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Reflective Mulches Boost Fruit Size, Color and Yields

08/01/2011

By Renee Stern, Contributing Editor

Reflective materials that bounce additional sunlight up into tree canopies from the orchard floor can pay off in higher yields, bigger sizes, and better and more evenly colored fruit.

Tests over the past eight years with reflective fabrics placed in drive rows produced similar results in apples, cherries, pears, peaches and nectarines, says Tory Schmidt, a research associate with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee.

“I was a little surprised at how consistently effective they’ve been at those three qualities,” Schmidt says.

‘Pretty substantial’ results

Results include a “pretty substantial” impact in size, fruit set and yield. Yields in test plots, for example, have run up to 20 percent to 25 percent higher, he says. Mylar foils used in the tests improved only fruit color.

Higher yields, larger fruit and better color “all put money back in the grower’s pocket,” Schmidt says.

While reflective materials so far are more common in Western orchards, the extra light also is crucial for Michigan cherry growers using high tunnel systems with blush varieties.

“We’re already light-limited [without high tunnels] so every little bit helps,” says Greg Lang, professor of horticulture at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Adding to the problem, the plastic used in high tunnels partly blocks ultraviolet light.

And without UV light, only the topmost layer of Rainiers and other high-value blush cherries achieve full color. The rest, he says, stay pale yellow.

Convincing results in blush cherries

Lang hasn’t found funding for a full range of controlled experiments with the reflective materials.

But he’s done enough preliminary work with three types—Extenday reflective fabric, Mylar foil and a white weed barrier fabric—to show convincing results with blush cherries.

The jury is still out for the region’s growers with Bings and other sweet red varieties, or for those not using high tunnels, he says.

Any added expense requires careful consideration.

Choices, choices, choices

Which reflective material to use depends on your objectives for a particular block, says Jonathan Toye, founder and chief executive officer of Extenday USA Inc.

The company, based in Yakima, Wash., offers 10 versions of its reflective fabric, varying in weight, durability, reflectivity and weave construction.

Growers’ objectives also affect how they use the material, when they deploy it and whether they shift it later in the growing season to aid a different crop, Toye says. “Think about it as a management tool,” he says.

Washington Fruit & Produce Co. in Yakima, Wash., has used Extenday since 2005, mainly in Gala apple blocks. There, the company sees not only color improvements but also up to a 10 percent increase in yield, says orchard manager Dan Plath.

“If [color] was the only reason it wouldn’t justify the expense,” he says.

For color alone, Mylar foils suffice, he says. The company chooses that material for its older Fuji and Gala varieties.

“We have to work harder on those to get color, so there’s a lot of room for improvement,” he says. “But the newer generations [of those varieties] are where we’re getting 70 to 80 percent premium [fruit].”

If improving fruit color is your main objective, Schmidt says, you can wait until a few weeks before harvest to install reflective foils or fabrics. Laying out the material at bloom helps increase cell division to ultimately boost fruit size and yield.

Hold off early deployment until after any severe frost forecasts, Plath says.

Reflective materials substantially reduce ground warming from spring sunlight, which can translate into a degree or two drop in nighttime orchard temperatures—a potentially crucial difference for frost protection.

Mylar foils cost less up front, Schmidt says, but are less durable and must be replaced after a single season, increasing disposal costs.

Sturdier materials such as Extenday represent a bigger initial investment, but can be used for five or six years before replacement.

And unlike the foils, they also can stand up to being rolled up and moved to a new location partway through the growing season, he says.

Many growers take advantage of that sturdiness, placing the fabric strips in apple blocks early in the season to boost cell division, then transferring them to cherry orchards before harvest.

After finishing up cherries, they return the fabric to apple orchards to boost fruit color, he says.

“The benefits more than pay for all that moving around,” Schmidt says. Growers get three to four uses each year out of the same product rather than investing in three times as much reflective material.

The Extenday fabrics work best raised slightly from the ground to allow air flow, he says. Shock cords secure the material during use.

