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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez

Use of shading nets helps ameliorate heat stress of vegetable crops. This study evaluated the effects of shade level on microenvironment, plant growth, leaf gas exchange, and mineral nutrient content of field-grown bell pepper crop. Bell pepper cultivars Camelot, Lafayette, Sirius, and Stiletto were grown at 0%, 30%, 47%, 62%, and 80% shade levels. Photosynthetically active radiation and air, leaf, and root zone temperatures decreased as shade level increased. Despite having increased plant leaf area, there was increased soil water content with increased shade level, indicating reduced soil water use. With increased shade level, the total plant leaf area, individual leaf area, and individual leaf weight increased, whereas leaf number per plant and specific leaf weight decreased. In contrast to non-normalized chlorophyll index (CI) values, CI normalized by specific leaf weight were related to leaf nitrogen (N) and increased with increased shade level. Net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance (g S) decreased and leaf transpiration increased with increased shade level, particularly above 47% shade level. Leaf concentrations of N, potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), sulfur (S), aluminum (Al), and boron (B) increased with increased shade level. Relatively few differences in plant growth, leaf gas exchange, and leaf mineral nutrient concentrations were observed among cultivars. In conclusion, morphological changes such as taller plants and thinner and larger leaves likely enhanced light capture under shaded conditions compared with unshaded plants. High shade levels reduced leaf temperature and excessive leaf transpiration but resulted in reduced leaf photosynthesis. Thus, moderate shade levels (30% and 47%) were the most favorable for bell pepper plant growth and function.

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez

High temperatures can be detrimental to bell pepper, resulting in reduced fruit yield and increased incidences of fruit disorders such as sunscald and blossom-end rot. Shade nets are used to modify the crop microenvironment to improve plant growth and yield. The objectives were to evaluate effects of shade level on fruit yield, quality, and postharvest attributes and the incidence of Phytophthora blight (caused by Phytophthora capsici Leon.) in bell pepper (Capsicum annum L.). Experiments were conducted in Tifton, GA, in 2008 (with cv. Heritage) and 2009 and 2010 (with cvs. Camelot, Lafayette, Sirius, and Stiletto). Bell pepper plants were grown under shade levels of 0% (unshaded, as a control), 30%, 47%, 63%, and 80%. Shade level affected fruit yield, quality, postharvest attributes, and incidence of Phytophthora blight in plants. Total marketable (Fancy and US1) fruit yield increased with increasing shade level to a maximum at 35% shade and then decreased with further increments in shade level. Relative to unshaded plants, marketable yields were improved by 119% (2008) and 43% (2009 and 2010) at 35% shade level. US2 and cull (sunscald) fruit number declined with increasing shade level. ‘Camelot’ produced among the greatest number and yield of marketable fruit; ‘Sirius’ had the heaviest fruit and greatest number of culls. Fruit nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) concentrations increased and aluminum (Al), molybdenum (Mo), and nickel (Ni) decreased with increasing shade level. ‘Lafayette’ had the highest fruit concentration of N, calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), manganese (Mn), and zinc (Zn). Fruit soluble solids and percent of fruit dry weight decreased with increasing shade level; fruit water loss rate and bacterial soft rot incidence were unaffected. Fruit skin a* and b* values decreased in yellow fruit cultivars (‘Lafayette’ and ‘Sirius’) with increased shade level. Incidences of Phytophthora blight in plants and fruit sunscald decreased with shade level. Beneficial effects of shading on bell pepper were associated with a reduction in irradiation, air temperature, and soil temperature under shaded conditions resulting in amelioration of heat stress in the plants. Optimal shade level for maximal fruit yield was that which maximized the cooling effect resulting from reduction of infrared (IR) radiation and minimized the decrease in net photosynthesis resulting from reduction in photosynthetically active radiation (PAR).

