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Tomato Production in Subirrigated Systems

Y. Tzel1, I.H.Tzel2, A. Gl1, G.B. Oztekin1 and F. Ucer1

Ege University, Faculty of Agriculture
Depts. of 1Horticulture and 2Agricultural
Structures and Irrigation, Bornova/Izmir

Keywords: subirrigation, substrate, root volume, water use efficiency (WUE)

Simplified subirrigated system including strophor containers and a smart
valve controlling the entry of water to the reservoir (modified Auto-pot system) was
tested in tomato production during the years of 2004 and 2005 in order to determine
the effects of different substrates and container volumes on yield, quality and water
In the spring season of 2004, perlite, zeolite and volcanic tuff were compared
in the system. The highest total yield was obtained from perlite as 11.3 kg/m2. The
following autumn (2004) and spring (2005) seasons the volume of the containers as 6,
9, 12 and 15 litres perlite per plant was compared in terms of yield, fruit quality and
water use efficiency.
There were no significant differences among the treatments in both growing
seasons and the total yields in autumn and spring seasons changed between 8.48
11.24 and 9.74 10.18 kg/m2 respectively.

Soilless culture is one of the strategies to replace MeBr. However, there is a need
for a system with low cost operation and simple enough technology for water and
fertilizer use, suiting farmers dependence on capital spending and knowledge and also
considering consumers expectations for high quality and safe product, with less
environmental impact and cost reduction.
In subirrigated systems, nutrient solution is not leached or discharged into the
environment (Elia et al., 2003). Compared to the traditional ones subirrigated systems
have several advantages in terms of water and fertilizer saving, uniformity of nutrition,
labor efficiency (Uva et al., 1998) and self-scheduling (Fah, 2000). Those systems are
proposed mainly in the pot plant production due to the short growing cycle and low water
and nutrient requirements (Molitor, 1990; Nelson, 1990; Dole et al., 1994).
The Auto-pot system, a patented hydroponic technique, uses capillary action in the
substrate to deliver solution to the plant roots (McIntyre and McRae, 2005). It is a fully
automatic, empowered watering and feeding system capable of supplying the needs of
individual plants (Fah, 2000). In the modified systems the number of plants grown in a
container is increased.
The purpose of this study was to test simplified sub-irrigated system in tomato
production comparing substrates and substrate volumes and to determine yield, fruit
quality parameters and water use efficiencies.


This study was carried out in a polyethylene covered, non-heated high tunnel at
the Faculty of Agriculture in Ege University between 2004 and 2005.
The tested system had strophor containers (120 x 25.5 x 21 cm) and each one had
a smart valve controlling the entry of water to the reservoir (modified auto-pot system).
Nutrient solution was provided via a tank (30 litres) connected to three containers. Water
and nutrient was supplied when the valve was opened to allow the solution to enter the
bottom of the container to a pre determined and pre set depth (usually 3.5 cm). Then
valve closed and did not permit further entry of solution until the original supply had been

Proc. VIIIth IS on Protected Cultivation in Mild Winter Climates

Eds.: A. Hanafi and W.H. Schnitzler 441
Acta Hort. 747, ISHS 2007
conveyed from the solution chamber to the pot and consequently to the plant. Absorption
was achieved by capillary action that naturally occurred in the substrate. Once the
solution had been absorbed to the extent that the solution film under the valve had gone,
the valve re-opened to supply water and nutrient to the container (Fah, 2000).
In the spring season of 2004, perlite, zeolite and volcanic tuff were compared in
the system. Planting date of cv. Durinta seedings were 24th March 2004 with a plant
density of 3.48 plants/m2. Plant root volume was 5 litres per plant.
The following autumn (2004) and spring (2005) seasons experiment was re-
designed and perlite was used as growing medium according to the results obtained from
the first experiment in spring 2004. The heights of the containers were increased in order
to compare different volumes of the plant roots namely 6 (control), 9, 12 and 15 litres per
plant. The planting dates were 03 September 2004 and 04 March 2005 in autumn and
spring seasons, respectively.
Water and nutrient requirements were supplied with a complete nutrient solution
with a composition of (mg L-1) N 210 (240), P 40, K 250 (300), Ca 150, Mg 50, Fe 2, Mn
0.75, B 0.4, Zn 0.50, Cu 0.10 and Mo 0.05 (Day, 1991). The concentrations shown in the
brackets of N and K were the increased doses used after the fruit setting at the 3rd truss.
The concentration of Ca was 20 mg L-1 because level of Ca in tap water was found as
high as 130 mg L-1.
Crop development was terminated at 8th truss in both seasons. Water consumption
was calculated according to the amount of solution used in the system. The amount of
total soluble solids (TSS,%) (Hortwirth, 1960), EC and pH of fruit juices, titratable fruit
acidity (TA, mval/100 ml fruit juice) (Joslyn, 1970), total dry matter (DM,%) and vitamin
C (Morell, 1941) were determined, as well. Roots were sampled at the end of growing
season 2004 and 2005. Perlite was washed off the roots with top water. Root length and
dry weight were determined. The experimental design was randomized parcels with three


Effects of Substrates
The effect of substrates on total yield was found significantly different. Among the
tested substrates perlite gave the highest yield with 11.29 kg/m2 (Table 1).
Fruit quality parameters, namely dry matter content, titratable acidity, EC and pH
of fruit juice and vitamin C content did not show any significant difference excluding
total soluble solids. Water consumption of the plants grown in perlite was the highest. It
was 9 and 24% higher in perlite compared with zeolite and tuff respectively. On the other
hand the values of WUE for each substrate were almost the same (Table 2) due to the
difference in yield.
In the sub-irrigated system there is a continuous capillary movement of nutrient
solution. Water and nutrient uptake is dependent the quantity and activity of root system
(Gosiewski and Skapski, 1984). Substrate has a crucial role for the root development and
to provide water, air and nutrient elements. Among the substrates perlite is accepted to be
one of the most appropriate to use in sub-irrigated systems due to the higher water
absorption (Elia et al., 2003).

