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Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi and Donald S. Bailey

Basil (Ocimum sp.) is a fast-growing, high-value cash crop for aquaponics. Plant suitability evaluation in tropical conditions is critical to recommend new cultivars, increasing grower portfolio and minimizing the production risks associated with untested selections. Two trials were conducted to identify suitable basil cultivars for tropical outdoor aquaponics production using the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Commercial Aquaponics System in the U.S. Virgin islands. We evaluated five basil cultivars in Summer 2015 (Genovese, Lemon, Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin, and Spicy Globe), and seven cultivars in Fall 2015 (Cinnamon, Genovese, Lemon, Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin, Spicy Globe, and Thai). In both trials, 3-week-old seedlings were transplanted in net pots at a density of 1.5 plants/ft2 (16.15 plants/m2). The 6-inch portions and upper portions of the canopy were harvested as a salable product and the resultant material (leaves and stems) considered as total yield per square meter. In the summer, yield was higher in ‘Genovese’ (14.91 kg·m−2) and ‘Spicy Globe’ (13.99 kg·m−2); ‘Purple Ruffles’ resulted in the lowest yield (4.18 kg·m−2). Leaf anthocyanin was greater for the red cultivars Red Rubin [28.35 anthocyanin content index (ACI)] and Purple Ruffles (34.36 ACI) compared with the other cultivars. Chlorophyll content was the highest in ‘Genovese’ [48.59 chlorophyll content index (CCI)]. In the fall, ‘Cinnamon’ (6.60 kg·m−2), ‘Genovese’ (6.70 kg·m−2), and ‘Spicy Globe’ (6.35 kg·m−2) showed the highest yield and ‘Purple Ruffles’ the lowest (1.68 kg·m−2). Leaf anthocyanin differed in all cultivars, with the higher values in Purple Ruffles (80.5 ACI) and Red Rubin (36.5 ACI). Chlorophyll content was a response of plant growth and cultivar, with values increasing over time and ranging from 12.06 (Lemon) to 17.99 CCI (Cinnamon). Plant growth index (PGI) was higher than that of other cultivars in Genovese and Lemon on day 58 (summer), and higher in Cinnamon on day 87 (fall). Yield was greater during the summer, which was calculated from May to August, in comparison with the fall, calculated from September to November. Yield declined for the fourth harvest in the summer, indicating that growers may need to end production after the third harvest and replant the crop. The results of this experiment indicate that basil has potential as a specialty, short-season, and high-value crop in the UVI Commercial Aquaponics System. Of the cultivars tested, Genovese and Spicy Globe were the highest yielding cultivars within the environmental and geographical conditions of this study for two consecutive seasons (summer and fall).

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Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Sue K. Dove and Marc W. van Iersel

Substrate volumetric water content (VWC) is a useful measurement for automated irrigation systems. We have previously developed automated irrigation controllers that use capacitance sensors and dataloggers to supply plants with on-demand irrigation. However, the dataloggers and accompanying software used to build and program those controllers make these systems expensive. Relatively new, low-cost open-source microcontrollers provide an alternative way to build sensor-based irrigation controllers for both agricultural and domestic applications. We designed and built an automated irrigation system using a microcontroller, capacitance soil moisture sensors, and solenoid valves. This system effectively monitored and controlled VWC over a range of irrigation thresholds (0.2, 0.3, 0.4, and 0.5 m3.m−3) with ‘Panama Red’ hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) in a peat:perlite substrate. The microcontroller can be used with both regular 24-V alternating current (AC) solenoid valves and with latching 6- to 18-V direct current (DC) solenoid valves. The technology is relatively inexpensive (microcontroller and accessories cost $107, four capacitance soil moisture sensors cost $440, and four solenoid valves cost $120, totaling $667) and accessible. The irrigation controller required little maintenance over the course of a 41-day trial. The low cost of this irrigation controller makes it useful in many horticultural settings, including both research and production.

