A variety of organic mulches and amendments have been observed to improve soil quality and productivity of apple orchards. Alfalfa hay and composted dairy manure solids (CDS) are readily available in the apple-growing region of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia and could be used to improve orchard performance. The objective of this research was to determine the influences of CDS amendment and alfalfa hay mulch on populations of soil microfauna, soil chemical properties, and early growth; nutrient uptake; and yield of apple planted into a fumigated coarse-textured soil in central Washington State. Alfalfa mulch significantly improved tree vigor and fruit yield with minimal adverse effects on fruit quality, whereas the CDS amendment had minor effects on vigor and yield. Both alfalfa mulch and CDS amendment increased availability and uptake into leaves and fruit of most key nutrients but plant nutrient concentrations were not deficient in control plots, suggesting that increased nutrient availability was probably not the primary reason for the increased vigor attributed to alfalfa mulch at this site. The alfalfa mulch resulted in elevated populations of microbivorous nematodes and protozoa that persisted through later years of the experiment, indicating greater overall microbial activity, mineralization of nutrients, and possible direct stimulation of root growth under mulch; the CDS amendment did not consistently enhance populations of microbivorous nematodes. The alfalfa mulch, but not CDS amendment, suppressed the buildup of populations of root-lesion nematodes, which are important components of the replant disease complex that was suppressing tree growth at the site despite the preplant fumigation. Accordingly, we speculate that the reduced impacts of root-lesion nematodes contributed to the improved vigor and fruit yield of trees grown with alfalfa hay mulch.
Tom Forge, Gerry Neilsen, Denise Neilsen, Eugene Hogue, and Dana Faubion
Gerry H. Neilsen, Denise Neilsen, Sung-hee Guak, and Tom Forge
Mature, fruiting ‘Ambrosia’/‘M.9’ apple [Malus ×sylvestris (L.) Mill. var. domestica (Borkh.) Mansf.] trees were subjected over three growing seasons to a split-plot experimental design involving four irrigation main plot treatments and three subplot crop load treatments with six replicates. This semiarid production region is traditionally irrigated 01 May to 01 Oct. during which time an average of ≈ 15 cm of precipitation occurs. Irrigation treatments were applied through 2 × 4 L⋅h−1 emitters per tree and included I1: daily application of 100% evapotranspiration (ET); or I2: 50% daily ET; or I3: 50% ET applied to one side; and I4: 50%, 25%, or 18% ET-application, applied every second day, 2007–09, respectively. Crop load treatments were imposed annually ≈4 to 5 weeks after full bloom to create low (2.5, 3, and 3.75 fruits/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA), medium (4.5, 6, and 7.5 fruits/cm2 TCSA), and high crop loads (9, 12, and 15 fruits/cm2 TCSA), 2007–09, respectively. Leaf and fruit nutrient concentration was affected more by crop load than by any deficit irrigation strategy. Increased crop load increased concentrations of leaf nitrogen (N), calcium (Ca), and fruit Ca in 2 of 3 years and consistently decreased concentrations of leaf and fruit phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and, in 2 of 3 years, fruit boron (B). Reductions in seasonal water applications (as with I4) reduced leaf P in 2 of 3 years. But, when significant, (usually only 1 of 3 year) increased fruit Ca, magnesium (Mg), P, K, and B concentrations. Crop load also had a dominant effect on fruit nutrient removal rates expressed as kilograms per hectare. High crop load increased removal of all measured nutrients in most years. In contrast, imposition of deficit irrigation strategies often (2 of 3 years) reduced fruit P, Mg, and B removal rates but had little effect on N, Ca, and K. Cumulative evidence suggests that deficit irrigation applied to N, P, K, and B fertigated high density ‘Ambrosia’ apple orchards in combination with crop load reduction to maintain fruit size should usually not create additional nutrient problems. However, low fruit Ca concentrations may occur if the crop is very low. Fertigation of 20 g K/tree/year was insufficient for older trees because inadequate K occurred in all treatments by the third year.
Denise Neilsen, Gerry Neilsen, Sunghee Guak, and Tom Forge
Uncertain water supplies resulting from changing climatic conditions in western North America led to this investigation of the role of crop load reduction in maintaining performance of high-density ‘Ambrosia’ apple (Malus ×domestica) on M.9 rootstock. A split-plot experimental design was imposed for three growing seasons (2007–09) with six replicates of four main plot irrigation treatments and three crop load subplots comprised of three trees. Four season-long irrigation (Irr) treatments were applied through 2 × 4 L·h−1 drip emitters per tree and included Irr1) control [100% evapotranspiration (ET) replacement], Irr2) 50% ET replacement, Irr3) 50% ET replacement to half the emitters, and Irr4) an increasingly severe treatment commencing at 50% ET replacement (once every 2 days) in 2007 and progressing to 25% and 18% ET replacement, 2008–09. Three target crop loads were established annually, 4–5 weeks after bloom as low (2.5, 3, and 3.75), medium (4.5, 6, and 7.5), and high (9, 12, and 15) fruit/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA) 2007–09, respectively, by hand thinning around 4 weeks after bloom. Volumetric soil moisture contents generally reflected the amount of water applied and ranged from 20% for control (Irr1) to <10% for Irr4. Both irrigation and crop load treatments affected midday stem water potential more than leaf photosynthesis and stomatal conductance (g S). By the 2nd and 3rd year stem potential values for irrigation treatments ranged from a maximum of −1.0 to −1.3 MPa for Irr1 to minimums ≤-2.0 MPa for Irr4. g S decreased as midday stem potential decreased, but at any given stem potential value was greater at high crop loads, presumably in response to an increased demand for photosynthates. Fruit size decreased as crop load increased, but as irrigation deficits became more severe, fruit size was more closely correlated with stem water potential than g S. Consequently, fruit size was controlled by two mechanisms, competition for photosynthates and the effects of plant water status on g S. Negative linear relationships between crop load and average fruit size were used to determine the crop load required to produce an average fruit size of 200 g at different irrigation deficits. It was not possible to achieve adequate fruit size when applications were very low, as at 18% to 25% ET in Irr4. Crop load reduction around mid-June had no negative consequences for fruit quality, enhancing fruit color, and soluble solids concentration (SSC) and did not affect the incidence of sunburn, internal breakdown or bitter pit at harvest.
