Tomato and lettuce are amongst the most important fresh vegetables used in South Africa. However, growth, yield and quality of tomato and lettuce are constrained by water shortage and poor productivity of sandy soil. In South Africa, large parts of the agricultural land are in a semi-arid region and water is becoming scarcer and more costly. Recognizing the fundamental importance of water-holding amendments like gel-polymers to enhance water use efficiency and soil physical properties, this study was carried out to investigate the effects of pure gel-polymer and fertiliser-fused gel-polymer soil amendments across five irrigation intervals on growth, yield and quality of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) and lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). The response of tomato growth, yield and quality to irrigation interval and gel-polymer soil amendments (pure gel-polymer and fertiliser fused gel-polymer) was conducted in a tunnel. The gel-polymer treatments were: control (sandy soil), two pure gel-polymer levels (8 and 16 g-20 L-1 sandy soil, equivalent to 400 g and 800 g-m-3) and two fertiliser fused gel-polymer levels (20 and 40 g-20 L-1 sandy soil, equivalent to 1 kg and 2 kg-m-3). Irrigation was either applied once daily or every second, third, fourth or fifth day, equivalent to 0.8, 1.25, 1.45, 1.88 and 2.29 L of water per 20 L bag of sand. Fruit mass, fruit diameter, fruit number, plant height, stem diameter, number of trusses, root fresh and dry mass, total soluble solids, fruit juice pH and titratable acidity were determined. Neither irrigation interval nor gel-polymer amendments had an influence on tomato quality (total soluble solids, pH and titratable acidity). Generally, plant yield, height, stem diameter, number of trusses, and root fresh and dry mass were increased with gel-polymer amendments compared to pure sandy soil. Regardless of irrigation interval, both fertilizer-fused gel-polymer levels appeared to be effective in improving plant growth and yield compared to pure gel-polymer, which gave good results only at the higher level of application. The study revealed that gel-polymer amendments increased productivity of tomato on a sandy soil. Similarly, the response of lettuce growth, yield and quality to gel-polymers and irrigation intervals was investigated under a tunnel conditions. The gel-polymer treatments were: control, two pure gel-polymer levels (4 and 8 g-10 L-1 sandy soil, equivalent to 400 g and 800 g-m-3) and two fertilizer-fused gel-polymer levels (10 and 20 g-20 L-1 sandy soil, equivalent to 1 kg and 2 kg-m-3). Irrigation was either applied daily or every second, third, fourth or fifth day, equivalent to 0.63, 0.83, 1.04, 1.25 and 1.46 L per 10 L plastic bags. Measurements were made of fresh head mass, head height, head circumference, head diameter, stem diameter, fresh root mass, dry root mass and dry head mass. The dried head samples were analysed for percentage tissue calcium and nitrogen. Lettuce grown on sandy soil amended with higher level of pure gel-polymer (Stock 8) and both fertiliser fused gel-polymer levels (Aqua 10 and 20) resulted in significantly higher fresh and dry head mass, head circumference, head diameter, head height, stem diameter, and fresh and dry root mass as compared to low level of pure gel-polymer (Stock 4) and sandy soil without gel-polymer (control). All irrigation intervals did not have an effect on growth, yield and quality of lettuce except at irrigation interval of every third day, which significantly lowered head circumference. Gel-polymer did not have a significant effect on percentage calcium and nitrogen concentration in the leaf tissue. Growing lettuce in soil amended with higher pure gel-polymer (Stock 8) level and both fertiliser-fused gel-polymer (Aqua 20 and Aqua 40) would likely be economically advantageous for a grower due to improved growth and higher yield of good quality lettuce.
Dissertation (MSc (Horticulture))--University of Pretoria, 2007.