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  • Author or Editor: Elio Jovicich x
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A physiological disorder, “Elephant's Foot”, can develop in greenhouse hydroponic sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum L.). In a plant with this disorder, the base of the stem becomes swollen below the cotyledon level and wounds develop at the base of the stem's epidermis, what might predispose it to a localized rot and result in a sudden permanent plant wilt. Salt accumulation at the base of the stem could be a possible cause of the epidermis wounds. The effects of soilless media type (perlite, coconut coir, pine bark, and peat–perlite–vermiculate mix), transplant depth, and amount of nutrient solution applied per day were studied to evaluate the development of “Elephant's Foot” on a summer–fall sweet pepper greenhouse crop in Gainesville, Fla. Seedlings grown in polyethylene containers were transplanted 29 June 1999 into 11.4-L pots at three transplant depths: a) at half of the cell height, discarding only the bottom of the container (TOP); b) at the cotyledon level (LEVEL), and c) at the second stem node (DEEP). Plants were irrigated with 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 L/day per plant of solution. The percentage of plants with epidermis wounds at the base of the stem was highest (82.5%) on TOP plants, compared to LEVEL (5.8%) and DEEP plants (0%). TOP plants had higher values of electrical conductivity on the stem epidermis than LEVEL and DEEP plants. There was a positive linear relationship (r = 0.82) between the percentage of plants with epidermis wounds and the electrical conductivity. Early yield of extra large and large fruits was higher in DEEP (1.05 kg·m–2) than in TOP plants (0.82 kg·m–2). Transplanting sweet pepper with the cotyledonary node under the soilless media could minimize salt accumulation and epidermis damage at the base of the stem level.

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A physiological disorder in greenhouse-grown pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) plants was observed in Florida, wherein the base of the main stem becomes swollen below the cotyledonary node level and crack-like wounds develop at the base of the stem's epidermis. The disorder may predispose the plant to a localized rot and result in a sudden plant wilt. The effects of soilless media type, transplant depth, and amount of nutrient solution applied per day were studied to evaluate the development of what was termed “Elephant's Foot” disorder, on a greenhouse-grown bell pepper crop in Gainesville, Fla. The percentage of plants with epidermal wounds at the base of the stem was highest (83%) on plants transplanted at half of the cell height (3.8 cm), compared to plants transplanted to the cotyledonary node level (6%) and the second leaf node (0%). Salts were washed from the surface of basal stem epidermis and electrical conductivity measured in the washing solution was expressed per unit area of epidermal sample (ECA). The ECA in the solutions from plants transplanted at half of the cell height was higher than that from plants transplanted to the cotyledonary node level and to the second leaf node. There was a positive linear relationship (r = 0.81) between the percentage of plants with epidermal wounds and the ECA of the solution obtained from washing the epidermal tissues. Salts deposited on the epidermis beneath the cotyledonary node provoked a tissue injury that may predispose the plant to a Fusarium infection. Simple management practices, such as transplanting deep, using cultivars with lower susceptibility to salt damage, and gradually moving back the emitter from the base of the plant after transplanting (to reduce humid conditions near the base of the stem) would help reduce the appearance of this basal stem disorder in soilless-grown peppers.

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In greenhouse crops, fruit yield and quality can be increased by managing shoot pruning and plant density. The effect of plant population density (2, 3, and 4 plants/m2 as function of in-row plant spacings of 66.5, 44.3, and 33.3 cm, respectively), and shoot pruning (one, two, and four main stems) was studied for effects on fruit yield, quality and plant growth of greenhouse-grown sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum L. cv. Robusta) during Summer 1998 in Gainesville, Fla. Red fruit were harvested 84 and 118 days after transplanting (14 Apr.). Additional fruit set was inhibited due to the high temperatures. Marketable yield (number and weight) per square meter increased linearly with plant density and was greater on plants with four stems than in those with two or one stem. Extra-large fruit yield per square meter was not affected by plant density, but was higher in four-stem plants. Total marketable yield and extra-large fruit yields per plant were greatest in the four-stem plants at two plants per square meter. The stem length and the number of nodes per stem increased linearly with the decrease in plant spacing. Stem length and number of nodes per stem were greater in single-stem than in four-stem plants. Number and dry weight of leaves, stem diameter, and total plant dry weight were higher in four- and two-stem plants than in single-stem plants. Results indicated that four plants per square meter pruned to four stems increased marketable and extra-large fruit yield in a short harvest period of a summer greenhouse sweet pepper crop in north central Florida.