David L. Ehret, Brenda Frey, Tom Forge, Tom Helmer, and David R. Bryla
A study was conducted in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada, to determine the effects of drip configuration (one or two lines with emitters spaced every 0.3 or 0.45 m) and irrigation at moderate or heavy rates (5 or 10 L/plant) in a mature planting of ‘Duke’ highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.). Results were compared with those published previously from the first 4 years after planting. Although plant size increased with irrigation rate when the plants were younger, there was no added benefit of heavy irrigation on growth in the older plants. However, the plants became more sensitive to soil water deficits with age and, therefore, unlike when they were younger, had greater yields when more water was applied. Berry size and fruit firmness were little affected by irrigation in the older plants, but antioxidants, measured as oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), were higher with than without irrigation, suggesting that irrigation has the potential to improve the health benefits of blueberries. Growth, yield, and fruit quality were unaffected by drip configuration in any year. Overall, the results revealed that the response of highbush blueberry to drip irrigation changed over time and indicated that irrigation management should be adjusted as a planting matures.
David L. Ehret, Brenda Frey, Tom Forge, Tom Helmer, and David R. Bryla
A 4-year study was conducted to establish the effects of drip irrigation configuration and rate on fruit yield and quality of young highbush blueberry plants (Vaccinium corymbosum L. ‘Duke’). Plants were grown in a silt loam soil on raised beds and were non-irrigated or irrigated using either one or two lines of suspended drip tape. Each line configuration had in-line emitters spaced every 0.3 or 0.45 m for a total of four drip configurations. Water was applied by each drip configuration at two rates, a moderate rate of 5 L/plant per irrigation event, and a heavy rate of 10 L/plant. The frequency of irrigation was guided by measurements of soil matric potential. Irrigation was applied each year, and plants were cropped beginning the second year after planting. Rainfall was above normal in the first 2 years of the study, and differences in soil moisture were most evident in the last 2 years, in which soil matric potential increased with irrigation volume. Neither the number of irrigation lines nor emitter spacing had an effect on yield or fruit quality. Yield was unaffected by irrigation rate until the fourth year after planting and was only higher when 5 L/plant was applied. The yield increase was the result of differences in fruit weight during the second of two harvests and was associated with delays in fruit maturation. Irrigation affected plant mineral concentrations but leaves and berries responded differently; affected minerals tended to decrease in leaves but increase in the fruit. Many irrigation-induced changes in fruit quality were evident 1 or 2 years before changes in yield. Higher irrigation volume increased fruit size and water content but reduced fruit firmness and soluble solids. Irrigation reduced fruit water loss during storage and thereby promoted longer shelf life. Irrigation also resulted in a change in anthocyanin composition in the fruit but did not affect antioxidants or total anthocyanin content.
Zhengli Zhai, David L. Ehret, Tom Forge, Tom Helmer, Wei Lin, Martine Dorais, and Athanasios P. Papadopoulos
Organic fertilizer regimens consisting of combinations of composts (yard waste, swine manure, or spent mushroom substrate) and liquid fertilizers (fish- or plant-based) were evaluated against conventional hydroponic fertilizers in two experiments with greenhouse tomatoes grown in peat-based substrate. Crop yield and fruit quality were evaluated and several assays of substrate microbial activity and community profiles (fluorescein diacetate analysis and EcoLog, values, nematode counts) were conducted. Crops grown in 20% to 40% compost (yard waste or yard waste plus swine manure) plus a continuously applied liquid source of organic potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulphate (SO4) could not be sustained more than 1 month before nutrient deficiencies became visible. Supplementation with a nitrogen (N)- and phosphorus (P)-containing plant-based liquid fertilizer at the point when plant deficiencies became apparent subsequently produced yields ≈80% that of the hydroponic control. In a second experiment, the proportion of mushroom or yard waste compost was increased to 50% of the mix, and liquid delivery of K, Ca, Mg and SO4 plus either plant-based or fish-based N- and P-containing liquid feeds was started at the date of transplanting. In this case, organic yields equal to that of the hydroponic control (8.5 kg/plant) were observed in some treatments. The most productive organic treatment was the mushroom compost supplemented with a low concentration of the plant-based liquid fertilizer. In general, organic tomatoes had a lower postharvest decay index (better shelf life) than did the hydroponic controls, possibly as an indirect consequence of overall reduced yield in those treatments. High concentrations of both organic liquid feeds resulted in lower yields as a result of treatment-induced fusarium crown and root rot. In contrast to some previous studies, those treatments showing fusarium crown and root rot also had the highest gross microbial activity. Measures of gross microbial activity and numbers of microbivorous nematodes were higher (average of 37% and 6.7 times, respectively) in compost/organic feed treatments than in the hydroponic control. Community physiological profiles of the bacterial populations, on the other hand, did not differ between organic and hydroponic treatments. Nematode populations were significantly correlated with gross microbial activity in the organic treatments.