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Carl E. Motsenbocker and Ramon A. Arancibia

Triploid watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), commonly called seedless watermelon, is increasing in popularity and market share. The optimum in-row spacing of triploid watermelon has not been studied previously. Triploid watermelon `Crimson Jewel' and `Honeyheart' were grown with drip-irrigation and black plastic mulch at 1-, 2-, 4-, 6-, and 8-ft (0.3-, 0.6-, 1.2-, 1.8-, and 2.4-m) in-row spacings in 1996 and 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-ft. (0.6-, 0.9-, 1.2-, 1.5-, 1.8-, 2.1-, and 2.4-m) spacings in 1997 to determine the effect of in-row plant spacing on fruit yield. Marketable yield of `Crimson Jewel' was not affected by in-row spacing while narrower in-row spacing resulted in greater `Honeyheart' yield both years. For both cultivars, narrower spacing resulted in the highest number of fruit per acre, but primarily more extrasmall and small fruit. Fruit number per plant, fruit weight per plant, and individual fruit weight were higher at wider spacings, and yield per acre was lower. The data suggest that triploid watermelon yield, fruit weight and number can be adjusted by in-row spacing. Narrower in-row spacing can maximize yields, depending on the specific grower's cultural practices. In wider in-row spacings, the yield of medium and large fruit is maintained with a subsequent decrease in extra small and small fruit. Gross returns per acre were only different for farmers' market prices, not wholesale, and net returns were not significantly influenced by in-row spacing.

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Ramón A. Arancibia and Carl E. Motsenbocker

Plasticulture has been successfully used to enhance growth and yield of horticultural crops, and also for season extension in cooler climates. The effect of three plastic mulches (silver on black, photoselective thermal green, and black) in combination with spunbonded polyester rowcover (0.9 oz/yard2) on spring-planted watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) production was investigated. Two red-fleshed cultivars [Sangria (seeded) and Crimson Jewel (triploid)] were used. Plastic mulches increased early and total marketable yield in comparison with bare ground for both cultivars, but net benefit increased in ‘Crimson Jewel’ only. In contrast, yield and net benefit were the same among plastic mulches. Rowcover increased soil and air temperature, with the effect being greatest at lower ambient temperatures. During a near-freeze event, air temperature under the rowcover was about 7.2 °F higher than without a rowcover. Rowcover increased early and total marketable yield, but fruit weight decreased in both cultivars. Yield distribution into three fruit size categories was inconsistent between the cultivars. In ‘Sangria’, the large fruit category had the highest yield proportion for all treatments. In contrast, the highest yield proportion of ‘Crimson Jewel’, with exception of mulch without rowcover, corresponded to small fruit. Rowcover increased gross income at wholesale prices, but net benefit was not different from without rowcover. Protection of high-value plants, such as triploid watermelon, against light freezes, however, may still justify the use of rowcover in early plantings.

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Ramon A. Arancibia and Carl E. Motsenbocker

`McIlhenny Select' (easy detachment) and `Hard Pick' are two lines of tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens L.) that differ in the fruit detachment characteristics. Cellulase (Cx) and polygalacturonase (PG) activity, extracted from the fruit abscission zone, correlated inversely with the force needed to separate the fruit from the pedicel. A trend of higher Cx and PG is associated with the lower detachment force in the McIlhenny Select line. Differences in the fruit cell wall protein profile between both lines occurred during ripening. Two bands of 23 kDa and 40 kDa were higher in `McIlhenny Select'. A band of approximately 30 kDa was higher in `Hard Pick', while a band of ≈70 kDa increased in both lines. Isolation and characterization of these bands as well as Cx and PG is needed to understand the factors affecting fruit detachment in tabasco pepper.

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Carl E. Motsenbocker and Ramon A. Arancibia

Two tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens L.) lines were previously identified that differ in fruit detachment characteristics. Ethephon treatment (1000 μl/L) to intact tabasco fruit 29 days after anthesis (green-mature) enhanced ripening as indicated by fruit coloration in both lines. `McIlhenny Select' fruit, which normally separate readily at the red-mature stage, however, had a quicker ripening response compared to `Hard Pick' fruit. Ethephon increased cellulase activity in the fruit tissue of both tabasco lines compared to the untreated control, and there was a trend of higher cellulase activity in `McIlhenny Select' compared to `Hard Pick'. Differences in ripening and enzyme activity in response to ethylene generators indicate that the two tabasco lines are suitable material to investigate the physiological processes involved in pepper fruit ripening.

