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Michela Farneselli, David W. Studstill, Eric H. Simonne, and Bob Hochmuth

The quantitative assessment of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) leaching below the root zone of vegetable crops grown with plasticulture (called load) may be done using deep (150-cm) soil samples divided into five 30-cm long subsamples. The load is then calculated by multiplying the NO3-N concentration in each subsample by the volume of soil (width × length × depth, W × L × D) wetted by the drip tape. Length (total length of mulched bed per unit surface) and depth (length of the soil subsample) are well known, but W is not. In order to determine W at different depths, two dye tests were conducted on a 7-m deep Lakeland fine sand using standard plasticulture beds. Dye tests consisted in irrigating for up to 38 and 60 hours (11,756 and 18,562 L/100 m of irrigation, respectively), digging transverse sections of the raised beds at set times and taking measurements of D and W at every 30-cm. Most dye patterns were elliptic elongated. Maximum average depths were similar (118 and 119 cm) for both tests despite differences in irrigation duration and physical proximity of both tests (100 m apart in the same field). Overall, D response (cm, both tests combined) to irrigation volume (V) was quadratic (Dcomb.avg = –2 × 10–7V2 + 0.008V + 34), and W responses (applying maximum and average values, Wmax and Wmean) to D (cm) were linear (Wmax = –0.65D+114: Wmean = –0.42D + 79). Predicted Wmax were 104, 84, 64, 44, and 25 cm at 30-cm depth increments. These preliminary values may be use for load calculations, but are likely to over-estimate load as they were determined without transpiring plants and may need to be adjusted for different soil types.

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David Studstill, Michela Farneselli, Eric Simonne, and Bob Hochmuth

Petiole sap testing using ion-specific electrodes is a simple method that can be used to guide in-season applications of N and K to vegetable crops. This method requires petiole sampling and sap extraction using a sap press. Because some vegetables are grown with foliar applications of N and/or K and because some crops have large petioles, petioles may need to be washed and/or cut before being pressed. Because limited information is available on the effect of washing/cutting on sap testing results, muskmelon, bell pepper and tomato petioles were used to test if washing/cutting reduced NO3-N and K concentrations and changed the subsequent interpretation of plant nutritional status. Washing for 30, 60, or 120 seconds in distilled water and cutting petioles before or after washing significantly reduced sap concentrations (p = 0.01 and p = 0.04 for NO3-N and K, respectively) in 7 of 12 tests when compared to the control method (petioles cut and not washed). The average concentration reductions between the control and the lowest value among all the washing/cutting treatments were 30% for NO3-N and 19% for K. These losses due to washing/cutting are likely to change the diagnosis of nutritional status from “sufficient” to “less than sufficient” and therefore may suggest the need for unnecessary fertilizer applications.

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Aparna Gazula, Eric Simonne, Michael Dukes, George Hochmuth, Bob Hochmuth, and David Studstill

Collecting leachate from lysimeters installed in the field below vegetable fields may be used to quantify the amount of nitrogen released into the environment. Because limited information exists on the optimal design type and on the effect of design components on lysimeter performance, the objective of this study were to identify existing designs and their limits, assess cost of design, and test selected designs. Ideally, lysimeters should be wide enough to collect all the water draining, long enough to reflect the plant-to-plant variability, durable enough to resist degradation, deep enough to allow for cultural practices and prevent root intrusion, have a simple design, be made of widely available materials, and be cost-effective. Also, lysimeters should not restrict gravity flow thereby resulting in a perched water table. Previous study done with a group of free-drainage lysimeters (1-m-long, 45-cm-wide, installed 45-cm-deep) under a tomato-pumpkin-rye cropping sequence resulted in variable frequency of collection and volume of leachate collected (CV of load = 170%). Improving existing design may be done by increasing the length of collection, lining the lysimeter with gravel, limiting the depth of installation, and/or breaking water tension with a fiberglass wick. Individual lysimeter cost was estimated between $56 to $84 and required 9 to 14 manhours. for construction and installation. Costs on labor may be reduced when large numbers of lysimeters are built. Labor needed for sampling 24 lysimeters was 8 man-hr/sampling date. Because load may occur after a crop, lysimeter monitoring and sampling should be done year round.

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Eric Simonne, Bob Hochmuth, Jeff Simons, Edgar Vinson III, and Arnold Caylor

Several okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) cultivars are now available as alternatives to the standards `Clemson Spineless' (open pollinated) and `Annie Oakley II' (hybrid). Based on the results of four trials involving 20 cultivars, `Mita', `Spike', `Green Best' and `North & South' should be added to the list of recommended cultivars for Alabama and Florida. The experimental `SOK 601' should also be included on that list, but on a for trial basis since it was evaluated only at one location. Other cultivars may perform well at specific locations. Differences among cultivars were also found for ease of harvest. `North & South' and `Baby Bubba' were the easiest and most difficult cultivars to harvest, respectively. The economic feasability of selecting a hybrid cultivar over an open-pollinated one and using plasticulture instead of bare ground was also examined in this study. Using hybrid seeds resulted in an average yield increase per harvest of 92 lb/acre (103 kg·ha-1), which exceeded the estimated 75 lb/acre yield (84 kg·ha-1) increase necessary to offset the additional cost of hybrid seeds. For reasons ranging from improved weed control, increased nutrient and water use efficiency, and double cropping, an increasing interest exists to produce okra with plasticulture, instead of bare ground as done traditionally. The average yield increase per harvest due to plasticulture over bare ground production was 196 lb/acre (220 kg·ha-1). Based on this number, it would take three harvests to produce the 540 lb/acre (605 kg·ha-1) yield increase necessary to offset the additional costs due to plasticulture.