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Giampaolo Zanin and Paolo Sambo

Rosa chinensis Jacq. var. mutabilis plants were grown in a greenhouse to determine whether a hand-held chlorophyll meter (SPAD-meter) is suitable for the plant N status assessment. Therefore, plants were fertilized with increasing levels of N, applied through urea form as top dressing. The doses were: 0, 0.15, 0.3, 0.45, 0.6, and 0.75 g of N per liter of substrate. Periodically during the growing season, plant height and width, fresh and dry weight of different plant organs at 10, 20, and 30 weeks after planting, and their total N, plant P, and K were measured. Furthermore, six times along the growing cycle, the amount of chlorophyll in leaves was estimated using a SPAD-meter and analytically measured by chlorophyll extraction with ethanol and reading through a spectrophotometer. In the same leaves, N concentration was also determined. Treatments with 0.45–0.6 g of N per liter of substrate gave the tallest and widest plant. Plant weight and flower production were also the highest with these doses. The concentration of organic N in plant organs increased along with the N availability in the substrate, which suggests that a “luxury consumption” took place. The SPAD values showed high correlation among chlorophyll and N concentrations. Values that ranged between 35–40 seemed to mean good nutrient status. A high correlation was also found among SPAD values and some of the productive characteristics, which indicates that a SPAD-meter is a suitable tool in the dynamic fertilization of rose.

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Giampaolo Zanin and Paolo Sambo

Liatris is an ornamental plant cultivated as a garden perennial for more than 70 years. Since the early 1970s, Liatris spicata has gained importance as a cut flower because of its long-lasting flowering and its peculiar downward flowering succession. This species is usually cultivated in beds both outdoors and in greenhouses. However, in order to improve yield and quality production, some research has been carried out on soilless cultivation. In particular, floating systems seem to provide the best performances, although only different nutrient solutions or their concentrations have been studied. In this research, in addition to two different concentrations of Hoagland solution [full-strength (H) and a half-strength (1/2H)], three corm circumferences (8/10, 10/12, and 12+) and three plant densities (36, 48, and 60 plants/m2) were also evaluated. The full-strength solution gave the best performance from both qualitative and quantitative standpoints. This nutrient solution also showed, at the end of the experiment, very high residual nitrate-N, which could induce environmental pollution during disposal. Furthermore, the management of the solution appeared more difficult and time-consuming. All these aspects should be taken into account by growers in making choices. Corm size also affected production. Increasing circumference from 8/10 to 12+ increased marketable stems per plant and their quality traits, but, because of the highest mortality of plants observed with the bigger corms, yield per square meter did not increase over corm size of 10/12. Finally, rising plant density from 36–60 plants/m2, the biomass of the single plant decreased. However, it resulted also in the enhancement of sellable production per square meter.

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Paolo Sambo*, Daniele Borsato and Giorgio Gianquinto

Research at Padova Univ., Italy, during Summer 2003, was carried out to determine the effect on nitrogen fertilization on yield and canopy reflectance of sweet bell pepper (Capsicum annuum). Pepper var. Tolomeo LRP 4993 (Syngenta) was transplanted into plots (24 m2) on 20 May, maintaining 40 cm between plants and 75 cm between rows (3.3 plant per m2). The experimental design was a randomized block with four replicates. Treatments were 6 nitrogen fertilization rates ranging from 0 to 300 kg·ha-1. Nitrogen was distributed at planting and as top dressing, 44 days after planting. All other production techniques were typical of pepper production in the Veneto region. Beginning the second week after transplanting, canopy reflectance was measured weekly using a multispectral radiometer MSR 87 (Cropscan Rochester, Minn.). Fruits were harvested at breaking color stage starting from 21 July to 9 Oct. (8 harvests). At harvest, total and marketable yield, fruit averaged weight and nitrogen content were determined. Maximum yield was recorded at the 120 kg·ha-1 nitrogen treatment, while higher rates proved ineffective at increasing production. Nitrogen rates positively affected fruit weight. The nitrate content of fruits also increased with the nitrogen rates although it remained below the level dangerous for human health. Canopy reflectance was able to detect the different nitrogen treatments only during the late stages of the growth cycle making difficult its use as a tool to drive nitrogen fertilization.