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Ramón A. Arancibia and Carl E. Motsenbocker

Red-mature Tabasco (Capsicum frutescens) fruit (`McIlhenny Select') normally separate easily at the junction of the fruit and receptacle or calyx. Differences in fruit detachment force (FDF) between two lines, one that separates readily (`McIlhenny Select') and one that does not (`Hard Pick'), have been reported previously (Motsenbocker et al., 1995). In this study, enzyme activity from the detachment area was analyzed by viscosity reduction. The reaction mixture was 0.3% pectin in 20 mm NaAc, pH 5.5, for polygalacturonase (PG) and 0.6% carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) in 20 mm NaPO4, pH 6.0, for cellulase. Preliminary data indicated that PG and cellulase enzyme activity increased during fruit ripening in both lines. Only cellulase activity, however, correlated with FDF. In addition, the activity of both enzymes was higher in the `McIlhenny Select' line than the `Hard Pick' line at the orange and red-mature stages.

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Ramón A. Arancibia and Carl E. Motsenbocker

Pectin metabolism was analyzed in tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens L.) to determine the metabolic process associated with the ease of fruit detachment from the calyx. The ease of fruit detachment (deciduous fruit) is a desirable trait in peppers that facilitates mechanical harvest. Two genotypes that differ in the fruit detachment force were used: `Easy Pick' (EZ), which requires a low force, and `Hard Pick' (HP), which requires higher force. Pectin dissolution in water from fresh-ripe EZ tissue was 20 times higher than from HP tissue. EDTA-soluble uronide from inactivated EZ cell wall, however, was only 1.8 times higher. Pectin dissolution was inversely correlated to the fruit detachment force and followed a sigmoidal curve during fruit ripening. Size-exclusion chromatography of EDTA-soluble polyuronides indicated that pectin was degraded in ripe fruit tissue from both genotypes. The degree of depolymerization, however, was more extensive in EZ fruit. Consequently, the ease of fruit detachment was attributed to pectin ultra-degradation. Total pectin content in dry tissue and ethanol/acetone-extracted cell wall was similar in both genotypes. Pectin content in dry tissue was maintained throughout ripening, while extracted cell wall pectin increased slightly. In contrast, the degree of pectin esterification of extracted cell wall decreased only in ripe EZ fruit. These results suggest that pectin de-esterification may have a role in the enhanced pectin depolymerization and consequently in the ease of fruit detachment of the EZ genotype.

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Ramón A. Arancibia, Jeffrey L. Main and Christopher A. Clark

Tip rot, or restricted end rot, is a new sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) disease/disorder in Mississippi with unknown etiology. Since pathogen isolations have been inconsistent, a relationship of this disorder with stress is proposed. This disease/disorder is manifested as a restricted lesion at or close to the proximal end of the storage root and appears after 2 to 4 weeks in storage. In many cases, the lesion necrosis expands internally. On-farm and research station studies with preharvest foliar applications of ethephon were conducted in Mississippi to determine the potential association of tip rot with ethephon-induced stress. In addition, the effects of ethephon rate and interval between application and harvest on tip rot were investigated. After 1 to 2 months in storage, tip rot incidence was observed mostly in storage roots from ethephon-treated plants. The increase in tip rot incidence was well correlated with ethephon rate. These results suggest that preharvest applications of ethephon trigger a response that results in the tip rot disorder.