Effects of Substrate Volumes

1. Yield. In both growing seasons the effect of substrate volumes on total yield were
found insignificant. While the total yield changed between 8.48 and 11.25 kg/m2 in
autumn, it was between 9.74 and 10.18 kg/m2 in spring. Other parameters related to yield,
namely total fruit number, average fruit weight and non marketable fruit ratio did not
show any significant differences according to the tested substrate volumes (Tables 3 and
2. Fruit Quality. Quality parameters were measured in the fruit samples taken and
analyzed at the mid of growing season. In autumn season tested substrate volumes did not

effect fruit titratable acidity, total soluble solids, dry matter content and EC and pH of
fruit juice, where vitamin C changed significantly according to the treatment. The highest
vitamin C was found in the substrate volume of 6 litres per plant (Table 5).
In spring growing season the effects of substrate volumes on TA, vitamin C, EC
and pH of fruit juice were found significant. The highest TA and fruit juice EC were
obtained from the fruits harvested from the plants grown in the substrate volume of
6 L/plant. pH of fruit juice and vitamin C were the lowest in 12 L/plant (Table 6).
3. Water Consumption. Water efficiencies changed between 23.53 and 26.7 kg/m3 in
autumn and 45.36 and 52.99 kg/m3 in spring growing season (Table 7).
4. Root Growth. Although in autumn tested substrate volumes did not affect root length,
in spring season root length of the plants increased with substrate volumes in both
seasons. As a function of root growth, ratio of dry weight was significantly affected by
the treatments. In both seasons, the highest values were recorded in the plants grown in
15 L/plant (Table 8). This result is in accordance with the result of Dosselaere et al.
(2003) who indicate the more roots were found in the bigger pots, with the smallest pots
limiting root growth and development the most. Thick roots were not found in the
smallest pots and the roots in these pots were significantly shorter.

Supported by the European Union INCO Med 2 Project (ICA3-CT-200210020).
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Table 1. Changes of yield and fruit quality parameters according to substrate.

Yield DM TA TSS EC vit C

Substrate (kg/m2) (%) (mval/100 ml) (%) (dS/m) pH (mg/100 ml)
Perlite 11.29 a 11.89 8.20 5.30 b 5.59 3.94 7.13
Tuff 8.62 b 11.89 8.97 6.35 a 5.41 3.96 7.94
Zeolite 9.35 b 10.44 9.01 5.35 b 5.79 3.89 6.96

Table 2. Water consumptions and WUEs of tested substrates.

Water consumption WUE

Substrate (L/plant) (kg/m3)
Perlite 146.13 22.2
Zeolite 120.85 22.2
Tuff 111.11 22.3

Table 3. Yield related parameters in autumn growing season.

Total Total Ave. fruit Non

yield number weight marketable
(kg/m2) (no/m2) (g) fruits (%)
6 L/ plant 10.35 125.05 82.64 12.13
9 L/ plant 9.39 106.95 83.45 14.65
12 L/ plant 8.48 115.54 82.49 11.82
15 L/ plant 11.24 115.31 92.46 14.65

Table 4. Yield related parameters in spring growing season.

Total Total Ave. fruit Non

yield number weight marketable
(kg/m2) (no/m2) (g) fruits (%)
6 L/ plant 9.74 147.32 62.86 29.31
9 L/ plant 9.44 143.03 62.80 19.35
12 L/ plant 9.61 127.60 71.79 12.69
15 L/ plant 10.18 131.78 71.23 14.40

Table 5. Fruit quality in autumn.

(mval/100ml) (%) (%) (dS/m) pH (mg/100ml)
6 L/plant 5.62 4.60 5.62 5.63 4.56 18.73 a
9 L/ plant 5.83 4.33 5.84 5.57 4.62 15.54 b
12 L/ plant 5.79 4.30 5.79 5.49 4.60 16.33 ab
15 L/ plant 5.59 4.23 5.65 5.50 4.61 16.91 ab

Table 6. Fruit quality in spring.

(mval/100ml) (%) (%) (dS/m) pH (mg/100ml)
6 L/plant 9.69 ab 5.87 7.11 6.35 ab 4.37 a 13.78 a
9 L/ plant 9.95 a 5.90 6.93 6.48 a 4.34 a 13.38 ab
12 L/ plant 8.78 ab 5.33 6.85 6.12 bc 4.26 b 11.56 b
15 L/ plant 8.36 b 5.17 6.22 5.93 c 4.33 a 13.78 ab

Table 7. Water consumptions and WUEs of tested substrate volumes.

Water consumption WUE

(L/plant) (kg/m3)
Autumn Spring Autumn Spring
6 L/plant 57.0 107.8 50.85 25.76
9 L/ plant 56.9 106.1 46.35 25.39
12 L/ plant 52.4 98.5 45.39 27.81
15 L/ plant 62.6 107.8 50.80 26.91

Table 8. Root length and dry matter content.

Length (cm) Dry weight (%)

Autumn Spring Autumn Spring
6 L/plant 30.3 26.7 b 14.9 b 16.6 b
9 L/ plant 31.5 28.5 b 15.7 b 19.2 b
12 L/ plant 31.5 32.0 ab 18.5 ab 19.7 b
15 L/ plant 33.0 38.3 a 20.9 a 30.2 a