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Wenjing Guan and Xin Zhao

Grafting has been used for controlling certain soilborne diseases and improving abiotic stress tolerance in muskmelon (Cucumis melo) production. Grafting methods may vary considerably among geographic regions and nurseries, while excision of rootstock roots before graft healing may also be practiced, which allows root regeneration of the grafted plants. In this greenhouse study, four grafting methods including hole insertion, one-cotyledon, noncotyledon, and tongue approach methods were examined for their impacts on plant growth and root characteristics of ‘Athena’ muskmelon grafted onto ‘Strong Tosa’ interspecific hybrid squash rootstock (Cucurbita maxima × C. moschata). Nongrafted rootstock and scion plants were included as controls. Both the grafted and nongrafted plants were examined with or without root excision. The practice of root excision was unsuccessful with the tongue approach method, while it did not exhibit significant effects on graft quality and growth of plants grafted with the one-cotyledon and hole insertion methods. Grafted plants with root excision started to show active and rapid root regeneration at 8 days after grafting (DAG) and reached similar root length and surface area as the root-intact plants at 16 DAG. Plants grafted with the noncotyledon method showed a different root growth pattern with decreased root length and surface area at 16 DAG. As a result, this method reduced the quality of grafted plants. No significant differences in plant growth characteristics were observed among the hole insertion, one-cotyledon, and tongue approach grafted plants.

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Xin Zhao and Edward E. Carey

High tunnels, unheated greenhouses, have been shown to be a profitable season-extending production tool for many horticultural crops. Production of cool-season vegetables during hot summer months can be achieved using shaded high tunnels. Microclimate in high tunnels and open field was monitored during summer trials of leaf lettuce, in which unshaded tunnels and shaded tunnels (39% PAK white shadecloth) were used, respectively, in 2002 and 2003. Wind speed was consistently lower in high tunnels. Compared to open field, daily air temperature was about 0.7 °C higher in unshaded high tunnels, and 0.5 °C lower in shaded high tunnels. Relative humidity was slightly lower in unshaded tunnels, but tended to increase in shaded tunnels, in comparison to the open field. When using shadecloth, soil temperature was lowered by 1∼3 °C and the leaf surface temperature was significantly reduced by 1.5∼2.5 °C. In shaded high tunnels, PAR light dropped by at least 50% relative to the outside, where the maximum PAR light intensity reached 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1. Overall, shaded high tunnels resulted in higher quality lettuce, with less bolting and bitterness. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ET0) was estimated from meteorological data on a daily basis using the FAO-56 method. ET0 was lowest in shaded high tunnels, and highest in the open field. Relatively lower ET0 in high tunnels indicated a likely lower water requirement and therefore improved water use efficiency compared with the open field.

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Xin Zhao and Edward E. Carey

High tunnels have been shown to be a profitable season-extending production tool for many horticultural crops. Production of cool-season vegetables during the hot summer months represents a challenge to market growers in the midwestern United States. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the microclimate and production of eight leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cultivars in high tunnels and open fields, using unshaded and shaded (39% white shadecloth) tunnels in Summer 2002 and 2003, respectively. Wind speed was consistently lower in high tunnels with the sidewalls and endwalls open. An unshaded high tunnel resulted in an increase of daily maximum and minimum air temperatures by ≈0.2 and 0.3 °C, respectively, in comparison with the open field. In contrast, daily maximum air temperature in a shaded high tunnel decreased by 0.4 °C, while the daily minimum air temperature was higher than that in the open field by 0.5 °C. Using high tunnels did not cause a marked change in relative humidity compared with the open field. When using shadecloth, the daily maximum soil temperature was lowered by ≈3.4 °C and the leaf surface temperature was reduced by 1.5 to 2.5 °C. The performance of lettuce during summer trials varied significantly among cultivars. Unshaded high tunnels generally led to more rapid bolting and increased bitterness of lettuce compared with the open field. Lettuce grown in high tunnels covered by shadecloth had a lower bolting rate, but decreased yield relative to the open field. Based on our results, summer lettuce production would not be recommended in high tunnels or open fields in northeastern Kansas, although the potential of shaded high tunnels deserves further studies. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ET0) was estimated from meteorological data on a daily basis using the FAO-56 method. The ET0 was lowest in the shaded high tunnel and was the highest in the open field. Relatively lower ET0 in high tunnels indicated a likely lower water requirement and therefore improved water use efficiency compared with the open field.