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez

Plastic mulches are widely used for the production of vegetables. There are numerous studies on the use of plastic mulches for peppers, although relatively few have focused on the microenvironmental and physiological impacts of plastic mulches on bell pepper. The objectives were to determine the effects of plastic film mulches on root zone temperature (RZT), soil water status, incidence of thrips and Tomato spotted wilt (TSW), plant growth, gas exchange, accumulation of mineral nutrients, and fruit yield in bell pepper. The study was conducted in Tifton, GA, in the Fall of 2002 and the Spring of 2003 using eight colored plastic mulches. Plastic mulch color influenced the microenvironmental, physiological, and yield responses of bell pepper plants. Plastic film mulches differed in their soil-warming ability with RZTs in both spring and fall being highest in black mulches and lowest in silver mulches. The percentage of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) reflected from the mulches was highest in silver mulches and lowest in black mulches. The mean RZT under the plastic mulch decreased with increasing percentages of reflected PAR. The number of thrips per flower and the incidence of TSW in mature plants were not significantly different among plastic mulch treatments. The number of thrips per flower had no relationship with the percentage of reflected PAR or with RZT. Plastic mulch treatments had no significant effect on soil water status. Neither soil water content nor soil water potential had a relationship with RZT. In the fall season, during the first 28 days after transplanting, plant growth attributes were among the highest in silver mulches and the lowest in black mulches. Gas exchange and accumulation of mineral nutrients in the leaves and the fruit were not significantly affected by plastic mulches. Both marketable and total yields were higher on silver mulches and lowest on black mulch in the fall, whereas they were in general higher on silver with a black strip mulch and lowest on white and silver1 mulches in the spring. The reduced plant growth and fruit yields in black mulches during the fall were probably the result of the increased RZTs, and thus higher heat accumulation, that resulted in higher plant heat stress conditions compared with silver and white mulches. Fruit yield decreased with mean seasonal RZTs above 27.5 °C. The optimal range of RZT for bell pepper fruit yield was computed to be 25 to 27.5 °C or less.

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Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez and Kenneth Shackel

Tomato fruits showed diurnal fluctuations in size in addition to long-term irreversible enlargement. Diurnal fluctuations were highly related to the stage of fruit development. In all stages, the maximum relative growth rate occurred in the morning and the minimum RGR at midday. Midday depression of RGR became more severe as fruits developed. In young fruits, RGR was nearly constant over the day. A small depression in growth was observed only at midday. In more developed fruits, RGR was positive during the first half of the day, followed by near zero values in the afternoon, and a. recovery in early night. In mature fruits, overall fruit growth was minimum and RGR was positive only in the morning. Fruit shrinkage was often seen at midday in mature fruits.

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez and James E. Hook

Bell pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) plants have a high demand for water and nutrients. Water stress on bell pepper is associated with reduced yields and incidence of blossom-end rot (BER). High irrigation rates are commonly applied to maximize yields. Excessive irrigation rates, however, may negatively affect bell pepper plants. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of irrigation rates and calcium fertilization on plant growth and fruit yield and quality. Trials were conducted in the spring of 2001, 2003, and 2005 at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus. Drip-irrigated bell pepper (‘Camelot’ or ‘Stiletto’) plants were grown on black plastic mulch. Plants were irrigated with rates that ranged from 33% to 167% of the rate of crop evapotranspiration (ETc). Results showed that irrigation at 70% ETc (2001), 67% ETc (2003), and 50% ETc (2003) were sufficient to maximize vegetative growth and fruit yield and provided yields similar to those at 100% ETc. Leaf net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance (g S) were reduced, and incidence of BER was increased with reduced irrigation rates (33% and 67% ETc). Incidences of soilborne diseases (Pythium spp. and Phytophtora capsici) tended to increase in plants receiving excessive irrigation rates (167% ETc). Irrigation rate also affected fruit quality; incidence of BER and fruit soluble solids were both increased at 33% ETc. Calcium fertilization had no effect on soil water content (SWC), plant growth, and incidence of soilborne diseases, and an inconsistent effect on fruit yield and incidence of BER. In conclusion, there is potential for use of irrigation at rates below 100% ETc. Reduced irrigation diminished the volumes of water applied and provided fruit yields similar to those at 100% ETc. Excessive irrigation rates (167% ETc or above) wasted water and resulted in both higher incidences of soilborne diseases and reduced bell pepper yields.

