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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Four experiments were conducted with six liming materials of different particle sizes and six commercially available blended preplant nutrient charge (PNC) materials in the laboratory and in container culture with subirrigation for durations up to twenty-eight days. Liming material, particle size, and incorporation rate affected both the initial and final stable pH of one type of peat without an incorporated PNC. Saturated media extract (SME) Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations were below the acceptable recommended concentrations for both pulverized and superfine dolomitic lime at incorporation rates up to 7.2 kg·m-3. For the blended PNC materials, initial N, P, K+, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations for five of the six PNC materials were at or above the optimal concentrations recommended for an SME, but did not remain persistent in the root zone. A large percentage of all nutrients tested moved from the root zone into the top 3 cm (top layer) of the pot within two days after planting. Nutrient concentrations in the top layer continued to increase even when nutrient concentrations in the root zone fell below acceptable levels for an SME. The importance of this fertilizer salt stratification within the pot lies in the reduced availability of nutrients to the plant.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Hybrid impatiens were grown in 15 cm pots containing one of six root medium. After seven weeks, plant available water holding capacity (AWHC) was measured as the difference between the drained weight of the plant and pot after a one hour saturation and the weight of the pot when the plant wilted. Water absorption potential (WAP) was calculated as the capacity of each root medium to absorb applied irrigation water up to the AWHC and was measured at two moisture levels with top watering (two leaching fractions), drip irrigation (two leaching fractions) and flood subirrigation. Top watering moist media (initial AWHC = 35%) with leaching fractions of 30+ % was me most efficient method of rewetting media and was the only irrigation method tested to obtain WAP's of 100%. In comparison, flood subirrigation was the least efficient method of rewetting media with WAP of 27% for dry media (initial AWHC = 0%), and obtained a total WAP of 55% for moist media (initial AWHC = 23%). In media comparisons, the incorporation of a wetting agent into a 70% peat/30% bark mix at planting increased the WAP compared to the same media without a wetting agent with nine of the ten irrigation treatments.

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Mark V. Yelanich and John A. Biernbaum

The evaporation of water is a major source of water loss from potted plants which can be eliminated by placing a barrier at the exposed surface of media in the pot. To better understand the effect of reducing surface evaporation on growth and media nutrient concentration, 15 cm subirrigated poinsettias were produced with and without a pot cover. Both treatments received the same quantity of fertilizer, 75 mg·week-1 N for a total of 13 fertilizations. Uncovered pots received 12 more irrigations than pots with covers (20 vs. 32). Sixteen weeks after planting, covered plants had significantly less leaf area (2175 vs 2628 cm2), bract area (1655 vs 2137 cm2), height (24.1 vs 27.6 cm), fresh mass (116 vs 144 g) and dry mass (17 vs 20 g) than uncovered plants. Concentrations of N, P, K, Ca and Mg and EC (4.23 vs 2.65 mS·cm-1) were higher in the root-zone of covered plants than in uncovered plant. Covering the media surface did reduce the EC and the concentrations of N, P, K, Ca and Mg in the top layer (eg 13.47 mS·cm-1 vs 15.74 mS·cm-1) but stratification of salts to the top layer still occurred. Fertilizer salts in the top layer were shown to be less available to the plant than those in the root zone.

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Mark V. Yelanich and John A. Biernbaum

A model constructed to describe nitrogen dynamics in the root zone of subirrigated container-grown chrysanthemum was used to develop and test nitrogen fertilization strategies. The model predicts the nitrogen concentration in the root zone by numerical integration of the rates of nitrogen applied, plant nitrogen uptake, and nitrogen movement to the medium top layer. The three strategies tested were constant liquid N fertilization, proportional derivative control (PD) based upon weekly saturated medium extraction (SME) tests, or PD control based upon daily SME tests. The optimal concentration of N to apply using a single fertilization concentration was 14 mol·m–3, but resulted in greater quantities of N being applied than if PD controller strategies were used. The PD controllers were better able to maintain the predicted SME concentration within 7 to 14 mol·m–3 optimal range and reduce the overall sample variability over time. Applying 14 mol·m–3 N at every irrigation was found to be an adequate fertilization strategy over a wide range of environmental conditions because N was applied in excess of what was needed by the plant.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Impatiens were planted into peat-based media containing two dolomitic liming materials [Ca(OH)2·Mg(OH)2 at 1.8 kg·m–3 or CaCO3·MgCO3 at 8.4 kg·m–3] and subirrigated for 17 weeks using four irrigation water qualities (IWQ) with varied alkalinity, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content and three water-soluble fertilizers (WSF) with varied NH4:NO3 ratio, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content. After 8 weeks, medium pH ranged from 4.5 to 8.5. Lime type did not affect the long-term increase in medium pH, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations with IWQ/WSF solutions containing low NH4-N and high Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations. The carbonate lime did buffer the medium pH, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations with IWQ/WSF solutions containing high NH4-N and low Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations. With both lime types, there was a linear increase in tissue Ca and Mg as the applied concentrations increased from 0.5 to 4.0 mol·m–3 Ca2+ and 0.3 to 3.0 mol·m–3 Mg2+ with the various IWQ/WSF. The relationship was similar for both lime types up to week 8, after which tissue Ca and Mg decreased with the hydrated lime and low solution Ca2+ and Mg2+. Relationships were also developed between the applied SO4-S concentration and tissue S and medium pH and tissue P.

