially available rootstock was carried out in three separate experiments in diverse organic production systems to determine yield impacts with low disease pressure. ‘Maxifort’ rootstock significantly increased yield in one location (P = 0.05), but ‘Maxifort’ and ‘Robusta’ rootstock did not consistently impact yield at the other two locations. Grafting is an effective management tool for organic growers in the southeast United States to reduce risk of crop loss resulting from soilborne diseases and will be a valuable component in an integrated pest management program.

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The growth and development of three strawberry cultivars commonly grown in a plasticulture system were documented. Strawberry plants were harvested monthly and divided by roots, crown, leaves, flowers, and fruit and then dried in an oven. The dry matter production and resource allocation proceeded along a predictable pattern of development. The establishment phase was characterized by an active period of growth of root, crown and leaves in the fall. Through the winter, the plants underwent slow growth, ending in a transition period in the late winter/early spring when resources were allocated to both vegetative and reproductive growth. In the spring, all plant parts received significantly increased allocation of, or redistribution of, resources. Cultivars of California origin, `Chandler' and `Camarosa', displayed similar trends in yield, dry matter production, seasonal resource allocation, and growth analysis variables throughout the season. `Sweet Charlie', a cultivar from Florida, showed lower dry matter accumulation and relative growth rate in the spring, higher harvest index and lower yield than the California cultivars.

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We evaluated the influence of three compost sources and compost amended with T382 with fumigant Telone C-35 and various combinations of compost and Telone C-35 on the yield and pest management of cucumber, pepper, tomato, collard, southern pea, and summer squash in a multicrop rotational system. In the first year, there were few differences between the compost treatments and Telone C-35, but all treatments resulted in more yield than the control. In the second year, all compost treatments and/or Telone C-35 improved total and marketable yield of cucumber, pepper, tomato, southern pea, and summer squash. Furthermore, in the second year, Telone C-35 treat-ments produced more yield than some of the compost treatments in tomatoes. Combining Telone C-35 with compost did not differ from either treatment alone. Nematode and disease assessments were not consistent and will be discussed in further detail.

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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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Strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duchnesne) growth and productivity were compared in fumigated and nonfumigated production systems. Strawberry transplants grown in potting mix amended with Trichoderma hamatum (Bonord.) Bainier, strain T382, Trichoderma harzianum Rifai, strain T22, or untreated, were planted in field plots treated with compost, compost amended with T. hamatum strain T382, Telone-C35, or not treated. Plants were sampled throughout the growing season, and dry weights of roots, crowns, leaves, flowers and fruit, leaf area, and total and marketable yield were determined. Trichoderma amendments to the potting mix improved plant dry weight and leaf area of strawberry transplants in the first year and suppressed root rot incidence in the second year but did not affect plant growth or disease incidence once the plants were set in the field. Field plants in fumigated plots had greater root, leaf, and crown dry weights, leaf area, and yield compared with plants in the other soil treatments. We conclude that Trichoderma amendments (1) alone had little benefit to plug plant growth and (2) in combination with compost, had no benefit to strawberry plant growth in the field. The task remains to develop a reliable and sustainable strawberry production system that does not rely on chemical fumigants.

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Improvement of crop water use is imperative. Plants’ responses to limited water can dictate their ability to better use available resources and avoid prolonged and severe stress. The following study was conducted to determine how tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) rootstocks with different root system morphologies respond to drying soils. Plants were grown in pots containing an inorganic substrate composed of calcined clay and sand in a greenhouse on North Carolina State University’s campus. The heirloom tomato cultivar Cherokee Purple was used as the scion for ‘Beaufort’ and ‘Shield’ rootstocks as well as the self-grafted control. These rootstocks were assigned either normal or reduced irrigation treatments. Plants grown under the normal irrigation schedule were weighed and watered daily to maintain container capacity for one week. Those receiving reduced irrigation had all water withheld for one week, at which point strong midday wilting became evident. Shoot physiological and morphological data as well as root morphological data were collected at the end of the study. A constitutive positive increase on relative water content, leaf area, stomatal conductance (g S), and net CO2 assimilation rate was observed with scions grafted on ‘Beaufort’. In addition, this rootstock had a significantly longer total root system (118.6 m) compared with ‘Shield’ (94.9 m) and the self-grafted control (104.2 m). Furthermore, 76.4% of the total root length observed in ‘Beaufort’ was composed of very thin diameter roots ( <0.5 mm), which was higher than ‘Shield’ (73.67%) and the self-grafted control (69.07%). The only significant rootstock irrigation interaction observed was for effective quantum yield of photosystem II (φPSII). At normal irrigation there were no differences among the rootstock treatments; however, at reduced irrigation ‘Beaufort’ had significantly higher φPSII than both ‘Shield’ and the self-grafted control. These results may explain some of the improved production and water use efficiency observed in field trials using ‘Beaufort’ rootstock, and data secured may allow for better screening of rootstocks for improved water use efficiency in the future.

