Defining Irrigation Set Points Based on Substrate Properties for Variable Irrigation and Constant Matric Potential Devices in Greenhouse Tomato.


Lemay, I., Caron, J., Dorais, M., and Pépin, S. (2012). "Defining Irrigation Set Points Based on Substrate Properties for Variable Irrigation and Constant Matric Potential Devices in Greenhouse Tomato.", HortScience, 47(8), pp. 1141-1152.


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 by products 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 (gS)], substrate physical and chemical properties, biomass, and yield were obtained. For all irrigation strategies, results indicated that 10% to 20% higher photosynthesis rates and gS 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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