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Natalie R. Bumgarner, Whitney S. Miller and Matthew D. Kleinhenz

Plant growth and biomass assessments are required in production and research. Such assessments are followed by major decisions (e.g., harvest timing) that channel resources and influence outcomes. In research, resources required to assess crop status affect other aspects of experimentation and, therefore, discovery. Destructive harvests are important because they influence treatment selection, replicate number and size, and the opportunity for true repeated measures. This work sought to establish the limits to which image acquisition and analysis may replace standard, destructive measures of fresh lettuce biomass. Outdoor, high tunnel, and greenhouse plantings of three cultivars of red and green leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were direct-seeded in raised beds and plastic trays in spring, summer, and fall seasons in 2009–10 in Wooster, OH. Overhead images (624 in total) were captured at specific time points after seeding using handheld and tripod-mounted commercial digital cameras. Fresh weight and leaf area of destructive plant samples within the digital images were also collected. Images were analyzed using user-defined settings in WinCAM software (Regent Instruments, Quebec, QC, Canada). A reference grid captured within each image allowed for the calculation of crop canopy cover (percent of two-dimensional image area covered by leaves). Calculations of canopy cover require differentiating leaves and rooting medium by color. The rooting medium was dark in color, and differentiating red leaves against this background was less reliable than differentiating green leaves from background. Nevertheless, in samples collected in the greenhouse 7 to 16 days after sowing (DAS), significant correlations (r) of 0.85 to 0.96 (P < 0.05) were observed between measures of canopy cover calculated by image analysis software and leaf area obtained with a leaf area meter on harvested plant material. In outdoor and high tunnel plots 16 to 30 DAS, correlation coefficients between direct measures of plant biomass and WinCAM estimates of canopy cover were 0.71 to 0.95 (P < 0.0001). We conclude that digital image analysis may be useful in real-time, nondestructive assessments of early stage leaf lettuce canopy development, particularly when the leaf area index (LAI) is less than one and settings are dominated by green leaves.

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Natalie R. Bumgarner, Mark A. Bennett, Peter P. Ling, Robert W. Mullen and Matthew D. Kleinhenz

Low and high tunnels and root-zone heating systems are proven tools in horticultural production. However, impacts of their separate and combined application on crop yield, composition, and microclimates are underreported. We addressed these gaps in the literature by exposing lettuce (Lactuca sativa) to four microclimates established with low and high tunnels and root-zone heating during the spring and fall of 2 years in Wooster, OH. Red-leaved romaine lettuce cultivars Outredgeous and Flagship were direct-seeded into raised beds in both outdoor and high-tunnel settings in early October and late March and harvested multiple times over 4 weeks. Half of all plots in each setting were underlain by electric heating cables, and half were covered with 0.8-mil, clear, vented, low tunnels. A growing medium consisting of peat moss, compost, soil, and red clover (Trifolium pratense) hay was used, and all plots were overhead-irrigated. Soil and air temperatures were monitored throughout the experiments, which were repeated four times (2 seasons/year × 2 years). Here, we report primarily on treatment effects on crop yield and related variables. Root- and shoot-zone conditions and cultivar significantly affected leaf biomass in both settings (outdoor, high tunnel), while population was more often affected in the outdoor experiments. Microclimate main effects were more prevalent than cultivar effects or interactions. Leaf yield was greater in low-tunnel-covered and bottom-heated plots than in uncovered and unheated plots. We take these data as further evidence of the potential to alter lettuce yield through root- and shoot-zone microclimate modification, particularly in regions prone to dynamic seasonal and within-season temperature and light conditions. The data also suggest that the relative performance of low and high tunnels in the production of short-statured, quick-cycling crops during fall and spring be more thoroughly evaluated.

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Natalie R. Bumgarner, Mark A. Bennett, Peter P. Ling, Robert W. Mullen and Matthew D. Kleinhenz

Low and high tunnels and root-zone heating systems are proven tools in horticultural production. However, impacts of their individual and combined application on crop yield, composition, and microclimates are under-reported. We set out to enhance the record of management strategy effects on abiotic environmental conditions and cropping variables in open field and high-tunnel settings. In each setting, raised bed plots were subsurface heated (underlain by electric heating cables), aerial covered (0.8-mil, clear, vented, low tunnels), subsurface heated and aerial covered, or unheated and uncovered (control). The study was repeated four times in spring and fall seasons across 3 years in Wooster, OH. Red-leaved romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Outredgeous’ and ‘Flagship’) was direct seeded in all plots in early October and late March and harvested after ≈4 weeks. Subsurface and aerial temperatures were monitored throughout the experiments. Here, we report primarily on treatment effects on crop microclimate conditions, including temperature and light, and related cropping variables. Subsurface and aerial temperatures varied consistently with plot microenvironment management. Relative to control plots, variability in shoot- and root-zone temperatures generally increased and decreased, respectively, with the addition of low tunnels and electric heating cables, regardless of setting. Still, the relative influence of aerial and soil temperature on crop biomass appeared to differ by setting; aerial temperature correlated most strongly with yield in the high tunnel, while the combination of aerial and root-zone temperature correlated most strongly with yield in the field. Growing degree day accumulation was least in control plots. And, the highest thermal energy to plant biomass conversion efficiency was recorded in the high tunnel. Comparing study-wide and historical climatic data collected in Wooster and other locations in the region suggests that results reported here may hold over a larger area and longer time frame in Wooster, OH.