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez and Erick Smith

The Dominican Republic is located in the Hispaniola Island in the Caribbean region. Its climate differs substantially over short distances and is the most diverse of the Caribbean. Annual average temperature is 25 °C, ranging from 18 °C (at higher elevations) to 28 °C (at sea level). Average annual rainfall is 1500 mm. Although sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco are the principal cash crops of the country, peppers are increasing in popularity on the country’s exportation market. Bell peppers grown in high tunnels and greenhouses may be impacted by high temperatures that result in reduced fruit yield and quality. In this article, we make a short review of cooling techniques for high tunnels and share the experience of training bell pepper growers and extension personnel from the Dominican Republic regions of San José de Ocoa and Constanza on how to manage heat stress of bell peppers grown inside high tunnels. Bell pepper plants inside high tunnels showed symptoms of heat stress, including reduced plant and fruit size, small fruit number, and a mild leaf chlorosis. In both regions, but particularly in the warmer region, San José Ocoa, because of occurrences of high temperatures inside the high tunnels, growers were advised to use well-ventilated high tunnels, such as structures with plastic film on the top and screen net on the sides. Other strategies such as shade nets (30% to 40% shade) placed on top of the high tunnel or whitewash paint applied on the high tunnel cover may also help reduce air and soil temperatures inside the tunnel. Use of white or silver reflective mulch, instead of the commonly used black mulch, may provide additional reduction of soil temperature. In conclusion, high tunnel structures developed for temperate regions, with limited to poor ventilation, may result in excessively high temperatures inside the high tunnels and thus were not recommended for the Dominican Republic regions of this study. More research is necessary on adequate high tunnel design and cooling techniques for high tunnel production, particularly in tropical regions.

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez and Touria E. Eaton

Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) is an increasingly popular crop in the United States. In the southeastern United States, eggplant is often produced with high levels of irrigation water [above the rate of crop evapotranspiration (ETc)], resulting in water waste and nitrogen (N) leaching. The objective of this research was to assess the effects of irrigation rate on plant growth and fruit yield in eggplant. The study was conducted in Tifton, GA, in the fall of 2010 and 2011. Eggplant plants cv. Santana were grown on raised beds (1.8 m centers) covered with white plastic film mulch. There was a single drip tape along the center of the bed. The design was a randomized complete block with five treatments and four replications. Treatments consisted of irrigation rates based on ETc (33%, 67%, 100%, 133%, and 167% ETc). Plant growth, chlorophyll index (CI), and volumetric soil water content (SWC) were monitored over the season. In 2010, SWC (0–30 cm deep) increased and soil nitrate levels decreased with increasing irrigation rates. Foliar N and potassium (K), and CI decreased with increasing irrigation rate, probably due to a dilution effect. Stem diameter, leaf dry weight (DW), and vegetative top DW increased with increasing irrigation rate. Net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance (g S) were lowest at 33% ETc. Fruit number and fruit yields (marketable and total) were also lowest at 33% ETc and there were little yield differences among irrigation rates higher than 33% ETc. In 2011, irrigation rate had minor or no effect on SWC, plant growth of mature plants, leaf gas exchange, and fruit number and yield. The no treatment effect observed for eggplant in 2011 was likely because study was conducted in a low field that remained moist most of the time, nullifying the treatment effects. Results suggested that eggplant may tolerate mild water stress, since plants irrigated at 67% ETc produced fruit yields similar to those of plants irrigated at 100% ETc or higher rates. Thus, there is a potential to save water by reducing current irrigation rates without negatively impacting fruit yields.

