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Scott Henderson, David Gholami and Youbin Zheng

Sensor-based feedback control irrigation systems have been increasingly explored for greenhouse applications. However, the relationships between microclimate variation, plant water usage, and growth are not well understood. A series of trials were conducted to investigate the microclimate variations in different greenhouses and whether a soil moisture sensor-based system can be used in monitoring and controlling irrigation in greenhouse crop productions. Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese Gigante’ basil and Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Get Mee’ bellflowers were monitored using soil moisture sensors for an entire crop cycle at two commercial greenhouses. Significant variations in greenhouse microclimates were observed within the two commercial greenhouses and within an older research greenhouse. Evaporation rates were measured and used as an integrated indicator of greenhouse microclimate conditions. Evaporation rates varied within all three greenhouses and were almost double the lowest rates within one of the greenhouses, suggesting microclimates within a range of greenhouses. Although these microclimate variations caused large variations in the growing substrate water contents of containers within the greenhouses, the growth and quality of the plants were unaffected. For example, no significant correlations were observed between the growth of bellflower plants and the average volumetric water content (VWC), minimum VWC, or maximum VWC of the growing substrate. The change in VWC at each irrigation (ΔVWC), however, was positively correlated with the fresh weight, dry weight, and growth index (GI) of the bellflowers. For basil, no significant correlations were observed between plant growth and ΔVWC. This suggests that sensor-based feedback irrigation systems can be used for greenhouse crop production when considerations are given to factors such as the magnitude of microclimate variation, crop species and its sensitivity to water stress, and growing substrate.