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Christopher S. Brown, William M. Cox, Thomas W. Dreschel and Peter V. Chetirkin

A nutrient delivery system that may have applicability for growing plants in microgravity is described. The Vacuum-Operated Nutrient Delivery System (VONDS) draws nutrient solution across roots that are under a partial vacuum at ≈91 kPa. Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. cv. Blue Lake 274) plants grown on the VONDS had consistently greater leaf area and higher root, stem, leaf, and pod dry weights than plants grown under nonvacuum control conditions. This study demonstrates the potential applicability of the VONDS for growing plants in microgravity for space biology experimentation and/or crop production.

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John D. Lea-Cox, William L. Bauerle, Marc W. van Iersel, George F. Kantor, Taryn L. Bauerle, Erik Lichtenberg, Dennis M. King and Lauren Crawford

Wireless sensor networks (WSNs) transmit sensor data and control signals over long distances without the need for expensive infrastructure, allowing WSNs to add value to existing irrigation systems since they provide the grower with direct feedback on the water needs of the crop. We implemented WSNs in nine commercial horticulture operations. We provide an overview of the integration of sensors with hardware and software to form WSNs that can monitor and control irrigation water applications based on one of two approaches: 1) “set-point control” based on substrate moisture measurements or 2) “model-based control” that applied species-specific irrigation in response to transpiration estimates. We summarize the economic benefits, current and future challenges, and support issues we currently face for scaling WSNs to entire production sites. The series of papers that follow either directly describe or refer the reader to descriptions of the findings we have made to date. Together, they illustrate that WSNs have been successfully implemented in horticultural operations to greatly reduce water use, with direct economic benefits to growers.

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John D. Lea-Cox, Cindy Zhao, David S. Ross, Theodore E. Bilderback, J. Roger Harris, Susan D. Day, Chuanxue Hong, Thomas H. Yeager, Richard C. Beeson Jr, William L. Bauerle, Andrew G. Ristvey, Mary Lorscheider, Sarah Dickinson and John M. Ruter

Increasing environmental concerns and legislation in many states and in other countries require that we take a more comprehensive sustainable “best management” approach to production techniques in nursery and greenhouse operations. This is particularly important because these production facilities are typically intense users of resources that are applied to relatively small land areas. We have developed an online knowledge center to facilitate the implementation of more sustainable practices within the nursery and greenhouse industry. A web-based knowledge center provides the most cost-effective mechanism for information delivery, as our potential audiences are extremely diverse and widespread. We currently have a registered user database of over 450 educators, growers, and industry professionals, and undergraduate and graduate students. A gateway website provides an overview of the issues and the goals of the project. The associated knowledge center currently has 25 in-depth learning modules, designed in a Moodle learning management framework. These learning modules are designed to actively engage learners in topics on substrate, irrigation, surface water, and nutrient and crop health management, which are integral to formulating farm-specific strategies for more sustainable water and nutrient management practices. Additional modules provide assessment and implementation tools for irrigation audits, irrigation methods and technologies, and water and nutrient management planning. The instructional design of the learning modules was paramount because there can be multiple strategies to improve site-specific production practices, which often require an integration of knowledge from engineering, plant science, and plant pathology disciplines. The assessment and review of current practices, and the decision to change a practice, are often not linear, nor simple. All modules were designed with this process in mind, and include numerous resources [pictures, diagrams, case studies, and assessment tools (e.g., spreadsheets and example calculations)] to enable the learner to fully understand all of the options available and to think critically about his/her decisions. Sixteen of the modules were used to teach an intensive 400-level “Principles of Water and Nutrient Management” course at the University of Maryland during Spring 2008 and 2009. The water and nutrient management planning module also supports the nursery and greenhouse Farmer Training Certification program in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Agriculture provides continuing education credits for all consultants and growers who register and complete any module in the knowledge center. Although these learning resources were developed by faculty in the eastern region of the United States, much of the information is applicable to more widespread audiences.