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Tej P. Acharya, Gregory E. Welbaum and Ramón A. Arancibia

Farmers use low tunnels (LTs) covered with spunbonded fabric to protect warm-season vegetable crops against cold temperatures and extend the growing season. Cool season vegetable crops may also benefit from LTs by enhancing vegetative growth and development. This study investigated the effect of the microenvironmental conditions under LTs on brussels sprouts growth and production as well as water requirements and use efficiency in comparison with those in open fields. Low tunnels increased minimum soil temperature in all trials. By contrast, LTs reduced evapotranspiration (ET) 54% to 68% by reducing solar radiation (SR) and blocking wind in spite of increased maximum air temperatures. Because of reduced ET, water needs and irrigation decreased by 24% to 40%. Furthermore, LTs enhanced vegetative growth (plant leaf area, plant height, and plant dry weight). Sprouts per plant and yield under LTs increased by 29% and 46% in Spring 2017, by 22% and 46% in Fall 2017, and by 29% and 22% in Spring 2018. Considering the increased growth and productivity and reduced irrigation, LTs increased water-use efficiency (WUE) in relation to yield by 62% to 107% in comparison with open fields. Increased total yield and improved WUE illustrate that LTs may be a useful management tool in sustainable production systems in addition to their traditional role for season extension.

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Bandara Gajanayake, K. Raja Reddy, Mark W. Shankle and Ramon A. Arancibia

Sweetpotato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.] storage root formation is a complex developmental process. Little quantitative information is available on storage root initiation in response to a wide range of soil moisture levels. This study aimed to quantify the effects of different levels of soil moisture on sweetpotato storage root initiation and to develop functional relationships for crop modeling. Five levels of soil moisture, 0.256, 0.216, 0.164, 0.107, and 0.058 m3·m−3 soil, were maintained using sensor-based soil moisture monitoring and semiautomated programmed irrigation. Two commercial sweetpotato cultivars, Beauregard and Evangeline, were grown in pots under greenhouse conditions and treatments were imposed from transplanting to 50 days. Identification of storage roots was based on anatomical, using cross-sections of adventitious roots, and visual features harvested at 5-day intervals from 14 to 50 days after transplanting (DAT). Recorded time-series storage root numbers exhibited sigmoidal responses at all soil moisture levels in both cultivars. Time to 50% storage root initiation and maximum storage root numbers were estimated from those curves. Rate of storage root development was determined as a reciprocal of time to 50% storage root formation data. Time to 50% storage root initiation declined quadratically from 0.05 to 0.15 m3·m−3 soil moisture and increased slightly at the higher soil moisture levels in both the cultivars. Cultivars differed in time to 50% storage root initiation and the storage root developmental rate. Soil moisture optima for storage root initiation were 0.168 and 0.199 m3·m−3 soil, equivalent to 63% and 75% field capacity for cultivars Beauregard and Evangeline, respectively. The data and the inferences derived from the functional algorithms developed in this study could be used to advise growers to schedule irrigation more precisely, make planting decisions based on available soil moisture, and to develop sweetpotato crop models for field applications.

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Xiang Wang, Ramón A. Arancibia, Jeffrey L. Main, Mark W. Shankle and Don R. LaBonte

Skinning or surface abrasion in sweetpotato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.] roots during harvest causes a substantial loss of marketable products in storage as a result of rots, loss of moisture, and simply unattractive marketable appearance. In 2008, 2010, and 2011, changes in skinning incidence/severity and skin lignin/suberin content in response to preharvest foliar applications of ethephon or defoliation/devining were investigated. Field-grown ‘Beauregard’ (B-14) sweetpotato plots were treated with ethephon at 0.84, 1.68, and 2.52 kg·ha−1 (based on the recommendations for tobacco) applied at 1, 3, and 7 days before harvest (DBH). Defoliated/devined treatments were applied at 0, 1, 3, and 7 DBH. Skinning incidence and severity were reduced with ethephon when applied 3 and 7 DBH in 2 of 3 years compared with 1 DBH. The force required to skin the storage root was measured at harvest in 2011 and it increased with defoliation/devining and ethephon applications at 3 and 7 DBH. Skin lignin/suberin was higher in roots from ethephon-treated plants but was weakly correlated (r = 0.51) with the force required to peel the skin. Ethephon applications also increased cortex phenolic content and either decreased or maintained skin phenolic content in storage roots compared with defoliated/devined treatments. These results suggest that skin set and/or skinning resistance in sweetpotato appears to be influenced by other factors in addition to skin lignification/suberization.