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  • Author or Editor: Richard T. Koenig x
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Tissue nitrate (NO3) concentration (TNC) in leafy greens generally decreases with increasing light intensity and photoperiod in controlled environment studies. Harvesting late in the day has been recommended as a way to produce leafy greens with lower TNC, although data from field research do not support this recommendation. This study investigated the effect of time of day of harvest on TNC in lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) grown in the field during the summer at Pullman, WA (lat. 46° N) and Fairbanks, AK (lat. 64° N). Whole plants were sampled every 2 h on three separate, 24-h harvest dates at each latitude. Plants were dried, ground, and analyzed for NO3-N. At the high-latitude location, TNC decreased linearly during the day (1000 to 2300 hr) on all three dates for spinach and one for lettuce. At the low-latitude location, TNC decreased linearly during the day (1000 to 1900 hr) on one date and increased linearly during the night (2000 to 0400 hr) on two dates for lettuce. The TNC (average 287 to 607 mg NO3-N/kg fresh weight for lettuce and 141 to 189 mg NO3-N/kg fresh weight for spinach) and magnitude of diurnal fluctuation (generally less than 25%) should not pose a human health risk regardless of when plants are harvested.

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Season extension structures like high tunnels make it possible to produce cold-tolerant crops during winter months for both a longer cropping season and a winter market season. The effects of location and planting date on the fresh yield of several cultivars of Asian greens (Brassica rapa L.), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.), and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) were examined at Moscow, ID/Pullman, WA, and Vancouver, WA, a cold temperate climate and a mild marine climate, respectively. In Winter 2005–06, 20 cultivars were evaluated and in Winter 2006–07 a subset of 12 cultivars were evaluated. Location impacted yield, and higher yields overall were attained at Vancouver than at Moscow/Pullman, likely as a result of more consistent, warmer soil and air temperatures as well as increasing irradiance in February and March at Vancouver. Asian green cultivars had the highest overall yield resulting from faster growth compared with spinach and lettuce cultivars at both locations. Although most lettuce cultivars grew throughout the winter, further research is needed to identify the most suitable cultivars, seeding dates, and planting densities to optimize winter production of this crop and for Asian greens and spinach. Planting date influenced yields with the highest yields obtained for the third planting date for all trials except at Moscow/Pullman in the second year. Overall, this research suggests that it is possible to grow many cold-tolerant cultivars of Asian greens, spinach, and lettuce in a high tunnel during the winter months in both mild and cold temperate northern climates.

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Leafy green vegetables such as lettuce (Lactuca sativa), Asian greens (Brassica spp.) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea) have a tendency to accumulate high concentrations of potentially harmful nitrate–nitrogen (NO3-N). It would be advantageous for growers to have rapid and inexpensive methods to accurately measure plant tissue NO3-N to make fertility and harvest management decisions for these crops. This study compared fresh sap expressed from whole leaves and analyzed with a Cardy meter with the analysis of dry leaf tissue extracts analyzed with a benchtop ion selective electrode (ISE) and an automated colorimetric method for determining NO3-N concentration. Results from ISE and colorimetric analysis of the same dry leaf tissue extracts had a strong relationship (r 2 = 0.92). The ISE was relatively easy to operate and affordable, suggesting it is an adequate substitute for automated colorimetric analysis of dry plant tissue extracts. Results of fresh whole leaf sap analyzed with the Cardy meter showed a poor relationship with dry leaf tissue extracted and analyzed using the ISE (r 2 = 0.25) or with colorimetric analysis (r 2 = 0.21). When fresh whole leaf sap was diluted 1:1 with aluminum sulfate [Al2(SO4)3] to adjust for potential matrix effects, there was still a relatively poor relationship (r 2 = 0.41) between the diluted sap samples analyzed with a Cardy meter and the dry leaf tissue extracted and analyzed with the ISE. When the same dry leaf tissue extracts were analyzed with the Cardy meter and the ISE, the results related well (r 2 = 0.96). As a result of tissue processing and/or instrument differences, Cardy meter analysis of sap expressed from whole leaves was not comparable to ISE or colorimetric analyses of dry leaf tissue extracts for leafy green vegetables.

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