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Xin Zhao and Edward E. Carey

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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Xin Zhao and Edward E. Carey

High tunnels have been shown to be a profitable season-extending production tool for many horticultural crops. Production of cool-season vegetables during the hot summer months represents a challenge to market growers in the midwestern United States. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the microclimate and production of eight leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cultivars in high tunnels and open fields, using unshaded and shaded (39% white shadecloth) tunnels in Summer 2002 and 2003, respectively. Wind speed was consistently lower in high tunnels with the sidewalls and endwalls open. An unshaded high tunnel resulted in an increase of daily maximum and minimum air temperatures by ≈0.2 and 0.3 °C, respectively, in comparison with the open field. In contrast, daily maximum air temperature in a shaded high tunnel decreased by 0.4 °C, while the daily minimum air temperature was higher than that in the open field by 0.5 °C. Using high tunnels did not cause a marked change in relative humidity compared with the open field. When using shadecloth, the daily maximum soil temperature was lowered by ≈3.4 °C and the leaf surface temperature was reduced by 1.5 to 2.5 °C. The performance of lettuce during summer trials varied significantly among cultivars. Unshaded high tunnels generally led to more rapid bolting and increased bitterness of lettuce compared with the open field. Lettuce grown in high tunnels covered by shadecloth had a lower bolting rate, but decreased yield relative to the open field. Based on our results, summer lettuce production would not be recommended in high tunnels or open fields in northeastern Kansas, although the potential of shaded high tunnels deserves further studies. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ET0) was estimated from meteorological data on a daily basis using the FAO-56 method. The ET0 was lowest in the shaded high tunnel and was the 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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Xin Zhao, Edward E. Carey and Takeo Iwamoto

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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Chandrappa Gangaiah*, Edward E. Carey and Ned A. Tisserat

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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Xin Zhao, C.B. Rajashekar, Edward E. Carey and Weiqun Wang

Demand for organically grown produce is increasing, largely due to concerns of consumers about health and nutrition. Previous studies have not shown a consistent difference of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, between organic food crops and the conventional counterparts. However, to date, little consideration has been given to phytochemicals, secondary plant metabolites with potential health-promoting properties. We first discuss factors that can infl uence the levels of phytochemicals in crops, and then we critically review the results of published studies that have compared the effects of organic and conventional production systems on phytochemical contents of fruit and vegetables. The evidence overall seems in favor of enhancement of phytochemical content in organically grown produce, but there has been little systematic study of the factors that may contribute to increased phytochemical content in organic crops. It remains to be seen whether consistent differences will be found, and the extent to which biotic and abiotic stresses, and other factors such as soil biology, contribute to those differences. Problems associated with most studies tend to weaken the validity of comparisons. Given the limitations of most published studies, needs for future research are discussed.

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Sharon J.B. Knewtson, Jason J. Griffin and Edward E. Carey

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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Sharon J.B. Knewtson, Edward E. Carey and M.B. Kirkham

A survey was conducted of 81 growers managing 185 high tunnels in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa to collect information about their high tunnel management practices. The survey was administered from 2005 to 2007 using internet-based and written forms. The average respondent had 4 years of high tunnel experience. The oldest tunnel still in use was 15 years old. Twenty-five percent of respondents grew crops in their high tunnels year-round. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), pepper (Capsicum spp.), leafy greens, and flowers were the most common crops. Organic soil amendments were used exclusively by 35% of growers, and in combination with conventional fertilizers by an additional 50% of growers. The summary of management practices is of interest to growers and the industries and university research and extension scientists who serve them. Growers typically reported satisfaction with their high tunnels. Growers with more than one high tunnel had often added tunnels following the success of crop production in an initial tunnel. Labor for crop maintenance was the main limiting factor reported by growers as preventing expanded high tunnel production.

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Myung-Min Oh, Edward E. Carey and C.B. Rajashekar

In a growth chamber study, lettuce (Lactuca sativa) plants were used to evaluate the effects of water deficits on health-promoting phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. Lettuce plants were treated with water stress by withholding water once at 6 weeks after sowing for 2 days or multiple times at 4 weeks for 4 days, at 5 weeks for 3 days, and at 6 weeks for 2 days. Water stress increased the total phenolic concentration and antioxidant capacity in lettuce. Young seedlings, 7 days after germination, had the highest total phenolic concentration and antioxidant capacity, and also, younger plants were typically more responsive to water stress treatments in accumulating the antioxidants than older plants. Phenylalanine ammonia lyase and γ-tocopherol methyltransferase genes, involved in the biosynthesis of phenolic compounds and vitamin E, respectively, were activated in response to water stress, although no activation of L-galactose dehydrogenase was detected. Lettuce plants subjected to multiple water stress treatments accumulated significant amounts of chicoric acid compared with the control plants. Although the increase in antioxidant activity in water stress-treated plants at harvest was not as great as in young seedlings, it was significantly higher than the control. One-time water stress treatment of lettuce at the time of harvest did not result in any adverse effect on plant growth. Thus, these results show that mild water stress in lettuce applied just before harvest can enhance its crop quality with regard to its phytochemical concentration without any significant adverse effect on its growth or yield.

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Xin Zhao, Edward E. Carey and Fadi M. Aramouni

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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Xin Zhao, Edward E. Carey, Janice E. Young, Weiqun Wang and Takeo Iwamoto

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.