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Maycon Diego Ribeiro, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi and Roberto Testezlaf

We evaluated the performance and determined the efficiency parameters of an automated subirrigation system in a commercial greenhouse facility for clonal eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.) seedling production to improve subirrigation management practices. A methodology based on the mass balance of the irrigation system was established to determine the volumes of nutrient solution (NS) applied, drained, stored, evapotranspirated, and leaked in each subirrigation bench. The application, drainage, and NS dwell time in the 55-cm3 conic containers (0.125 m height × 0.03 m diameter) and the depth of NS reached inside the bench were also assessed. The values of application efficiency, irrigation efficiency and system transport (supply and drainage), and disposal losses of NS were estimated for each bench and inferred for the entire subirrigation system. The benches had average application and irrigation efficiency values of 0.84% and 98.38%, respectively. The system showed irrigation efficiency values of 27.59% and the sum lost by transport, leakings, and disposal in the water treatment plant of 72.41%. The continuous return of NS because of the high irrigation frequency contributed to this loss, resulting in 10,070 L of NS consumed by the plants and 26,430 L lost after 15 days of cultivation. Our results demonstrated that the system presented an adequate irrigation efficiency, but a low application efficiency caused by the constant return of NS because of the high irrigation frequency and the excess of losses from leaking and disposal of NS after 15 days of cultivation. Nevertheless, the system operated like a hydroponic system, which kept the containers partially immersed in the NS and did not use the full substrate container capacity to provide adequate moisture. This reduced the overall system irrigation and the substrate storage efficiencies, which needs to be improved by proper equipment design, operation, water and nutrients use efficiency, and management to achieve all the benefits that subirrigation possess.

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Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Marc W. van Iersel and Roberto Testezlaf

Subirrigation can reduce water loss and nutrient runoff from greenhouses, because used nutrient solution is collected and recirculated. Capacitance moisture sensors can monitor substrate volumetric water content (θ) and control subirrigation based on minimum θ thresholds, providing an alternative to timers. Our objectives were to automate an ebb-and-flow subirrigation system using capacitance moisture sensors, monitor moisture dynamics within the containers, and determine the effect of five θ thresholds (0.10, 0.18, 0.26, 0.34, or 0.42 m3·m−3) on hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella Welw. ex Hiern.) ‘Panama Red’ (PP20,121) growth. Subirrigation was monitored using capacitance sensors connected to a multiplexer and a data logger and controlled using a relay driver connected to submersible pumps. As the substrate θ dropped below the thresholds, irrigation was turned on for 3 min followed by 3-min drainage. Capacitance sensors effectively controlled subirrigation by irrigating only when substrate θ dropped below the thresholds. Each irrigation cycle resulted in a rapid increase in substrate θ, from 0.10 to ≈0.33 m3·m−3 with the 0.10-m3·m−3 irrigation threshold vs. an increase in θ from 0.42 to 0.49 m3·m−3 with the 0.42-m3·m−3 irrigation threshold. Less nutrient solution was used in the lower θ threshold treatments, indicating that sensor control can reduce water and thus fertilizer use in subirrigation systems. The water dynamics showed that the bottom part of the pots was saturated after irrigation with θ decreasing quickly after an irrigation event, presumably because of drainage. However, the water movement among substrate layers was slow with the 0.10-m3·m−3 irrigation threshold with water reaching the upper layer 5.5 to 20 h after irrigation. The 0.10-m3·m−3 θ threshold resulted in 81% fewer irrigations and 70% less nutrient solution use compared with the 0.42-m3·m−3 θ threshold. However, the 0.10-m3·m−3 θ threshold also reduced hibiscus shoot height by 30%, shoot dry weight 74%, and compactness by 63% compared with the 0.42-m3·m−3 θ threshold. Our results indicate that soil moisture sensors can be used to control subirrigation based on plant water use and substrate water and to manipulate plant growth, thus providing a tool to improve control over plant quality in subirrigation systems.

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Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Geoffrey Matthew Weaver, Marc W. van Iersel and Roberto Testezlaf

Subirrigation is a greenhouse irrigation method that relies on capillary action to provide plants with water and nutrients from below their containers. The first documented subirrigation system was described in 1895, and several variations on the basic design were used for research purposes before the modern ebb-and-flow type systems emerged in 1974. Most subirrigation systems apply the fertilizer solution to a waterproof bench or greenhouse section, allowing the substrate to absorb the water through holes in the bottom of the containers. Because there is little or no leaching, subirrigation typically allows for the use of lower fertilizer solution concentrations. Although excess fertilizer salts typically accumulate in the top layer of the substrate, this does not seem to have a negative impact on plants. Subirrigation can conserve nutrients and water, reduce labor costs, and help growers meet environmental regulations. A challenge with subirrigation is the potential spread of pathogens via the fertilizer solution. When this is a concern, effective disinfection methods such as ultraviolet radiation, chlorine, or ozone should be used. Sensor-based irrigation control has recently been applied to subirrigation to further improve nutrient and water use efficiencies. Better control of irrigation may help reduce the spread of pathogens, while at the same time improving crop quality. The primary economic benefit of subirrigation is the reduction in labor costs, which is the greatest expenditure for many growers.

