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Lauren C. Garner

Undergraduate students enrolled in the introductory pomology course at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, from 2007 to 2010, participated in a service-learning project. Students helped the community organization, the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG), teach grafting skills to San Louis Obispo County high school students and community members. At the end of each quarter, pomology students completed evaluations of their experience. Results of these evaluations were used to improve teaching methodology and the experience in which the students participated. Self-reported and instructor evaluations of the service-learning project demonstrated that students increased their grafting knowledge and skills, their confidence in learning new skills, and their interest in fruit science and community involvement. The service-learning project enabled students to meet course learning objectives of understanding and becoming experienced in horticultural techniques, such as grafting, and to meet university learning objectives of developing critical thinking and communication skills and increasing community involvement.

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Lauren C. Garner and Thomas Björkman

Stretching is a problem in high-density transplant production. Mechanical conditioning provides good height control for many crops, but information concerning the dosage and timing of stimulation, and possible effects on field performance are necessary for successful commercial implementation. Mechanical conditioning was applied to processing tomatoes (`Ohio 8245') grown in #288-deep flats (≈2000 plants/m2). Brushing was applied by daily gentle stroking of the plant canopy with a Styrofoam planter flat. The appropriate dose as determined by stroking 0, 10, 20, or 40 times daily back and forth. Twenty strokes provided sufficient height control with minimal plant damage. The interval between strokes was also varied, using 0.6 6, 60, or 600 s. These intervals were all equally effective in reducing the growth rate of the canopy. This broad range provides flexibility in commercial use of this technique. To test for effects on field performance, two methods of conditioning were used: brushing and impedance. Brushing was 20 continuous strokes daily. The impeded plant canopy was compressed slightly by a piece of Plexiglas suspended overnight. The treatments were applied from canopy closure until transplanting to the field. At transplanting, brushed and impeded plants were significantly shorter than control plants without a reduction in shoot dry weight. The treatments did not affect the speed at which the plants grew in the field. Within 5 weeks after transplanting, there were no significant differences between treatments in any measured parameter, including final yield. Therefore, both brushing and impedance provide a flexible and effective method for controlling tomato transplant height without adversely affecting establishment or yield.

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Lauren C. Garner and Thomas Bjorkman

Stretching is a problem in high-density transplant production. Mechanical conditioning provides good height control for many crops, but there may be adverse effects on field performance. Mechanical conditioning was applied to processing tomatoes (Ohio 8245) grown in #288-deep flats (=2000 plants/m2) using two methods, brushing and impendance. Brushing was applied by gently stroking the plant canopy with a Styrofoam planter flat 20 times back and forth every morning. The impeded plant canopy was compressed slightly by apiece of Plexiglas suspended overnight. The treatments were applied from canopy closure until transplanting to the field. At transplanting, brushed plants were 31% (1993) and 12% (1994) shorter than control plants, and impeded plants were 25% (1993) and 24% (1994) shorter than control plants. In both years, the caliper of impeded transplants was significantly larger than that of both the control and brushed plants. There was also no reduction in dry weight and no noticeable difference in plant quality between treatments. The treatments did not affect the speed at which the plants recovered from transplant shock or the rate at which they grew in the field. Within 5 weeks after transplanting, there were no significant differences between treatments in biomass, leaf area estimates, stem caliper, flowering, early set, or field yield, despite differences in size at transplanting. Therefore, both brushing and impendance result in sturdy, high-quality transplants without adversely affecting establishment or yield.

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Lauren C. Garner and Thomas Björkman

Mechanical stimulation is known to control excessive stem elongation in high-density tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) transplants. Mechanical stimulation using physical impedance provided height control equivalent to that obtained using brushing. Low-cost materials can be used to apply the impedance. Mylar film in a plastic frame was equivalent to expensive acrylic sheets in its effect on plant height (40 mm shorter than nontreated, a 40% reduction in the elongation rate during the treatment period), stem diameter (18% thicker), and biomass (14% lighter) when they applied a pressure of 66 N·m-2. Stem elongation was not reduced if less pressure was applied (25 or 50 N·m-2). Height control was equally effective with a solid material (mylar film) and a permeable material (fiberglass insect screen), indicating that restricting air movement is not an important mechanism for the growth response. Overnight treatments resulted in the desired growth response (27 mm shorter than nontreated, a 30% reduction in elongation rate), but 0.5-h treatments had insufficient effect for commercial use (11 mm shorter, 10% reduction in elongation rate). These experiments demonstrate that impedance can be used in commercial production conditions to control tomato transplant height with inexpensive materials. However, satisfactory height control requires a large applied force and a long daily treatment period.

