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Michael D. Orzolek

Plasticulture enables growers to optimize establishment of vegetable and fruit crops under nonoptimum conditions and in locations with short growing seasons. Generally, warm-season crops such as muskmelon, pepper, and tomato, are established from transplants to decrease the time to maturity in the field. Directly seeding vegetables such as sweet corn, cucumber, and snap bean through plastic allows for optimum soil temperature and moisture to ensure maximum seed germination and subsequent seedling emergence. Mechanized transplanting or seeding of vegetables in plasticulture is available and successful if a firm, flat bed with plastic firmly stretched over the bed is formed and specific crop requirements are followed during establishment. Common mistakes made with plant establishment in plasticulture are discussed.

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Charles S. Vavrina and Michael D. Orzolek

As early as 1929, university scientists began the quest to determine the ideal age at which to transplant tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). Investigations have included seedlings of 2 to 15 weeks of age produced in wood, peat, plastic, or Styrofoam containers. Early researchers often omitted descriptions of soil mixes and nutrient regimes, and used a wide variety of container types. Later investigators were inclined to use commercial soilless mixes, well-defined nutrient regimes, and polystyrene trays. Pioneers of transplant age research tended to use plants of 7 weeks and older, whereas work within the past 30 years has concentrated on younger plants. Many researchers drew conclusions after only 1 year of experimentation, while others found that results varied across years. Prior to the 1980s, virtually all studies were initiated and conducted in areas far from the thriving transplant industry established in the southeastern United States. Southern-grown transplants often were not in cluded for comparison, and few studies were implemented using plants grown under commercial conditions. After more than 60 years of transplant age research, it appears that transplants of 2 to 13 weeks can produce comparable yields, depending on the many factors involved in commercial production.

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Michael D. Orzolek and Terry W. Simpson

Acreage of white potato production in Pennsylvania has steadily declined in the past 20 years, from ≈25,000 acres in 1976 to 18,000 acres in 1996. This decline in acreage has occurred mainly with potatoes used for chips, with a much smaller acreage loss for tablestock potatoes. The most common tablestock varieties on the market are round white or long russet varieties, which have been around for 30 to 50 years. However, the 90's consumer is more perceptive and creative with food choices, such that color, texture, and taste have become important characteristics in choosing new food items. Specialty new potatoes represent a relatively unexplored market with excellent potential for sales expansion in the fresh market and tablestock industry. Today's consumers are demanding more variety with respect to virtually all produce commodities and potatoes are no exception. Consumers demand different size, color, and taste of fresh vegetables, including potatoes. New specialty potato varieties (Yukon Gold is an example) are currently in demand by restaurants and some retail markets, and it appears that relatively high returns are possible with these specialty potatoes. Twenty-nine red, buff, or blue-skinned and white-, yellow-, purple-, or red-fl eshed potato varieties were planted in a replicated study at the Hort Research Farm, Rock Springs, Pa., in 1996. Yield and quality characteristics of these varieties will be presented along with some consumer acceptance/evaluation data collected from a local supermarket.

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Michael D. Orzolek and Robert A. Scott

The concept of using Foam in agriculture is not new. Researchcrs at LSU in 1972 recommended Foam be used for; a carrier for insecticides and pesticides, frost protection agent, short-life mulch, evaporation suppressant and soil cover for fumigation. In 1974, Johnson Manufacturing Co., Pendleton, ND tested a light weight, low solids Foam as a frost protectant material on strawberries at the University of Maryland Research Farm, Salisbury, MD. Unfortunately, the Foam dissipated within 8 hours and was difficult to apply when winds were greater than 5 mph. In addition, equipment had not been developed to utilize the Foam technology in a field situation. In 1986, anew generation of Foam technology had been developed by Aqualon, Inc. and was initially tested in the spring of 1987 on several vegetable crops at the Horticulture Research Farm, Rock Springs, PA. The Foam was applied with a modified high pressure sprayer and banded over the seeded rows at a width of 10 cm and height of either 5 or 10 cm. Compared to bare-ground checks, there was no soil capping when the Foam was applied to carrots, beets, snap bean, broccoli, cucumber, lettuce and spinach. Generally, seeds emerged earlier and more uniform with the Foam treatments than the bare-ground checks. In addition, higher soil temperatures and moisture levels were observed under the Foam treatment. In the last 2 years, a prototype Foam Applicator was developed by Smucker Manufacturing, Harrisburg, Oregon.

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Michael D. Orzolek and John H. Murphy

A long term study was initiated in 1993 to evaluate the effect of composted sewage sludge on growth, yield, and quality of different vegetables. The composted sewage sludge consisting of 40% hardwood sawdust and 60% clean municipal wastewater sludge was obtained from the University Area Joint Authority (UAJA) in State College, PA. The composted sewage sludge is currently sold by UAJA as a fertilizer amendment under the name CornposT. Two rates of the ComposT product (11 and 22 dry T/A) were compared to a granular fertilizer application of 800 lbs/A of 10-10-10. The low rate of ComposT also received half of the fertilizer rate. After incorporation of the amendments into a Hagerstown clay loam soil, lettuce, tomato, muskmelon, cabbage and pepper were transplanted in the field in a Randomized Block Design with 3 replications. ComposT application did not reduce yield or quality of cabbage, lettuce tomato,and muskmelon; in fact, yields were generally higher with the application of composted sewage sludge. The application of ComposT did not reduce the macro or micro nutrient concentration of leaf tissue below optimum levels nor did it result in any phytotoxic effects in plant growth. In addition, the application of ComposT did not increase the heavy metal (Cd, Ni, Pb) concentration in leaf tissue or increase the risk of microbial contamination in the edible portion of the vegetables.

