Diurnal changes in microclimate in a greenhouse are often greater than changes in daily averages over weeks or months. Thus, one may hypothesize that changing the nutrient solution concentration supplied to plants at intervals less than one day would improve tomato yield and quality. To test this hypothesis research was conducted to compare four nutrient control strategies for their effects on plant growth, fruit yield, fruit quality, and root characteristics of `Counter' tomato [Lycopersicon esculentum (L.) Mill.]. The four strategies were 1) ECvariable, adjustment of nutrient solution electrical conductivity (EC) at 15-min intervals according to greenhouse microclimate over the previous 15-min and empirical models of photosynthesis and transpiration; 2) ECdaily, daily adjustment of nutrient solution EC based on each morning's 24-hour weather forecast; 3) EC3.7, supply of a single high nutrient solution of 3.7 dS·m-1; or 4) EC1.5, low nutrient solution EC of 1.5 dS·m-1 for the entire growth period. Mean effluent EC levels were 1.8 dS·m-1 for treatment EC1.5, 5.1 dS·m-1 for treatment EC3.7, 3.6 dS·m-1 for treatment ECdaily, and 3.4 dS·m-1 for treatment ECvariable. Except for fresh weight (FW) of roots, growth characteristics did not differ significantly among treatments. Total production averaged 12.2 kg·m-2 FW and 1.0 kg·m-2 dry weight (DW); and fruit yield averaged 6.7 kg·m-2. Dry matter content, yield loss to blossom-end rot, and firmness responded linearly to treatment EC. In general, ECdaily yielded higher fruit quality and ECvariable lower fruit quality than that predicted by linear regression. Although our strategy of short-term dynamic changes of nutrient solution EC according to changes in climate variables did not increase yield, daily adjustment of nutrient solution EC improved external fruit quality characteristics and may be practical for grower adoption.
An increase in nutrient solution concentration to produce high-quality fruit vegetables, such as tomatoes, may reduce growth and yield. One reason might be inhibition of photosynthesis, but results of photosynthesis studies in the literature are inconsistent. In this study, we investigated growth and photosynthesis of whole `Celebrity' and `Counter' tomato [Lycopersicon esculentum (L.) Mill.] plants in response to nutrient solution concentration, measured as electrical conductivity (EC). The effects of two levels of photosynthetic photon flux density (PPF = 400 or 625 μmol·m-2·s-1) on plant response to nutrient solution EC in a range between 1.25 to 8.75 dS·m-1 in a series of four experiments in gas exchange chambers placed in larger growth chambers were examined. Increasing PPF enhanced tomato growth and photosynthesis but increasing EC diminished them. Reduction of dry weight was 1.9% to 7.3%, while plant photosynthesis was reduced between 1.7% and 4.5% for each 1 dS·m-1. Increasing EC did not decrease dry matter content and leaf photosynthesis. Mean plant dry matter content ranged between 70 and 95 g·kg-1, and net leaf photosynthesis on the last measurement day was between 7.5 and 11.3 μmol·m-2·s-1, depending on experiment. The decrease in whole plant photosynthesis with an increase in EC was caused by decreased leaf area but not by a decrease in leaf photosynthesis.