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Paolo Sambo, Mike R. Evans and Giorgio Gianquinto

One of the most widely used substrates in nursery production is peat, which is used as plain substrate or mixed with other media. Peat use is problematic, primarily because of the high price and the environmental implications connected with its extraction and disposal. For these reasons, the exploitation will be restricted in the future in both Europe and America. Thus, researchers are under pressure to find alternative substrates that can be used in an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way. Although aged, carbonized and composted rice hulls have been used to a limited extent, more studies are needed to characterize fresh rice hulls as a growing medium. This research was aimed at characterizing fresh hulls after being ground in different particle sizes, and comparing them with peat. Ground hulls were separated into four fractions (6-, 4-, 2-, and 1-mm diameter), which were characterized for pH, EC, CEC, organic matter, and total nitrogen content. The water retention curve was also estimated and the following hydraulic characteristics were measured and compared: TP, CC, AFP, EAW, and WBC. As expected, pH, N, and C content and CEC did not differ among rice hull fractions, while EC showed a slight but constant increase when particle dimensions decreased. Compared to peat, the TP of rice hulls was smaller independently from particle dimensions, but AFP was 19.5%, 44,1%, 114.2%, and 115.8% higher for 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-mm particles, respectively, indicating a very good aeration capacity. EAW and WBC were higher only in 1- and 2-mm particles. A further experiment aimed at comparing the behavior of transplants in rice hulls (6 mm) and peat showed that tomato plantlets grew slower in the former, although transplants were of good, marketable quality.

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Paolo Sambo, Franco Sannazzaro and Michael R. Evans

Ground fresh rice (Oryza sativa) hull materials were produced by grinding whole fresh rice hulls and passing the resulting product through a 1-, 2-, 4- or 6-mm-diameter screen to produce a total of four ground rice products (RH1, RH2, RH4, and RH6, respectively). The physical properties and water release characteristics of sphagnum peatmoss (peat) and the four ground rice hull products were evaluated. All of the ground rice hull products had a higher bulk density (Bd) than peat, and as the grind size of the rice hull particle decreased, Bd increased. Peat had a higher total pore space (TPS) than all of the ground rice hull products except for RH6. As grind size decreased, the TPS decreased. Peat had a lower air-filled pore space (AFP) than all of the ground rice hull products and as the grind size of the rice hull products decreased, AFP decreased. Peat had a higher water holding capacity (WHC) than all of the ground rice hull products. Grind sizes RH4 and RH6 had similar WHC, whereas RH1 and RH2 had a higher WHC than RH4 and RH6. Peat, RH4, and RH6 had similar available water content (AVW), whereas RH2 had higher AVW than these materials and RH1 had the highest AVW. However, peat had the lowest AVW and easily available water (EAW) as a percentage of the WHC. The ground rice hull products RH1 and RH2 had the highest AVW and EAW of the components tested. Peat had the highest water content at container capacity. As pressure was increased from 1 to 5 kPa, peat released water more slowly than any of the ground rice hull products. The RH1 and RH2 ground hull products released water at a significantly higher rate than peat, but RH4 and RH6 released the most water over these pressures. For all rice hull products, most water was released between 1 and 2 kPa pressure. The rice hull products RH1 and RH2 had physical properties that were within recommended ranges and were most similar to those of peat.