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Wenjing Guan, Xin Zhao and Donald J. Huber

Interspecific hybrid squash (Cucurbita maxima × Cucurbita moschata) is a well-known cucurbit rootstock for controlling soilborne diseases and improving abiotic stress tolerance. However, reduced fruit quality has been reported on certain melon (Cucumis melo) cultivars when grafted with squash rootstocks. In this study, a field experiment was designed to explore fruit development and quality attributes of galia melon ‘Arava’ by grafting with hybrid squash rootstock ‘Strong Tosa’. Grafted plants with ‘Strong Tosa’ showed delayed anthesis of female flowers by ≈8–9 days, but harvest dates were unaffected compared with non- and self-grafted ‘Arava’ plants. Early and total yields were not significantly different between grafted and nongrafted plants. Grafted plants with ‘Strong Tosa’ rootstock exhibited accelerated fruit development and greater vegetative growth. During the harvest period, ≈27% of grafted plants with ‘Strong Tosa’ wilted, which was determined as nonpathogenic. Grafting with ‘Strong Tosa’ rootstock resulted in reduced fruit total soluble solids (TSS) and consumer rated sensory properties.

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Zhifeng Gao, Marilyn Swisher and Xin Zhao

Farmers’ markets (FMs) are perceived as ideal places for consumers to purchase fresh, local, and organic produce; for small- and midsized farmers, to gain reliable income; and for stimulating the local economy. However, with the organic and local food movements gaining momentum, it may be hard to keep up with all the expectations for FMs. This is because the rapid growth of FMs may provide more opportunities for vendors who use misleading labels and statements to attract consumers. The objective of this study was to determine consumer perception and knowledge of FMs as well as consumer persistence of shopping at FMs after finding out that the FM products do not meet their expectations. The results indicated that FM shopping atmosphere, environmental consciousness, product freshness, and local production were the main reasons for consumers shopping at FMs. This study showed that the majority of consumers had limited knowledge of individual FM vendors; most consumers would continue to shop at FMs even after purchasing products that did not meet their expectations; and consumers who believed buying locally at FMs was important were more likely to stop shopping if dishonest vendor practices were revealed than were consumers who used FMs mainly as places for socializing and meeting friends.

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Xin Zhao, Edward E. Carey and Takeo Iwamoto

An experiment was conducted at Olathe, Kan., in Spring 2004 to investigate the influence of organic and conventional fertilizer sources and application rates on antioxidant levels of pac choi (Brassica rapa L. cv. Mei Qing) in open fields and poly-covered high-tunnel plots. Organic plots received pre-plant application of composted cattle manure and alfalfa (Hu-More 1–1–1) at 0 kg/ha N, 156 kg/ha N, or 314 kg/ha N, and conventional plots received preplant application of 13N–13P–13K at 0 kg/ha N, 78 kg/ha N, or 156 kg/ha N. Antioxidant levels were measured using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay. There were significant effects of fertilizer source and high-tunnel environment on the antioxidant capacity of pac choi. Organic fertilization significantly increased hydrophilic ORAC of pac choi in open field plots, but not in high tunnels. Regardless of the fertilizer source, pac choi grown in the open field had significantly higher hydrophilic ORAC than that grown in tunnels. Lipophilic ORAC was significantly increased by organic fertilization but was not affected by high-tunnel production. Total ORAC (hydrophilic + lipophilic) was significantly higher in pac choi from organic or open-field plots, compared to conventional and high-tunnel plots, respectively. Although fertilizer rate did not show significant impact on antioxidant level of pac choi, hydrophilic and total ORAC seemed to decrease as the fertilizer rate increased, especially under conventional fertilization, while lipophilic ORAC reached the highest level at the medium fertilizer rate. Differences in antioxidant levels were likely associated with the enhanced phytochemical content of pac choi from organically fertilized and open-field plots.