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Compost sources were used to determine long-term influence on common vegetable cropping systems (tomato, pepper, and cucumber). Three sources of Controlled Microbial Compost (CMC) (20 yd3/A) amended with fumigant Telone-C35 (35 gal/A) and Trichoderma-382 [2.5 oz/yd.3 (T-382)] were used during 3 consecutive years. Tomato showed statistic differences (1%) among compost treatments with higher total yields when CMC was combined with Telone-C35 (21%) and T-382 (8.2%). All treatments but Bio-Compost and control presented al least 25% more marketable yield per acre. No differences in fruit size were found for tomato, except for medium-size fruit when Telone C-35 was added. The CMC alone or combined with Telone C-35 and T-382 increased the total plant dry weight at least 18.6%. Pepper crop showed statistic differences with higher number of No. 1 fruit size when CMC was combined with Telone C-35 and T-382. Number of culls per acre decreased for all three compost sources, with no differences from the control. Cucumber yields differed among treatments for total and marketable yields and No.1 size fruit per acre. Best yields were achieved with CMC and when mixed with Telone C-35 and T-382. The lower numbers of culls per acre were found with Bio-Compost and Lexington sources and CMC+T-382. Total plant dry weight was increased in at least 24% when Bio-Compost or CMC compost were used alone or combined with Telone-C35 or T-382. CMC increased root knot nematode soil counts and percentage of root galling, but tended to improve root vigor in cucumbers. It seems that compost sources combined with Telone C-35 or T-382 could improve the cropping management as alternative to methyl bromide. Weed responses will also be discussed.

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Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) is a warm-season, cold-sensitive crop that shows slower growth and development at temperatures below 18 °C. Improving suboptimal temperature tolerance would allow earlier planting of field-grown tomato and a reduction in energy inputs for heating greenhouses. Grafting tomato onto high-altitude Solanum habrochaites (S. Knapp and D.M. Spooner) accessions has proven effective at improving scion suboptimal temperature tolerance in limited experiments. This study was conducted to determine whether commercially available tomato rootstocks with differing parental backgrounds and root system morphologies can improve the tolerance of scion plants to suboptimal temperature. Two controlled environment growth chambers were used and maintained at either optimal (25 °C day/20 °C night) or suboptimal (15 °C day/15 °C night) temperatures. The cold-sensitive tomato cultivar Moneymaker was used as the nongrafted and self-grafted control as well as scion grafted on ‘Multifort’ (S. lycopersicum × S. habrochaites), ‘Shield’ (S. lycopersicum), and S. habrochaites LA1777 rootstocks. Plants were grown for 10 days in 3.8 L plastic containers filled with a mixture of calcined clay and sand. ‘Multifort’ rootstock significantly reduced the amount of cold-induced stress as observed by larger leaf area and higher levels of CO2 assimilation and photosystem II quantum efficiency. ‘Multifort’ had significantly longer roots, having 42% to 56% more fine root (diameter less than 0.5 mm) length compared with the other nongrafted and grafted treatments. Leaf starch concentration was significantly lower in ‘Multifort’-grafted plants at suboptimal temperatures compared with the self-grafted and nongrafted controls and the ‘Shield’-grafted plants at the same temperature. The ability for ‘Multifort’ to maintain root growth at suboptimal temperatures may improve root system sink strength, thereby promoting movement of photosynthate from leaf to root even under cold conditions. This work demonstrates that a commercially available rootstock can be used to improve suboptimal temperature tolerance in cold-sensitive ‘Moneymaker’ scions.

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