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Isidro Morales and Miguel Urrestarazu

In recent decades, salinity in the culture of tomatoes has been one of the most studied parameters. This study aimed to evaluate the effect of a moderate increase in salinity, fertigation distribution, and its control using thermography on a soilless culture of grafted tomato. A tomato crop (cv. Ramyle) grafted onto tomato rootstocks (cv. Emperor) was cultivated in coir crop units at the University of Almeria from Nov. 2012 to May 2013. A plot design subdivided with four blocks was used, with salinity values of 2.0 and 2.5 dS·m−1 in the main plots and fertigation distribution systems with either one (DD1) or four (DD4) drip manifolds in the subplots. The crop productivity was measured using total crop yield, commercial value, and size. The quality parameters in the fruits were not significantly affected. Thermographies were used to aid the control of differential transpiration exerted by salinity. The difference in salinity did not significantly affect the total or commercial production. However, despite being grafted plants, there was a statistically significant effect (P ≤ 0.05) on the fruit size distribution when the electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution was increased from 2.0 to 2.5 dS·m−1, with a lower production (16%) of large fruits and an increased production of smaller fruits. The DD4 system significantly increased large tomato production (22%) compared with DD1, and the quality parameters in the fruits were not significantly affected. As a result of the improvement in tomato size, the DD4 distribution system economically offset the required higher initial expenditure compared with the DD1 system. Thermography was revealed to be a robust, simple, and quick tool for diagnosing the effect of salinity on transpiration.

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Judith Pozo, Miguel Urrestarazu, Isidro Morales, Jessica Sánchez, Milagrosa Santos, Fernando Dianez, and Juan E. Álvaro

The silicon (Si) percentage in the dry matter of plants is between 0.1% and 10%, and even though its role in the metabolism of plants is not absolutely clear, Si’s positive effects on plant nutrition and plant protection against both biotic and abiotic stress are well documented. However, Si is not considered to be an essential element, so it is not always present in nutrient solutions. In this paper, an experiment was carried out in the University of Almeria’s greenhouse with hydroponic lettuce, tomato, pepper, melon, and cucumber plants. A standard nutrient solution was used as a control sample and was fertigated with Si. During the four-true-leaf seedling stage, various plant growth parameters were measured, including the dry weight and the wet weight as well as the foliar surface and the cuticle thickness of both the leaf and the stem. Additionally, in the lettuce, tomato, and pepper plants, the effect of the use of Si in the nutrient solution on the protection against the pathogen Botrytis cinerea was determined by measuring the penetration of the pathogen through the cuticle and the extension of the fungal infection by using leaf discs. The results suggest that all of the studied parameters, and both the cuticle thickness and the epidermis thickness, were increased by more than 10% on average for all of the plants. In the lettuce, tomato, and pepper plants, a beneficial effect against B. cinerea was observed when the nutrient solution containing Si was used.

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Tatiana Pagan Loeiro da Cunha-Chiamolera, Miguel Urrestarazu, Arthur Bernardes Cecílio Filho, and Isidro Morales

An intercrop is studied here as a new way of farming in soilless systems within a protected environment. To estimate the efficiency of intercropping in this cultivation system, an experiment was conducted to evaluate the effect of the electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution (2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 dS·m−1) on lettuce and tomato plants and on the agronomic and economic feasibility of the intercrop compared with monoculture. The results indicated that a moderate increase in EC from 2.0 to 3.0 dS·m−1 did not exert any important effect on tomato plant production or quality but did cause a decrease in lettuce yield in both the first and second crops. Intercropping was only feasible for lettuce when the tomato and lettuce plants were transplanted on the same day. The highest tomato (G class) and lettuce yields were achieved at an EC of 2.5 dS·m−1; this condition resulted in the highest intercrop profitability (0.53 €·m−2 more) when compared with tomato monoculture.

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Miguel Urrestarazu, Isidro Morales, Tommaso La Malfa, Ruben Checa, Anderson F. Wamser, and Juan E. Álvaro

The management of water and nutrient ions, such as nitrate, has been studied extensively in recent decades. Increasingly efficient models have been developed for the use of water and nutrients through the automation of fertigation techniques. The application of a fertigation volume for a duration four times longer than applied on the control was evaluated. In Almería (Spain), one pepper crop and two tomato crops—with and without grafting—were grown between Oct. 2013 and June 2014 in a soilless system with a coir substrate. The effects on root growth, plant growth, production, and quality were measured. The following parameters for the fertigation of the nutrient solution and drainage were recorded: % drainage volume, electrical conductivity (EC) of the nutrient solution, pH, and concentration of nitrates and potassium. The absorption of potassium and nitrate, and the nitrate emissions of the drainage were estimated. The results showed an increase in the root volume and an improved distribution in the cultivation unit for the treatment application in the pepper crop. Slowing the applied fertigation improved the absorption of water and nitrates, and the production in the ungrafted tomato and pepper crops, while the grafted tomato crop was unaffected. Nitrate emissions were lower in the evaluated treatment of the pepper and ungrafted tomato crops. The fruit quality parameters were unaffected.