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Production and quality of bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) fruit were evaluated in a passively ventilated greenhouse, in soilless media trellised to a “V” system (two-stempruned plants) or the “Spanish” system (nonpruned plants) in flat bags or nursery pot containers; and densities of 1.5, 1.9, 3.0, and 3.8 plants/m2 (0.14, 0.18, 0.28, and 0.35 plants/ft2), in a winter-to-summer-crop in Gainesville, Fla. The trellis systems did not affect total marketable fruit yields but production of extra-large fruit was higher (38%) in non-pruned than in pruned plants. Marketable fruit yields were similar in plants grown in bags and pots, and had positive linear responses to increased plant density. Not pruning reduced by half the percentage of fruit with blossom-end rot. Pruned plants produced 50% fewer flower bud supporting nodes than non-pruned plants but had a greater percentage of fruit set. Regardless of trellis systems, fruit set per plant decreased linearly as plant density increased. Overall, the “Spanish” trellis system at a density of 3.8 plants/m2 resulted in greater yields of extra-large fruit and required 75% less labor than the “V” system to prune and support the plant canopy.

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Pepper seedlings can be infested with broad mites prior to transplanting. Transplanted seedlings may not present visible mite damage symptoms and few microscopic mites will be undetected by growers. A rapid increase of the mite population can subsequently result in yield losses in greenhouse-grown crops. Control of broad mites based on biological (N. californicus) and conventional (sulfur) methods were evaluated after infested transplants were introduced into a production greenhouse. Seedlings were artificially infested with two broad mites, 3 days before they were transplanted in mid-September in a passively ventilated greenhouse in Florida. Plants had either two predatory mites released once [4 days after transplanting (DAT)], or twice (4 and 22 DAT), or were sprayed with sulfur (four weekly applications starting 13 DAT when first damage symptoms were noticed). Damage on plants was assessed by an injury scale transformed into percentage values, with 100% being total damage on untreated infested plants. Broad mites were absent in all plants 38 DAT but the damage caused to the plants at this time was negatively correlated (r= –0.95) with marketable yield at 90 DAT. Plants produced no marketable yield where broad mites were not controlled. One or two releases of predators led to respective damages of 56% and 45%, and fruit yields of 2.0 and 3.0 kg·m-2. Plants sprayed with sulfur had a damage of 7% after reaching a maximum of 74% at 18 DAT; however, yields were 4.3 kg·m-2, which was similar to the yield obtained in the uninfested control treatment (4.6 kg·m-2). Releases of predators prior to transplanting and/or higher predator release densities may be needed under similar conditions and will be evaluated in a subsequent experiment.

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The uninterrupted supply of high quality colored peppers to the U.S. is mainly from imports of greenhouse-grown fruits. Average year-round wholesale market price of these imports was $4.80/kg when U.S. field-grown fruit price was $1.60/kg for colored and $0.91/kg for green. High market prices and a suitable environment for growing colored peppers in inexpensive protected structures led to construction of 25 ha of greenhouses currently growing peppers in Florida. Greater demand for specialty vegetable crops, loss of methyl bromide, and an increase in urban sprawl and price of arable land may result in growers considering greenhouses to produce high value peppers. We estimated the profitability of a greenhouse enterprise with a budget analysis and calculated the returns to capital and management. We assumed use of current technology applied in commercial greenhouse crops in Florida, and in experimental crops at the Univ. of Florida. Revenues per square meter were estimated from current yields and historical fruit price data. Plants were grown in perlite in a high-roof polyethylene-covered greenhouse (0.78 ha) located in north central Florida. Transplanting occurred in August and fruits were harvested from November to May for a yield of 13 kg·m-2 with a total cost of production of $41.09 and an estimated return of $17.89. The return on investment was 17%. Only yields greater than 7.8 kg·m-2 generated positive returns using the average wholesale fruit price during the season ($5.29/kg). For this price, a range of possible yields (5–17 kg·m-2) led to returns ranging from $–9.52 to $30.84, respectively. The estimates indicated that production of greenhouse-grown peppers could represent a viable production alternative for Florida vegetable growers.