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Paolo Sambo, Franco Sannazzaro and Michael Evans

In order to evaluate alternative rooting media as a substitute to sphagnum peat in tomato transplant, fresh rice hulls (2 and 4 mm particle size), perlite, and peat were compared. In the same experiment, four nutrient solutions differing in electrical conductivity [(EC) 2.5, 3.5, 4.5 and 6.0 mS/cm], but not in nutrient content, were used. Seed of tomato (Lycopersium esculentum L.) `Brigade' (ASGROW) were sown in 55 × 35 × 6.5 cm polystyrene transplant trays containing 336 cells (15 mL) and filled with the root substrates. The trays were placed in a glass-glazed greenhouse. Trays were kept under intermittent mist for 6 days and then fertilized twice per week with 2.6 L per tray of solution. A split-plot design with three replications was used with nutrient solution serving as the main plot and root substrates serving as the subplots. During the growing cycle (once a week) and when plants were ready to transplant (16 cm tall, with an average of five to seven true leaves), stem diameter, hypocotyl length, plant height, number of true leaves, fresh shoot weight, and dry shoot weight were measured. Also at transplant, root fresh and dry weight and above- and below-ground biomass were analyzed to determine N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, and Mn content. Plants grown in rice hulls were as marketable as those in peat, but showed a higher content in N, K, and Mn. Increased nutrient solution affected not only dry matter accumulation, but also stem diameter and plant hight, which were greater in plants grown with high EC.

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Paolo Sambo, Giorgio Gianquinto and Valente Forte

Several experiments on multispectral radiometer showed its suitability in driving nitrogen fertigation in tomato crop. Nir-Green light ratio describes crop nitrogen status well, highlighting element deficiency or excess, which is a great help to farmers in choosing timing and intensity of fertilizer application. The scientific literature reports several studies about nitrogen management only, but not phosphorus and potassium. Because of the advantage obtained with N, it would be desirable to also adapt it to phosphorus and potassium management. For this purpose, a preliminary trial was carried out on the omato cultivar Brigade grown in pots in a greenhouse. Four nutrient solution were supplied. Three were lacking in N, P, or K—the last had all elements needed for a balanced growth. Radiometer readings were taken once a week during the crop cycle, around noon. First results were encouraging. After some data elaboration, it appeared evident that, in some cases, it was possible to set the fertigation treatments apart by only having a look at the single wavelengths measured by the instrument. Through the Nir/green index, used in N management, phosphorus deficiency was identified as well. Potassium trend line was completely different from those of nitrogen and phosphorus, and very similar to that of the control. The utilization of the radiometer in handling potassium fertigation in tomato appeared somewhat difficult. Its application might be desirable, instead, for phosphorus fertigation in addition to nitrogen. The 560 and 710 nm wavelengths might be the especially more useful for this purpose, although a simple index or a combination of some simple indices able to identify phosphorous deficiency/excess and to screen them from those induced by nitrogen are needed.

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Paolo Sambo*, Forrest W. Nutter, Jie Guan and Heather Friedrich

An experiment was carried out at the Iowa State Univ., Neely-Kinyon Research Station (Greenfield, Iowa) to asses the possibility of growing organic radicchio rosso (Chicorium intybus var. silvestre) in Iowa and to determine the effectiveness of different organic fertilizers. The experiment was a factorial combination of three radicchio cultivars (very early, medium early, and early), three organic fertilizers treatments (non-fertilized control, liquid, and compost based), and two planting dates (11 July and 7 Aug). Treatments were arranged in a split plot design with four replicates. In each sub-plot, plants were transplanted, maintaining 30 cm between plants and 75 cm between rows (4.4 plant per m2). During the growth cycle the crop was managed according to typical production techniques adopted for lettuce. Beginning the first week after transplanting, canopy reflectance measurements were taken every 2 weeks until harvest, using a multispectral radiometer MSR 87 (Cropscan, Inc. Rochester Minn.). At harvest, total and marketable yields were measured and dry matter production was calculated. Yield loss was determined after 15 days of cold storage (4 °C). Cropscan measurement showed no differences among fertilizers treatments, mainly because of the high fertility of the soil (6% organic matter), but different growing patterns among radicchio types. The mediumearly type grew quicker than the other types, and showed the lowest percentage of bolted plants (<4%) and the least preharvest weight loss (5%). Moreover, radicchio demonstrated resistance from the hot and dry Iowa summer even without irrigation, representing a useful alternative crop for both organic and conventional farmers.