Plath recommends doubling up shock cords on the windward side of any block, a lesson learned from hard experience. A wind storm blew fabric strips up into tree rows like sails, breaking trees at bud unions.

But avoid tightening the cords too much, he says. The material needs some give, especially to handle equipment traffic.

Careful handling and storage during the off-season—ideally rolled up under a tarp out of the way—will help increase its life, Schmidt says.

Reflective material can help make “the best blocks better,” he says. But it’s not a rescue product. “It may marginally help shaded, struggling blocks, but there has to be light reaching the ground for it to be effective.”

 

For information regarding American Nettings and Fabric’s mulch, please see Veggie Mulch

Reasons You Should Create an Organic Hydroponic Greenhouse

Soil is very essential for a plant’s life. Many people would wonder how a plant would grow without the use of soil. Because of the many advances and new technological discoveries, everything can be made in an instant such as food, beverages, and even plants. There are new methods in these modern days where they can grow the plants fast. The use of the traditional method of agriculture, which consists of the slow process of cultivating, watering, sowing, and attending to the plant everyday, became less popular to those gardeners who have learned the methods of organic hydroponics. Organic hydroponics lessens a gardener’s effort of growing the plant in an instant. A person can grow his plants fast and can create more production by applying the methods of organic hydroponics. Others have known this method to be interesting in the first place, because it does not require the use of soil to raise the plants. Some people also know this process as soil-less culture, water gardening, soil-less gardening, and chemi-culture. For many farmers and gardeners it is commonly known as hydroponics gardening. This methodical way of gardening shows a simultaneous way of cultivating the plants without any presence of soil. The needed nutrients needed by the plants are directly supplied on their roots. The organic chemical fertilizers must be in dissolved so that they will be fed for the plants. The nutrients must be soluble enough so that the roots will surely zip the solution. This is an amazing process that no soil is needed to complement the liquid provided to the plants. Many greenhouses are now used in applying organic hydroponic fertilizers to their plants. However, there are still many greenhouse owners who do not want to perform this method on their plants. They believe that it is ecologically harmful and bad for the environment, but this could not be true according to many experts who study the science of hydroponics. They insist that in this way they could attend to the much needed demand of food supply nowadays. This could be true because organic hydroponics allows the plant to quickly grow healthier. A gardener should also be satisfied to the increase of his crop production than his usual harvested crop. Here are some benefits and advantages of using organic and hydroponics gardening. 1. A person may not worry if the water fed to the plants could be less or enough for the roots. 2. He may not worry on the fertilizer or chemical solution applied to the plants because the amount may not matter as long as the plants is able to sustain its fast growth and production. 3. Many organic hydroponics greenhouses are used for many researches and studies for plant and seed propagation using the science of hydroponics. They seem to be valuable for many scientists that experiments about technological advancements on how to improve more on plant organic fertilizers and chemical solutions. 4. The space needed for holding the plants is now more convenient because he may use lesser space to accommodate and attend to more plants than being more concerned in potting and sowing or cultivating any soil. 5. Hydroponics gardening helps a person conserve more time and effort. It relieves a person on laborious work in attending to the different needs of the soil such as keeping the soil wet, sowing, weeding the soil, and nurturing the soil. 6. Plants can grow together even if they are grown close to each other. Unlike in traditional agriculture, the plants need more space because the soil creates bigger roots for the plants. In hydroponics gardening the roots of the plants grow smaller in contrast to a larger plant or crop. 7. A farmer can practice multiple cropping for he can harvest and plant the crops at the same time. He may realize that he harvested more crops compared to his previous harvest where he had used the normal way of planting. 8. He may be able to grow larger and healthier plants because of the organic fertilizer supplied on the roots of the plants. Nowadays, hydroponics gardening is widely accepted by many farmers and gardeners. The presence of many organic hydroponic greenhouses is a proof to its popularity and accessibility to the needs of plants and crops in this modern time to accommodate more plant and crop production.

Read about pruning tomatoes and ripen tomatoes at the Tomato Growing website.