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  • Author or Editor: Kathryn K. Fontenot x
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Home gardeners living in areas with alkaline water sources do not have easy or economically affordable means of acidifying irrigation water for vegetable production. One solution for achieving optimal vegetable yields using alkaline irrigation water is to grow the vegetables in a modified medium. To date, no medium on the retail market suits such growing needs. Therefore, medium recipes with varied levels (0, 4, or 8 lb/yard3) and sources of calcium [dolomitic lime, calcium sulfate (CaSO4)] and magnesium [dolomitic lime, magnesium sulfate (MgSO4)] were tested using an alkaline irrigation on ‘Oakleaf’ lettuce (Lactuca sativa), ‘Earliana’ and ‘Salad Delight’ cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), and ‘Snow Crown’ cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis) crops. Additionally, crops were grown in two environments, under a high tunnel and on a nursery yard. High tunnel and nursery yard sites were used to test media performances in the presence of, and eliminating, rainwater to simulate container-grown vegetables growing in both a home garden situation and a commercial greenhouse production situation. The base mix of all media treatments in the study was 80 bark : 20 peat and fertilized with 12 lb/yard3 slow-release fertilizer at a rate of 1.8 lb/yard3 nitrogen (N), 0.5 lb/yard3 phosphorus (P), and 1 lb/yard3 potassium (K). This initial fertilizer application was incorporated to each medium before filling containers. Four treatments were tested against a commercially available medium, industry standard (IS) treatment (a commercially available bagged medium), and a control medium [treatment C (no supplemental calcium or magnesium fertilizer)] by supplementing the base mix with the following fertilizer levels: 4 lb/yard3 each of CaSO4 and MgSO4 (treatment 1); 4 lb/yard3 dolomitic lime (treatment 2); 4 lb/yard3 each of dolomitic lime, CaSO4, and MgSO4 (treatment 3); 8 lb/yard3 dolomitic lime (treatment 4). Media treatments 1 through 4 outperformed the IS and C media treatments in nearly all crops. All crops grown on the nursery yard, and cabbage grown under the high tunnel, had greater yields when grown in medium treatment 3, compared with the IS and C media treatments (P ≤ 0.05). All crops grown in medium treatment 2 on the nursery yard produced greater yields than the IS and C media treatments (P ≤ 0.05).

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Forty-five cultivars of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were field-grown using best management practices at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) Botanic Gardens in Baton Rouge during the Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 seasons. Recommended cultivars were selected for commercial production in Louisiana based on fresh weight and lettuce size (width and height). Nitrate (NO3 ) concentration was analyzed for each cultivar, as lettuces are known to accumulate and concentrate NO3 , and were then compared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) oral reference dose (RfD—the EPA’s maximum acceptable oral dose of a toxic substance) of 1.6 mg NO3-nitrogen (N) per kilogram body weight per day. Recommended butterhead cultivars were Caliente and Harmony (21.6 and 13.9 ppm NO3 , respectively); recommended green-leaf cultivars were Salad Bowl and Tango (10.6 and 4.6 ppm NO3 , respectively); recommended red-leaf cultivars were Red Salad Bowl, Red Sails, and New Red Fire (15.2, 15.4, and 24.0 ppm NO3 , respectively). The only recommended romaine cultivar was Green Towers (11.2 ppm NO3 ), and recommended crisphead cultivars included Raider and Ithaca (17.6 and 14.9 ppm NO3 , respectively). Of the highest yielding cultivars, New Red Fire accumulated the greatest NO3 concentration: 24.0 ppm in both years 1 and 2. The NO3 concentration is less than the levels of concern for both men and women 20 to 74 years old, 3.9% of the RfD for men and 4.59% of the RfD for women.

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