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Isabelle Lemay, Jean Caron, Martine Dorais and Steeve Pepin

Ongoing research on organic growing media for greenhouse tomato production is driven by the constant changes in the quality, stability, and form of the organic byproducts used in the manufacturing of these media. This study was undertaken to determine appropriate irrigation set points for a sawdust–peat mix (SP) under development given that the performance of this substrate appeared to be strongly dependent on appropriate irrigation management. A greenhouse tomato experiment was conducted to compare different irrigation management approaches for a SP substrate in the spring and summer. Using preliminary measurements from an initial experiment (Expt. 1), different irrigation strategies for the SP substrate were compared in a second experiment (Expt. 2): 1) a variable irrigation regime using a timer control (with frequency adjusted as a function of irradiance); 2) tensiometer control at –1.5 kPa; and 3) two constant substrate water potential devices: –1.1 kPa and –0.9 kPa. An irrigation timer/controller using solar radiation input was used with a rockwool control (RC) substrate. Measurements of plant activity [photosynthesis rate and stomatal conductance (g S)], substrate physical and chemical properties, biomass, and yield were obtained. For all irrigation strategies, results indicated that 10% to 20% higher photosynthesis rates and g S values were obtained with the SP substrate compared with RC. Data indicated that moderate drying conditions (matric potential ranging from –2.2 kPa to –1.5 kPa in Expt. 1 and Expt. 2, respectively) relative to container capacity (–0.6 kPa) were beneficial for improving plant photosynthetic activity and allowed the highest yields for the SP substrate. Variable irrigation management showed higher levels of plant activity than constant watering and increased the oxygen concentration in the substrate by ≈2% in absolute value relative to the constant water potential device. Lower CO2 and N2O levels were also observed with the variable irrigation strategy. On the other hand, maximum nutrient solution savings were achieved with the constant matric potential devices (8% to 31% relative to the RC). This study showed high productivity potential for the SP substrate with suitable irrigation management. Replacing conventional growing media with organic waste-based products using an appropriate irrigation strategy may help to increase the sustainability of the greenhouse industry.

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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, Martine Dorais and Steeve Pepin

Ethylene accumulation increases after harvest and culminates in needle abscission in balsam fir [Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.]. We hypothesize that water deficit induces ethylene evolution, thus triggering abscission. The purpose of this research was to investigate the role of temperature and humidity on postharvest needle abscission in the presence and absence of exogenous ethylene and link vapor pressure deficit (VPD) to postharvest needle abscission in balsam fir. In the first experiment, branches were exposed to 30%, 60%, or 90% humidity while maintained at 19.7 °C (VPD of 1.59, 0.91, or 0.23 kPa, respectively); in the second experiment, branches were exposed to 5, 15, or 25 °C (VPD of 0.35, 0.68, or 1.26 kPa, respectively) while maintained at 60% relative humidity. Needle retention duration, average water use, xylem pressure potential relative water content, and ethylene evolution were response variables. Reducing water loss or xylem tension by changing temperature or humidity effectively delayed needle abscission, although the 90% humidity treatment had the most profound effects. In the absence of exogenous ethylene, branches placed in 90% humidity had a fivefold increase in needle retention, 67% decrease in average water use, and had a final xylem pressure potential of –0.09 MPa. There was a near perfect relationship between VPD and needle retention (R2 = 0.99). These findings suggest that increasing xylem tension or decreasing water status may trigger ethylene synthesis and needle abscission. In addition, these findings demonstrate an effective means of controlling postharvest needle abscission by modifying temperature and/or relative humidity.

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Vincent Pelletier, Steeve Pepin, Thomas Laurent, Jacques Gallichand and Jean Caron

Cranberries were grown under controlled environmental conditions to determine the effects of soil waterlogging on cranberry gas exchange in three growth stages and to investigate the recovery time after waterlogging. Photosynthesis declined by 28% after the first day of waterlogging at the bud elongation stage and was 46% lower after the fifth day. At the flowering stage, the reduction in photosynthesis started to be significant only after the fifth day, whereas no reduction was observed at the fruit development stage. Stomatal limitations were responsible, in part, for the observed decrease in photosynthesis since stomatal conductance (g S) declined by 68% and 45% after the fifth day of waterlogging during bud elongation and flowering, respectively. After water drained away in the saturated treatments, leaf photosynthesis remained lower than in the unsaturated control treatment for 1 to more than 10 days at the bud elongation stage. Our results demonstrate that short-term hypoxic soil conditions can alter cranberry gas exchange depending on plant growth stage, and suggest that adequate drainage or control of the water table depth is required to avoid the negative effects of soil waterlogging on cranberry yield.

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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, Alex I. Martynenko, Martine Dorais, Steeve Pepin and Yves Desjardins

Needle loss after harvest is a major problem for Atlantic Canada's Christmas tree and greenery industry. Ethylene is a signal for abscission in balsam fir, but preliminary studies have suggested that the role of ethylene may be influenced by length of exposure. Short-term and long-term ethylene exposure experiments were conducted. Branches were exposed to ethylene for 24 h (short-term) or continuously (long-term) at concentrations of 0 to 1000 ppm. The response variables measured were needle retention duration (NRD), average water use (AWU), and xylem pressure potential (XPP). Short-term exposure to any concentration of ethylene delayed needle abscission by 30 to 40 days. In contrast, long-term exposure to all concentrations of ethylene accelerated abscission, most evident by a 21-day decrease in NRD at 1000 ppm ethylene. There was a 60% decrease in NRD, 160% decrease (more negative) in XPP, and 80% increase in AWU as a result of long-term exposure to ethylene. Overall, our results demonstrate an opposite effect of short-term and long-term ethylene exposure, which suggests that short-term exposure to ethylene might help to precondition balsam fir and delay needle abscission during postharvest handling.