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Isidro Morales, Gabino Alberto Martínez-Gutiérrez, Cirenio Escamirosa-Tinoco, Cinthia Nájera, Tatiana Pagan Loeiro da Cunha-Chiamolera, and Miguel Urrestarazu

The use of colored shade nets is a method to protect plants from direct solar radiation and optimize the light spectra they transmit. The purpose of this work was to evaluate the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), the photosynthetically active integrated radiation (IPAR), temperature, relative humidity, growth, production, and fruit quality of Physalis ixocarpa variety Tecozautla, cultivated under nets generating 60% shade in the colors beige, blue, green, red, and black and under a treatment without netting (control group). Different variables were observed: climatic variables, such as radiation, temperature, and relative humidity; growth variables, such as plant height and stem diameter; production variables, such as number, weight, and caliber of the fruit; and quality variables of the fruit, such as pH and total soluble solids. The highest PAR, IPAR, and temperature and lowest relative humidity were obtained in the absence of netting. The white net resulted in the highest PAR and IPAR but no difference in temperature or relative humidity. In addition, an increase in the height, stem diameter, number of branches, and weight, number, and size of the fruit was observed. The white net resulted in the highest yield: 88% higher than in the control group. The pH of the fruit was significantly higher under the white netting, and no differences among the treatments in terms of the content of total soluble solids were found.

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Judith Pozo, Juan E. Álvaro, Isidro Morales, Josefa Requena, Tommaso La Malfa, Pilar C. Mazuela, and Miguel Urrestarazu

Volcanic rock has been used for decades as a horticultural substrate worldwide. In Spain, the use of this material as a substrate is ancient; it was initially used in the Canary Islands because of its volcanic geological origin. At the University of Almería (Almería, Spain), three independent vegetable crops were grown under greenhouse conditions: sweet pepper, tomato, and melon. The volcanic rock came from a location in the geographic center of Spain, which facilitated logistics. Bags of volcanic rock (25 L) were used and were compared with a commercial coconut fiber substrate of an equal volume. All physical, physical–chemical, and chemical parameters of the volcanic rock were determined using European standard analytical procedures. Fertigation was applied, independently adapted to the physical, physical–chemical, and chemical characteristics of each substrate. The cultures were performed under a randomized complete block experimental design. Fertigation parameters, pollutant emissions, fruit production, and the quality of each culture were measured. The results showed that the assessed parameters of the volcanic rock substrate are not a limiting factor for its use as a horticultural substrate. The resultant production and quality were very similar among the three crops compared with a widely used commercial control. Therefore, volcanic rock emerges as a local, sustainable alternative to be used for soilless crop cultivation.

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Lucia Armin Langlé-Argüello, Gabino Alberto Martínez-Gutiérrez, Patricia Araceli Santiago-García, Cirenio Escamirosa-Tinoco, Isidro Morales, and José Raymundo Enríquez-del-Valle

The Agave potatorum Zucc. is a wild species endemic to Oaxaca and Puebla, Mexico. The stem or “head” of the plants of this species contains a large amount of fructans, which, in conjunction with their crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), helps the agave to survive droughts. The soluble carbohydrates are used to produce mezcal. The objective was to evaluate growth and content of fructans of A. potatorum young plants grown in soil and perlite substrate, fertigated with three nutrient solutions, and subjected to drought. Eight-month-old plants were used and, for 15 months, were fertigated with nutrient solutions: 1) Steiner, 2) Hoagland and Arnon, and 3) Urrestarazu. Irrigation was later suspended to simulate a 5-month drought and induce stress. During fertigation, the vegetative growth was greater in plants irrigated with Hoagland and Arnon and Urrestarazu solutions in perlite and in soil. After the period of water deficit stress, plants in perlite substrate fertigated with the Hoagland and Arnon solution accumulated more fructans in the heads, reaching a maximum of 75%, than plants in soil substrate (42%).