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Giorgio Gianquinto, Paolo Sambo, Francesco Orsini, Marco Sciortino and Valente Forte

Technology provides new tools for agriculture to be able to optimize fertilization. Optical instruments are becoming valid tools for farmers in making decisions about fertilization, even though they need to be calibrated for specific crops. Chlorophyll meters and multispectral radiometers have been tested on rice, corn, and wheat and afterwards on vegetables, in timing fertilization. Today, threshold lines that are able to detect crop N status in tomato crops are available. These thresholds, obtained in experiments carried out at Padova University, were validated in three open-field experiments. The first experiment was carried out in 2004 at the University experimental farm on tomato cv. Perfect Peel. The second and third experiments were conducted in a commercial farm at Codigoro (Ferrara) in 2004–2005. Tomato cultivars used were `UGX 822' and `Precocix' in 2004, in 2005 `Jet' was also used. In all trials, a “standard fertilization” management was compared with fertigation guided using SPAD and/or Cropscan. Optical tools were used to manage fertigation adopting both “threshold method” and “reference plot method”. In general “guided fertigation” resulted in less nitrogen application (N supply reduced between 18% and 45%), especially when “threshold method” was adopted. Yields were comparable to “standard fertilization” treatments, showing a better efficiency of “guided fertigation”. In some cases, guiding fertigation by means of optical instruments allowed higher fruit fresh weight, although dry matter content and °Brix were not influenced. Guided fertigation reduced also the number of damaged fruit and the percentage of nonmarketable product.

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Michael R. Evans, Johann S. Buck and Paolo Sambo

The primary objective of this research was to compare the pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and primary macronutrient status of three ground parboiled fresh rice hull (PBH) products to sphagnum peat when used as a root substrate over 56 days in a greenhouse environment. The three grades of ground rice hull products were produced by grinding PBH and passing the ground product through different screens. One grade (P3) was passed through a 2.00-mm screen and captured on a 1.00-mm screen. The second grade (P4) was passed through a 1.00-mm screen and captured on 0.50-mm screen. A third ground rice hull product (RH3) was a commercially available, ground PBH material that was ground in a hammer mill until it passed through a screen with 1.18-mm-diameter openings and was collected on a screen with 0.18-mm openings. The pH of sphagnum peat ranged from 3.4 to 3.7 across time. The pH of RH3 and P3 increased from 4.7 to 7.1 on day 5 and 14, respectively, before decreasing to 6.3 and 6.7, respectively, on day 56. The pH of P4 increased from 4.8 to 6.9 on day 6 before decreasing to 6.6 on day 56. The P4 had an EC of 1.2 dS·m−1, which was higher than that of peat, RH3, and P3, which had similar EC of 0.7 to 0.8 dS·m−1 regardless of time. The ammonium (NH4 +) concentration was unaffected by time. Peat had an NH4 + concentration of 6.4 mg·L−1, which was lower than that of the ground rice hull products. The P3 had an NH4 + concentration of 14.6 mg·L−1, which was higher than that of RH3 and P4. The RH3 and P4 had similar NH4 + concentrations of 11.8 and 10.8 mg·L−1, respectively. The nitrate (NO3 ) concentration was unaffected by time. The RH3 had a NO3 concentration of 8.2 mg·L−1, which was significantly higher than that of peat, P3, and P4, which had similar NO3 concentrations of 0.5 mg·L−1. The phosphorus (P) concentration in peat ranged from 1.3 to 2.5 mg·L−1 across the sampling times, and peat had a lower P concentration than all rice hull products, which ranged from 57.4 to 104.4 mg·L−1. The potassium (K) concentration in peat ranged from 2 to 5 mg·L−1 across the sampling times and was always lower than that of the rice hull products, which had a K concentration ranging from 195 to 394 mg·L−1. Because pH, P, and K concentrations were above recommended concentrations, ground rice hull products would not be suitable as a stand-alone substrate but might be amended with materials such as elemental sulfur or iron sulfate to adjust the pH or blended with other components to reduce the P and K concentrations to within recommended concentrations.