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Michael D. Orzolek and Robert A. Scott

“Majestic” cauliflower plants were transplanted into furrows with either a polymer alone or in combination with ammonium nitrate. The polymers were banded in the furrow at planting time at 16.9, 33.7 or 67,4 kg/ha with or without a concurrent application of nitrogen at 44.9 kg/ha. The cauliflower received at least 1.2 cm water from an overhead irrigation system immediately after transplanting. Checks were both watering as plants were set in the field and water with a 12-48-8 starter fertilizer. Highest total yields were recorded when polymers were applied alone in the furrows. The addition of 44.9 kg/ha of the nitrogen generally decreased total marketable yields, head weight and plant weight. Soil samples were taken in the treatment rows after crop harvest. One of the polymer materials reduced soil pH by an average of 0.4 units and decreased the percent saturation of calcium from 90% to 70%.

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Robert D. Berghage, Alan Michael and Mike Orzolek

Current and future plans for reductions in federal and state funding suggest that government supported programs must find ways to reduce costs while maintaining or expanding programs. The current model of extension, with an agent for each commodity in every county is not likely to survive. Furthermore, the days when university-based specialists could afford to make house calls also are probably limited. Yet, the need for extension support in the floriculture industry is as great as ever. Increased chemical costs and regulatory pressure are restricting grower options and making it increasingly important that information dissemination and technology transfer occur in timely and appropriate ways. To try to meet the needs of the floriculture industry in Pennsylvania, we have begun a program to help develop independent greenhouse crop management associations to work with milti-county and university-based extension specialists to improve program delivery to the member greenhouses. The first of these associations has been established in the Capital Region in central Pennsylvania and is providing IPM scouting and crop management services to member greenhouses. Development of associations and linkages with and the role of extension are discussed.

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Anusuya Rangarajan, Betsy A. Ingall, Michael D. Orzolek and Lewis Otjen

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) plants are susceptible to defoliation and plant population (stand) reduction by insect, disease, temperature extremes, water, hail, or other mechanical damage. The timing of such losses may have variable effects on final fruit quality and yield. The objectives of these studies were 1) to determine the influence of the degree and timing of defoliation and stand reduction on the marketable yield of winter squash; 2) to determine yield compensation after stand reduction and defoliation; and 3) to explore effects of defoliation on fruit total carotenoid content. Experiments were conducted over 2 years in New York and Pennsylvania to explore these objectives. Marketable yields consistently improved with increasing plant population. If population losses occurred while plants were in the rapid vegetative growth phase, the remaining plants responded by increasing fruit number and weight per plant. Plant losses later in the season during fruit enlargement, however, did not elicit the same magnitude of response. Defoliation of 66% leaf area reduced marketable yields, and effects were most severe under high plant populations. Competition among plants restricted compensation. Moderate defoliation (33%) reduced yield in only one of three studies. This level of defoliation also increased the percentage of medium [1.0 to 1.5 kg (2.20 to 3.31 lb)] and large [1.5 to 2.0 kg (4.41 lb)] fruit and decreased the number of jumbo fruit (>2.0 kg). Total carotenoid concentration in mature fruit was unaffected by the defoliation or population treatments. Thus, butternut squash compensated for up to 33% leaf area loss at any time during the season. While the crop could compensate, under some conditions, for up to 50% plant losses, final plant population was more important than the growth stage of damage or defoliation for effects on crop yield.

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Elsa Sánchez, William J. Lamont Jr and Michael D. Orzolek

Mulches usable in organic production were evaluated in high tunnels for their ability to suppress weeds. Mulch treatments were shredded newspaper, sheets of newspaper, straw, and a no-mulch control that was weeded once. Four cucumber (Cucumis sativus) cultivars were also evaluated. Yields were highest and fruit largest from ‘Sweet Marketmore’ and lowest from ‘Lemon’. Yields were unaffected by mulch treatments. Weed populations were highest in control plots and lowest in those with shredded newspaper. Cultivars did not affect weed populations. Sheets of newspaper degraded the most, followed by shredded newspaper and straw. Yields were not influenced by any mulch treatment, indicating weed populations remained below yield-depressing levels regardless of treatment.

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Adam Montri, William J. Lamont Jr. and Michael D. Orzolek

High tunnels offer growers in temperate regions the ability to extend the production season. Past research has shown that these low-input structures also reduce disease and pest pressure. These characteristics make high tunnels extremely attractive to organic growers. Tomatoes (Lycopersiconesculentum Mill.) are the crop most often produced in high tunnels in Pennsylvania and many producers are interested in combining both high tunnel and organic production methods. Growers may be hesitant to transition to organic production due to conceptions concerning reduced yields specifically during the 3-year transition period to USDA certified organic status. A field trial investigating tomato production in high tunnels during the first year of organic transitioning was conducted in 2004 at The Penn State Center for Plasticulture, Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, Rock Springs, Pa. The objective of this research was to evaluate yield of the four cultivars Big Beef, Mountain Fresh, Plum Crimson, and Pink Beauty in an organic system relative to a scheduled fertilization/irrigation regime and a fertilization/irrigation regime employed using T-Systems International's Integrated Agronomic Technology. Data collected included total weight, total fruit number, weight by grade, fruit number by grade, total marketable yield, and fertilizer and water usage. Yield across cultivars ranged from 4.96 kg/plant to 6.83 kg/plant. `Pink Beauty' exhibited the lowest yields in both treatments, while `Plum Crimson' and `Mountain Fresh' exhibited the highest yields in the IAT and scheduled treatments, respectively. This experiment will be repeated in 2005 to further evaluate the performance of these cultivars.