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Charles E. Barrett, Xin Zhao and Robert McSorley

Organic heirloom tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.) are difficult to grow in Florida as a result of root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) (RKN) and hot, humid growing conditions. Although grafting with resistant rootstocks has been shown effective for RKN management in tomato production, little research has been conducted on grafted heirloom tomatoes under Florida conditions. In this 2-year study, two susceptible heirloom tomato scions, ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Flamme’, were grafted onto two hybrid rootstocks, i.e., interspecific tomato hybrid rootstock ‘Multifort’ (S. lycopersicum × S. habrochaites) and tomato hybrid rootstock ‘Survivor’ (S. lycopersicum). Non-grafted and self-grafted scions were used as controls. Three field trials were conducted including the 2010 and 2011 organic field trials as well as a transitional organic field trial in 2011. There was a lack of RKN pressure in the organic field in 2010. In 2011, the RKN population was higher in the transitional field than the organic field, whereas grafting with hybrid rootstocks significantly reduced root galling (P ≤ 0.0001) in both fields. In the organic field, the hybrid rootstocks performed similarly and significantly reduced root galling compared with the non-grafted and self-grafted scions by ≈80.8%. In the transitional field, compared with non-grafted scions, the root galling reduction by ‘Survivor’ (97.1%) was significantly greater than that by ‘Multifort’ (57.6%). In general, tomato plants grafted onto ‘Multifort’ tended to be more vigorous than all other treatments. There was no clear relationship between root galling and tomato yields. Grafting did not significantly affect the total marketable yield for the scion ‘Flamme’ in both years. Total marketable yield was similar among treatments in 2010 but varied in 2011 for the scion ‘Brandywine’. In 2011, the non-grafted ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Brandywine’ grafted to ‘Survivor’ produced significantly higher (P < 0.05) yields than other treatments in the organic field. However, in the transitional field, ‘Brandywine’ grafted to ‘Multifort’ resulted in significantly higher (P < 0.05) yields than the non- and self-grafted ‘Brandywine’ treatments. Grafting with appropriate rootstocks may play an effective role in RKN management during the transition to organic production when high populations of nematodes are present.

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Desire Djidonou, Zhifeng Gao and Xin Zhao

In addition to controlling soilborne diseases, grafting with selected rootstocks has the potential to enhance growth and yields in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production. However, information is rather limited regarding its economic viability in different production systems in the United States. The objective of this study was to compare the costs and returns of grafted vs. nongrafted fresh-market tomato production under common management practices in fumigated fields in northern Florida. The field trials were conducted in Live Oak, FL, during Spring 2010 and 2011. ‘Florida 47’ tomato was grafted onto two interspecific hybrid tomato rootstocks: ‘Beaufort’ and ‘Multifort’. Grafted and nongrafted ‘Florida 47’ plants were grown on fumigated raised beds with polyethylene mulch and drip irrigation using recommended commercial production practices for nutrient and pest management. The estimated costs of grafted and nongrafted transplants were $0.67 and $0.15 per plant, respectively, resulting in an additional cost of $3020.16 per acre for using grafted transplants as compared with nongrafted plants. Grafting also led to higher costs of harvesting and marketing tomato fruit as a result of yield improvement (1890 to 2166 25-lb cartons per acre for grafted plant vs. 1457 to 1526 25-lb cartons per acre for nongrafted plant). Partial budget analyses showed that using grafted transplants increased tomato production costs by $4488.03–$5189.76 per acre depending on the rootstock and growing season. However, compared with nongrafted tomato, the net farm return of grafted tomato production was increased by $253.32–$2458.24 per acre based on the tomato shipping point prices. Sensitivity analysis further demonstrated that grafting would be more profitable as the costs of grafted transplants decreased and the market tomato prices increased. These results indicated that although grafting increased the total cost of production, the increase in marketable fruit yield generated significant gross returns to offset costs associated with the use of grafted tomato transplants. Nevertheless, further research is warranted to provide more production budget and net return data about the economic feasibility of grafted tomato production based on a wide range of commercial growing conditions in Florida.