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Sheri Dorn, Lucy Bradley, Debbie Hamrick, Julie Weisenhorn, Pam Bennett, Jill Callabro, Bridget Behe, Ellen Bauske and Natalie Bumgarner

The National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) is a diverse consortium of leaders who provide a unified voice for promoting the benefits and value of consumer horticulture (CH). NICH endeavors to unite national research efforts with the goals of the diverse stakeholders in the industry, the public sector, and the gardening public in an effort to advance knowledge and increase benefits and application of horticulture for cultivating a healthy world through landscapes, gardens, and plants, and an improved quality of life. Benefits of CH are broadly applicable, whether economic, environmental, or community- and health-related. A benefits approach to marketing sets the stage for unprecedented collaboration, such as that demonstrated by NICH. NICH members have developed three broad goals: recognizing CH as a driver of the agricultural economy; highlighting that CH restores, protects, and conserves natural resources through research and education; and cultivating healthy, connected, and engaged communities through CH. Three NICH committees (Economic, Environmental, and Community and Health Benefits) have focused their efforts on NICH goals for the past 10 months. The three committee chairs, representing ≈30 committee members, presented the results of their efforts and future directions for their committees. The Economic and Environmental committees have proceeded with campaigns to better market CH by promoting the benefits of plants and to increase environmental benefits by changing consumer behavior. After reviewing current research, the Community and Health Benefits Committee suggested that a gap exists in research related to specific benefits of CH and personal gardening (as opposed to benefits accrued by enjoying forests, horticulture therapy, indoor atriums, community gardens, parks, and other public places). The committee suggested that overcoming this gap requires strategic collaboration of skill and expertise from a more diverse group of industry representatives, specialists, and scientists. This approach has tremendous potential to affect the CH marketplace, especially when drawing multiple sources of value from the products and experiences.

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Lucy K. Bradley, Bridget K. Behe, Natalie R. Bumgarner, Charlotte D. Glen, Joseph L. Donaldson, Ellen M. Bauske, Sheri Dorn and Gail Langellotto

Consumer horticulture (CH) programming can result in outcomes and impacts at the individual level, such as money saved by reducing inputs, greater return on the landscape investment, healthier plants, and improved quality of life. It may also lead to community-level impacts that provide public value, such as water quality protection, water conservation, and protection of biodiversity. In addition to documenting such outcomes and impacts, it is important to quantify their economic value, connect the value to actions taken by extension audiences, and demonstrate to extension’s stakeholders a return on investment. However, it is difficult to document the economic contributions of consumer horticulture and even more difficult to document the economic impact of consumer horticulture extension programs. CH reaches individuals and communities directly and indirectly through personal gardens and landscapes, indoor flowers and plants, school and community gardens, and horticulture therapy. The economic contributions and benefits of consumer horticulture are challenging to quantify, but can be evaluated using several different strategies, including measuring the consumer dollars spent and the economy driven by consumers’ purchase of gardening supplies and landscape services. A second strategy is to examine the value of consumers’ gardening actions on environmental ecosystem services that support soils and plants, provide food and raw materials, and regulate functions, such as pollination, storm water catchment, water quality preservation, green waste reduction, and wildlife habitat and diversity. A third strategy is to focus on cultural, social, and health system services, such as education, recreation, and therapy, that result in exercise, nutrition, health, and happiness. Using a combination of these strategies, workgroups of Tennessee extension professionals are balancing the feasibility of data collection with the usefulness of the data gathered by developing realistic and robust outcome indicators that will form the basis for local and statewide reporting.

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Natalie Bumgarner, Sheri Dorn, Esther McGinnis, Pam Bennett, Ellen Bauske, Sarada Krishnan and Lucy Bradley

Many fields of research converge to assess the impact of plants on human health, well-being, and nutrition. However, even with a recent history of horticulturists contributing to human–plant interaction work, much of the current research is conducted outside the context of horticulture and specifically outside of consumer horticulture (CH). To connect CH to research being conducted by other disciplines that explore the role of plants in improving human quality of life, a workshop was held on 1 Aug. 2018 in Washington, DC, at the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) annual conference. The workshop focused on current food science, nutrition, and crop-breeding efforts to enhance nutrition and flavor, and human health and well-being research related to nature and plant interactions in an increasingly urban population. Following these presentations regarding potential research linkages and collaboration opportunities, a facilitated discussion identified ways to improve future CH research and foster collaborative work. Action items identified included connecting research and vocabulary to help cultivate an interest in plants in younger generations; supporting awareness of collaborative opportunities with health, nutrition, urban planning, and public health practitioners; ensuring CH is known to administrators; and taking responsibility for initiating communication with colleagues in these areas.