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Harwinder Singh Sidhu, Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez and Daniel MacLean

Controlled atmosphere (CA) storage has been observed to prolong the shelf life of fresh produce. The objective of this study was to determine whether CA storage performed better than regular air (RA) storage in maintaining fruit quality of six pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) cultivars grown in the state of Georgia. Pomegranate fruit produced in Ty Ty, GA in 2010 and 2011 were stored in CA [5% CO2 + 3% O2, 5 °C, 90% to 95% relative humidity (RH)] or RA (5 °C, 90% to 95% RH) for 3 months. Pomegranate whole fruit and juice were evaluated for various physical and chemical attributes at the end of storage. Fruit differed by cultivar for rind smoothness, fruit cracking, disease incidence, and chilling injury (CI). Fruit stored in CA had a smoother and less shriveled rind, lower CI, fewer disease severity symptoms, and thus better quality than fruit stored in RA. Fruit rind color, total soluble solids (TSS), titratable acidity (TA), and anthocyanin content in fruit juice were unaffected by storage method. The results showed that pomegranate fruit quality was better sustained under CA compared with RA storage.

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Juan Carlos Díaz-Pérez, Jesús Bautista, Anthony Bateman, Guna Gunawati and Cliff Riner

‘Vidalia’ onions are sweet, short day, low pungency, yellow Granex-type bulbs that are popular in the United States. The relationships of sweet onion bulb yield and quality with potassium (K) and sulfur (S) concentrations are not fully understood. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of K and S fertilization rates on sweet onion plant growth and bulb yield and quality. Experiments were conducted at the Horticulture Farm, Tifton Campus, University of Georgia, in the Winters of 2012–13 and 2013–14. The experiment had five treatments (K/S rates: 56/80, 112/126, 168/172, 224/218, and 280/264 kg·ha−1 of K and S, respectively). K/S rates had no effect on onion biomass of roots, bulbs, and shoots during the growing season. Marketable and total number and weight of onion bulbs and individual bulb weight were also unaffected by K/S rate. Incidences of bolting, double bulbs, Botrytis leaf blight (Botrytis cinerea), and sour skin (Burkholderia cepacia), and bulb dry weight, soluble solids content (SSC), and pungency (pyruvate concentration) were unaffected by K/S rates. In conclusion, K/S rates had little effect on plant growth and bulb yield and quality. The lack of response of onion plants to K/S rates, even at the lowest rate suggests that some of the K absorbed by plants originated from K already present in the soil before planting. The average K content of sweet onion whole plants was 80 kg·ha−1 K. Thus, under our experimental conditions, application of K rates above the recommended value (84 kg·ha−1 K) are unnecessary and will likely not improve plant growth, yield, or quality. Regarding S, rates higher than 80 kg·ha−1 S are probably unnecessary and will not enhance either plant growth or bulb yield or quality of sweet onion.

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Juan Carlos Diaz-Perez, W. Keith Jenkins, Dharmalingam Pitchay and Gunawati Gunawan

There is limited information on the effect of organic fertilizers on seed germination and subsequent transplant growth. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of application rate of blood meal (BM) and feather meal (FM) fertilizers on germination of tomato seeds. Both organic fertilizers were applied as amendments to peat-based organic substrates at rates ranging from 0 to over 50 g·kg−1 N. Tomato ‘Brandywine’ seed were sown in trays. Seed germination was recorded daily until the germination percentage remained unchanged. Ammonia concentration in the substrates (Pro-Mix and Miracle-Gro) increased with increasing rate of substrate N concentration. Ammonia concentration also increased with increasing time after incorporation of BM and FM reaching maximum values (16 ppm) at day 9. Tomato seed germination was little affected at BM and FM rates lower than ≈3 g·kg−1 N (4% w/w for BM or FM), but declined above 3 g·kg−1 N reaching 0% germination rate at ≈14 g·kg−1 N for both BM and FM. Substrates pH was 5.9 in the absence of BM or FM and increased to about pH 7 with addition of low rates of BM (2.7 g·kg−1 N) and FM (2.6 g·kg−1 N). Substrate electrical conductivity (EC) increased with increasing substrate N concentration as supplied by BM and FM; FM, however, had a stronger effect on increasing EC compared with BM. In conclusion, BM and FM had inhibitory effects on tomato seed germination when applied at more than 3 g·kg−1 N (4% w/w for BM or FM). High ammonia concentration in the substrates for the first 2 weeks after incorporation of BM or FM likely caused, at least partially, inhibition of tomato seed germination. Thus, substrate mixed with BM or FM should be allowed to incubate for at least 2 weeks before planting tomato seed.