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Lauren C. Garner and Thomas Björkman

Excessive stem elongation reduces plant survival in the field and hinders mechanical transplanting. Mechanical conditioning is an effective method for reducing stem elongation during transplant production. This investigation examined the consequences of mechanical conditioning, using brushing and impedance, on subsequent field performance of tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). Mechanically conditioned transplants of processing tomatoes resumed growth after transplant shock as quickly as did untreated plants, and subsequent canopy development was also equal. In 4 years of field trials, yield was not reduced by mechanical conditioning. Transplants for fresh-market tomatoes may be more sensitive to injury than those for processing tomatoes because they flower sooner after the conditioning treatments. Nevertheless, neither earliness nor defects in the fruits of the first cluster were affected by mechanical conditioning. Early and total yields were equal in both years that fresh-market crops were tested. Thus, there were no adverse effects on field performance of either processing or fresh-market tomatoes as a result of reducing stem elongation by mechanical conditioning before transplanting. Improved wind tolerance was tested both in a wind tunnel and in the field. In wind-tunnel tests, brushed and impeded plants resisted stem bending at wind speeds 4 to 12 km·h–1 higher than did untreated plants. A 70 km·h–1 wind after transplanting killed 12% of untreated plants but only 2% of treated plants. Mechanical conditioning with brushing and impedance produced transplants with desirable qualities without adverse effects on field performance.

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Lauren C. Garner and Thomas Björkman

During production of plug transplants, the high plant density results in rapid stem elongation as plants compete for light. The resulting tall, weak-stemmed plants are difficult to transplant and are easily damaged. One technique that can prevent excessive elongation is mechanical stimulation by brushing. Wide adoption of brushing is limited by a lack of information on how plants respond to variations in applying the technique. Our investigation examined how tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum cv. Oh8245) seedling growth responded to varying doses of mechanical stimulation, varying intervals between brush strokes during stimulation, time of day that stimulation was applied, and growth stage at which application started. Seedlings were grown in 288-cell flats at 2100 plants/m2. Daily doses from 0 to 40 brush strokes were applied from canopy closure until the nontreated plants reached a canopy height of 15 cm. The final height was reduced by ≈20% for all brushed treatments, with little further effect with >10 strokes/d. Intervals between strokes as long as 10 minutes resulted in the same reduction in the rate of stem elongation as the same daily dose applied in one continuous treatment. Treatments were similarly effective whether applied in the morning or late afternoon. Treatments begun at a canopy height of 6 (canopy closure), 8, or 10 cm gave similar reductions in the rate of stem elongation. Plants grew 6 mm·d-1 when they were not treated and 3 mm·d-1 when treated. Therefore, the final height was directly related to the number of treatment days. Stimulation appears to be sensed and integrated over at least half an hour and the reduction in the rate of stem elongation expressed over the subsequent daily cycle of growth. All results indicate that there is substantial flexibility in applying brushing for controlling elongation in tomato transplants.

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Lauren C. Garner and Carol J. Lovatt

Despite profuse flowering, ‘Hass’ avocado (Persea americana Mill.) yields are low because of excessive flower and fruit abscission. Whether the dynamics of flower and fruit abscission are influenced by or contribute to alternate bearing, the production of a heavy on-crop followed by a light off-crop that is characteristic of many avocado cultivars, remains unresolved. The objective of this research was to determine whether abscission of reproductive structures from ‘Hass’ avocado trees during specific developmental stages, including flowering, fruit development, and fruit maturity, was influenced by crop status of the current or preceding year. Abscised reproductive structures were collected from commercially bearing trees during two complete crop years. Flower abscission began at about the same time but peaked 1 month later in the off-crop year compared with the on-crop year. Peak abscission rates were lower during the off-crop year than the on-crop year (compare 1836 ± 403 to 5378 ± 856 flowers per day and 50 ± 18 to 280 ± 23 immature fruit per day, respectively). The off- or on-crop status of the tree did not influence the percentage fruit set, average fruit diameter, or biomass of individual fruit that abscised at similar phenological stages. Furthermore, flower and fruit abscission were not influenced by the number of mature fruit from the previous year's crop. In both years of the research, as immature fruit abscission declined, abscission of the preceding year's crop increased, indicating that the processes were controlled independently. During the study, neither weather conditions nor tree nutrient status were associated with key abscission events. Taken together, these results provide evidence that the previous year's yield does not influence flower or fruit abscission and the seasonal abscission of reproductive structures is an independent process that does not contribute to alternate bearing of ‘Hass’ avocado.

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Lauren C. Garner, Vanessa E.T.M. Ashworth, Michael T. Clegg, and Carol J. Lovatt

‘Hass’ avocado (Persea americana Mill.) is characterized by excessive flower and fruit abscission, resulting in extremely low fruit set. Low outcrossing rates might be a factor contributing to low yields. It is hypothesized that self-fertilized flowers and resulting fruit abscise at a much higher rate than fruit that are the product of outcrossing. However, significant relationships between outcrossing rates and yields have only been established in a few avocado studies. The objective of this research was to investigate the importance of outcrossing to yield in a commercial ‘Hass’ orchard containing ‘Bacon’, an effective pollinizer of ‘Hass’. Microsatellite markers were used to determine the rate of outcrossing of fruit persisting to harvest on ‘Hass’ trees. Experiments were conducted during sequential on- and off-crop years. During both years, outcrossing rates were not related to yield or alternate bearing. These results indicate that outcrossing was not the primary factor affecting flower and fruit persistence and ultimately yield in this orchard for the two sequential years of this research.