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Carlos Vinicius Garcia Barreto, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Flávio Bussmeyer Arruda and Roberto Testezlaf

Citrus rootstock production in Brazil commonly uses manual overhead irrigation systems to water plants. Manual irrigation systems present low efficiency, apply more water than needed, and result in release of nutrients and pesticides into the soil with a potential to contaminate groundwater. Closed irrigation systems that avoid the disposal of nutrient solutions like subirrigation can be used to increase production efficiency and reduce the environmental contamination. Our objective was to evaluate the effect of subirrigation applied by a prototype tray on plant growth and morphological and physiological responses of Rangpur lime (Citrus limonia Osbeck ‘Limeira’) seedlings subjected to different water levels in conic containers filled with pine bark substrate. We tested three treatments: T1) subirrigation with water reaching two-thirds of the container height (8 cm); T2) subirrigation with water reaching one-third of the container height (4 cm); and T3) control with manual overhead irrigation. Subirrigation resulted in higher plant growth of Rangpur lime seedlings. At 90 days after sowing (DAS), we observed significant effects of T1 over the other treatments on plant growth, as indicated by higher total dry mass (P = 0.0057), shoot/root ratio (P = 0.0089), shoot height (P = 0.0004), leaf area (P = 0.0005), and root length (P = 0.0333). The number of bifurcations was 400% higher in T3 than at the subirrigated treatments, which can lead to an increase in the labor costs for pruning. Seedlings grown under T1 presented leaf water potential 13% higher compared with T3 at predawn, which was the time of highest stomatal efficiency, presenting the lowest water loss, maximum stomatal closure, and higher transpiration at lower stomatal resistance. T2 plants displayed intermediate water status with a water potential 5% higher than T3. T3 plants showed a higher transpiration rate under maximum stomatal closure, reducing leaf water potential. The subirrigated treatment with water level of two-thirds of container height (8 cm) induced higher plant growth and shortened the crop cycle, anticipating the transplanting to the next phase (grafting) with the possibility of reducing production costs in the nursery.

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Jong-Goo Kang, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Sue K. Dove, Geoffrey M. Weaver and Marc W. van Iersel

Abscisic acid (ABA) is a plant hormone involved in regulating stomatal responses to environmental stress. By inducing stomatal closure, applications of exogenous ABA can reduce plant water use and delay the onset of drought stress when plants are not watered. However, ABA can also cause unwanted side effects, including chlorosis. Pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana) has been shown to be particularly susceptible to ABA-induced chlorosis. The objective of this study was to determine if fertilization rate affects the severity of ABA-induced chlorosis in this species. ‘Delta Premium Pure Yellow’ pansy seedlings were fertilized with controlled-release fertilizer incorporated at rates from 0 to 8 g·L−1 of substrate. When plants had reached a salable size, half the plants were sprayed with a solution containing 1 g·L−1 ABA, whereas the other plants were sprayed with water. Leaf chlorophyll content was monitored for 2 weeks following ABA application. Leaf chlorophyll content increased greatly as fertilizer rate increased from 0 to 2 g·L−1, with little increase in leaf chlorophyll at even higher fertilizer rates. ABA induced chlorosis, irrespective of the fertilizer rate. Plant dry weight was lowest when no controlled-release fertilizer was incorporated, but similar in all fertilized treatments. ABA treatment reduced shoot dry weight by ≈24%, regardless of fertilization rate. This may be due to ABA-induced stomatal closure, which limits carbon dioxide (CO2) diffusion into the leaves. We conclude that ABA sprays induce chlorosis, regardless of which fertilizer rate is used. However, because leaf chlorophyll concentration increases with increasing fertilizer rates, higher fertilizer rates can mask ABA-induced chlorosis.