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Xin Zhao*, Janice E. Young, Ted Carey and Weiqun Wang

Organic vegetables have been suggested to produce higher levels of phytochmemicals, which play active roles in disease prevention. We measured total phenolic and aglycone flavonoid (apigenin, kaempferol, luteolin, and quercetin) contents in leaves of organically- and conventionally-grown lettuce (`Kalura' and `Red Sails'), collards (`Top Bunch') and Pak Choi (`Mei Qing') greens during spring and summer trials, using the Folin assay and HPLC, respectively. Postharvest changes in phenolic contents of organic and conventional lettuce were also investigated after 17-day storage at 4 °C. Production system did not cause a significant difference in total phenolic levels of lettuce and collards in either trial, but total phenolics were significantly higher in organic Pak Choi in the summer trial, possibly due to greater flea beetle damage in the organic plots. Organic production did not affect the aglycone flavonoid levels of lettuce and collards in the spring trial except that apigenin increased in organic samples. In the summer trial, however, concentrations of kaempferol, luteolin and quercetin tended to increase in organic lettuce and collards; only luteolin showed promising increase in Pak Choi. Species and cultivars both had significant effects on total phenolic and flavonoid contents. After 17-day storage, total phenolic content significantly increased in both organic and conventional lettuce although the concentrations of aglycone flavonoids remained relatively constant. Total phenolic content was higher in organic `Red Sails' at a marginal significance level after storage, while it did not differ between organic and conventional `Kalura'. We noted a dominant presence of glycoside flavonoids in lettuce before and after storage, which warrants further study.

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Desire Djidonou, Xin Zhao, Jeffrey K. Brecht and Kim M. Cordasco

Grafting is considered to be a unique component in sustainable vegetable production. In addition to its usefulness for managing soil-borne diseases, it has been suggested that grafting with vigorous rootstocks can improve crop growth and yield. The objective of this greenhouse study was to assess the effects of different interspecific hybrid tomato rootstocks (Solanum lycopersicum × Solanum habrochaites) on yield, growth, nutrient accumulation, and fruit composition of tomato (S. lycopersicum). Using the determinate tomato cultivar Florida 47 as the scion, plants were grafted onto four interspecific rootstock cultivars including Beaufort, Maxifort, Multifort, and RST-04-105. Overall, the use of rootstocks resulted in total and marketable fruit increase 53% and 66% higher than non-grafted and self-grafted scion plants, respectively. The increase in marketable yield by ‘Beaufort’, ‘Maxifort’, and ‘Multifort’ was largely attributed to an increased number of fruit per plant, whereas higher average fruit weight contributed to the yield increase in plants grafted onto ‘RST-04-105’. Self-grafting of ‘Florida 47’ resulted in similar yield as the non-grafted scion control. Analyses of plant growth parameters demonstrated significant enhancement of total leaf area at first fruit harvest in plants grafted onto interspecific rootstocks as compared with the non-grafted and self-grafted scion controls. In addition to plant growth and yield improvement, enhanced accumulation of nitrogen, potassium, and calcium was also observed in grafted plants. The enhancement in mineral nutrient accumulation was largely related to increased biomass accumulation rather than higher nutrient concentration (on a dry weight basis). The overall accumulation of phosphorus was not influenced markedly by the rootstocks used. In general, grafting with the interspecific rootstocks maintained fruit soluble solids content (SSC) and total titratable acidity (TTA), concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, and total phenolics at levels comparable with non-grafted plants, whereas harvest date showed a more pronounced effect on fruit composition.