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John A. Biernbaum, Mathieu Ngouajio and Laurie Thorp

How do you teach community supported agriculture (CSA) principles, small-scale organic farming, and local food issues at a major land grant university and develop related small-scale farming research and outreach? You create a place and opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to work together with the soil and plants to raise food in a non-classroom farm setting. After several years of discussion and obtaining funding, the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) CSA started in May 2003 with 25 memberships and increased to 50 after 1 year. The farm allows experiential learning of CSA management, crop selection, scheduling, maintenance, harvest, and organic farming methods. The CSA helps many MSU students and faculty see the value of supporting local organic food systems. With more than 3 years of experience working with students to run the SOF and the CSA, we are in the process of developing an organic farming certificate program. A total of 40 credits will include 12 months on campus plus a 16-week on-farm internship. The program has three major components: 1) organic farming courses with seven one-credit courses; 2) horticultural crop production courses with eight courses for a total of 15 credits; and 3) approximately 20 credits of experiential course work combined with classroom and independent learning.

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Mark V. Yelanich and John A. Biernbaum

A model was constructed to dynamically simulate how the nitrogen concentration changes in the root zone of a pot grown chrysanthemum. The root zone concentration of nitrogen is predicted at any time during the crop by predicting the root zone contents of nitrogen and water. The root zone content of nitrogen is predicted by integrating the rates of nitrogen applied, taken up by the plant and entering the top layer of the pot. The root zone water content is predicted by integrating the rates of water applied, evaporated from the media surface and transpired by the plant. Simple models were constructed to predict the various rate processes. For example the rate of nitrogen uptake was modeled as a function of the dry mass accumulation and was broken down into demands of nitrogen by the plant for maintenance of the current dry mass and for support of new growth. Dry mass accumulation was modeled as a function of the amount of PPF which could be intercepted by the plant. The model was validated using plants grown in growth chambers and greenhouses at various PPF levels and fertilizer concentrations. The model will be used to test the risks involved in using various fertilizer strategies and to develop more efficient fertilization strategies.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

`V-14 Glory' poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch) were grown in five root media using top watering with 20% leaching for 112 days. Root media with a high water-holding capacity required fewer irrigations and fertilizer applications than those with a lower water-holding capacity. However, similar amounts of water were applied and leached with both types of root media over the entire experiment. The reduction in the number of fertilizations was compensated for by an increase in the amount (volume) of fertilizer applied at any one irrigation. The greatest differences in root-media nutrient concentrations were found between the top 2.5 cm (top layer) and the remaining root medium within the same pot (root zone). After 58 days, when fertilization with water-soluble fertilizer (28.6N–0P–8.5K mol·m–3) was stopped, nutrient concentrations in the top layer were 3 to 6 times greater than those in the root zone for all five root media tested. For the final 42 days of the experiment after fertilization was stopped, nutrient concentrations in the root zone remained at acceptable levels in all root media. The nutrients contained in the top layer may have provided a source of nutrients for the root zone once fertilization was stopped.

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Mark V. Yelanich and John A. Biernbaum

The influence of fertilizer concentration and leaching volume on the quantity of applied N and water that were leached from a container-grown poinsettia crop (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd.) was investigated. The NO3-N quantity leached after 71 days increased with higher NO3-N application rates (7, 14, or 28 mol NO3-N/m3) and higher leaching volumes; it ranged from 0.03 g NO3-N [7 mol·m-3, 0.00 container capacity leached (CCL)] to 7.65 g NO3-N (28 mol·m-3, 1.0 CCL). The NO3-N concentration for saturated media extracts increased with lower leaching volumes and higher fertilizer concentrations. For example, when 7 mol NO3-N/m3 was applied, NO3-N in the medium was 27.1 mol NO3-N/m3 when 0 CCL was used, but it was 8.6 mol NO3-N/m3 when 1.0 CCL was used. Shoot height and dry mass were not affected by the treatments. Leaching treatments also did not influenced leaf area, but leaf area was larger at 7 compared to 14 or 28 mol NO3-N/m3.