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Frequent fertigation of soilless-grown bell pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) can increase fruit production, but development of fruit disorders may offset the increase in yield of first-quality (blemish-free) fruit in greenhouses with minimal environmental control. Fruit yield and quality were studied as affected by water volumes and nutrient concentration levels, delivered with irrigation events initiated after determined cumulative solar radiation levels, in ‘HA3378’ bell pepper from October to May in north–central Florida. Irrigation events occurred after solar radiation integral levels (SRI; ±SD) 1.7 ± 0.42, 3.7 ± 0.42, 5.7 ± 0.42, 7.7 ± 0.42, and 9.7 ± 0.42 kW·min−1·m−2, which led to mean number of daily irrigation events of 61 ± 31, 26 ± 12, 17 ± 8, 12 ± 5, and 10 ± 4 respectively. In peat mix, perlite, and pine bark media, volume per irrigation event and concentration levels of the nutrient solution were, in the first experiment, 74 mL standard (74-s), and in a second concurrent experiment, 74 mL half-standard (74-½s) or 3) 37 mL standard (37-s). In both studies, combined marketable fruit yields of first quality and second quality (minor cracking patterns and yellow spots) increased linearly with decreasing SRI (increased events per day). First-quality fruit weight with 74-s was unaffected by media and, in a quadratic response to SRI, reached 5.4 kg·m−2 at 5.7 kW·min−1·m−2. First-quality weight with 74-½s and 37-s did not differ. Weight was unaffected by SRI in peat mix and perlite, and a quadratic response was recorded in pine bark, with yields of ≤3.6 kg·m−2. Fruit cracking incidence decreased with increased SRI, and was generally greater in pine bark. Incidence of yellow spots doubled with 74-½s compared with 37-s, and decreased linearly with increased SRI; the disorder was minor with 74-s. Compared with 37-s, 74-½s decreased fruit with blossom-end rot by 14%, increased marketable fruit weight by 10% in media with the lowest water-holding capacity (perlite, pine bark), and increased nutrient use efficiency. With any media used, the SRI set point of 5.7 kW·min−1·m−2 (daily mean of 17 irrigation events) and 74 mL, at standard nutrient concentration levels, appeared to produce greater blemish-free fruit yield than delivering 37 mL/event or half-concentrated 74 mL/event within the range of SRI means of 1.7 to 9.7 kW·min−1·m−2 (61–10 irrigation events/day). Disorder-tolerant pepper cultivars, better temperature control, and August plantings are additional suggestions for irrigation management to increase first-quality fruit yield.

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The increase in U.S. demand for colored bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) has been satisfied with increased supplies from imports and increased domestic production. Greenhouse-grown peppers of red, orange, and yellow colors were imported during the period 1993–2002 at wholesale fruit market prices that were three to five times greater than field-grown fruits. With high market prices and a suitable environment for growing colored peppers under inexpensive greenhouse structures [<$40/m2 ($3.7/ft2)], up to 14 ha (34.6 acres) of greenhouses produced bell peppers in Florida in the year 2002. To estimate the profitability of a bell pepper greenhouse enterprise, a budget analysis was used to calculate the returns to capital and management. Production costs of greenhouse-grown peppers were estimated assuming the use of current technology applied in commercial greenhouse crops in Florida and in experimental crops at the University of Florida. Production assumptions included a crop of nonpruned plants grown in soilless media in a highroof polyethylene-covered greenhouse [0.78 ha (1.927 acres)] located in north-central Florida. For a fruit yield of 13 kg·m–2 (2.7 lb/ft2), the total cost of production was $41.09/m2 ($3.82/ft2), the estimated return was $17.89/m2 ($1.66/ft2), and the return over investment was 17.1%. A sensitivity analysis indicated that fruit yields should be greater than 7.8 kg·m–2 (1.60 lb/ft2) in order to generate positive returns based on a season average wholesale fruit price of $5.29/kg ($2.40/lb). For this price, a range of possible fruit yields [5–17 kg·m–2 (1.0–3.5 lb/ft2)] led to returns ranging from –$9.52 to 30.84/m2 (–$0.88 to 2.87/ft2), respectively. The estimates indicate that production of greenhouse-grown peppers could represent a viable vegetable production alternative for Florida growers.

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