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Vegetable Production and Practices

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This comprehensive new textbook takes a scientific approach to explaining the principles of modern conventional and sustainable commercial vegetable production. The book describes the basic botany of vegetables, environmental requirements for successful growth and development, mineral nutrition, field establishment, harvesting methods and post-harvest handling practices.  Professor Gregory E. Welbaum is a former commercial vegetable grower whose family farm has been involved in crop production for several generations.  He has taught both classroom and online vegetable crop classes at Virginia Tech for over two decades. Vegetable Production and Practices has been specifically designed to accompany courses in vegetable crop production, so is ideally suited to inspire students in crop and horticultural sciences, as well as provide a useful reference for experienced practitioners. 

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Chapter 1 Vegetable History, Nomenclature, and Classification



Vegetable History, Nomenclature, and



All societies and ethnic groups eat vegetables because they are essential for maintaining human health. In simple terms, modern vegetable science deals with growing herbaceous plants for human consumption to meet basic nutritional needs. As the world’s population grows, the demand for vegetables will continue to grow as well. Vegetable science, sometimes called olericulture, is one of the most dynamic and important fields of the agricultural sciences. The importance of vegetables has never been greater.

What is a Vegetable?

Most definitions of a vegetable are not botanically based. Vegetable definitions are rather arbitrary by nature and commonly based on usage rather than plant morphology. For example, one widely used definition of a vegetable is: a herbaceous plant or portion of a plant that is eaten whole or in part, raw or cooked, generally with an entree or in a salad but not as a dessert. Of course there are exceptions to this definition. Rhubarb, watermelon and cantaloupes are all considered vegetables but commonly used as desserts. Mushrooms are fungi and not plants but are generally considered to be vegetables, and their production is described in a later chapter.


Chapter 2 Tillage and Cropping Systems



Tillage and Cropping Systems


Soil preparation is an important aspect of vegetable preparation. There are different approaches to field preparation and the dealing with residue left behind by the previous crop. Plowing has been associated with crop production for much of recorded history. A plow is an agricultural implement with a sharp surface used for cutting and/or turning soil. Plows allow the soil to be broken so seeds can be planted. The plow may have first appeared around 1000 bc in the Near East and existed as early as 500 bc in China (Lal et al.,

2007). Moldboard plows were known in Britain after the late 6th century (Hill and Kucharski,

1990). The moldboard design consists of a curved plate with a sharp edge that turns over the soil so the top layers are buried and moist friable layers are brought the surface (Fig. 2.1).

Animals were initially used to pull these implements. Wooden plows remained the standard until

Jethro Wood invented a cast-iron plow with interchangeable parts in the early 1800s. John Lane invented the steel plow shortly thereafter. In 1865,


Chapter 3 Vegetable Seeds and Crop Establishment



Vegetable Seeds and Crop



Most vegetable crops are grown from seeds and not vegetatively propagated. A seed can be defined as

“an immature plant in an arrested state” produced through sexual reproduction. If a plant produces seeds that germinate “true-to-type” and grow rapidly, it is cheaper, more efficient, and usually faster to propagate the crop by seed. True-to-type simply means that the plant that results from a seed has the same traits and appearance as the plant that produced the seed.

Vegetables that do not grow true-to-type from seed or that are difficult to propagate from seed such as potato, sweetpotato, or globe artichoke are vegetatively propagated. Vegetative propagation is a form of asexual reproduction of a plant where the stems, leaves, and roots, or other tissue not involved in reproduction are rooted. With vegetative propagation, the new plant is a clone that is genetically identical to the parent.

Seeds produced through tissue culture are sometimes called synthetic seeds. Synthetic seed can be defined as the artificial encapsulation of somatic embryos, shoot buds, aggregates of cells, or any tissues that have the ability to form a plant (Fujii et al., 1987). Synthetic seeds have been produced commercially but make up a small percentage of the commercial vegetable seeds sold in the world.


Chapter 4 Fertilization and Mineral Nutrition Requirements for Growing Vegetables



Fertilization and Mineral Nutrition

Requirements for Growing Vegetables


Vegetables produce their own energy by photosynthesis using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, but require a fertile soil or growth media to supply mineral nutrients to live, grow, and reproduce successfully. Healthy, well-fed vegetable crops are better able to withstand diseases and insects and to compete with weeds. When the essential minerals required for plant growth and development are limited, vegetable quality suffers and yields decrease. Since vegetables are consumed directly, appearance is important and often times mineral deficiencies cause stunting, distortion, and color change that reduce quality and marketability. This is in contrast to most agronomic crops, which are harvested as grain and processed into foods. With agronomic crops mineral deficiencies affect yield but changes in appearance tend to be less critical.

Plant nutrients are classified into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those mineral elements that are needed in relatively large amounts and can be expressed as a percentage of the plant’s dry weight. They include nitrogen (N), carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium


Chapter 5 Irrigation of Vegetable Crops



Irrigation of Vegetable Crops


Irrigation may be defined as the science of applying water to the land or soil. Irrigation has many diverse uses, including the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall. Additionally, irrigation also may provide frost protection for vegetable crops (Snyder and Melo-Abreu, 2005). In contrast, production that relies only on direct rainfall is referred to as rain-fed or dryland vegetable farming. Successful vegetable production in many regions is dependent upon farmers having sufficient water for irrigation. Water scarcity is a critical constraint to farming in many parts of the world.

Arid regions frequently suffer from physical water scarcity. Physical water scarcity is where there is insufficient water to meet all demands, including those needed for ecosystems to function effectively.

Symptoms of physical water scarcity include environmental degradation and declining groundwater.


Chapter 6 Mulches




Introduction and History

In this chapter, we will discuss the use of mulches in vegetable production. Irrigation was discussed in

Chapter 5, although there is overlap with this chapter.

Plastic mulches were first used experimentally for vegetable production in the early 1950s (Lamont,

2004a). By the 1960s, plastic mulches were widely used because growers quickly recognized that they were affordable, easy to install, provided effective weed control, and increased early harvest conserved moisture.

Early mulches were primarily black or clear. Black mulches were popular because they provided weed control and heated the soil to accelerate early season production of warm-season vegetables (see Fig. 6.2). Plastic mulch has been shown to benefit the production of many crops, but the cucurbits, pepper, tomato, and eggplant seem to show the greatest response. Approximately

6,500 km2 (2,500 miles2) of polyethylene mulch are used for crop production in the world today.

Plasticulture is defined as “a system for growing vegetable crops where significant benefit is obtained from using products derived from synthetic polymers” (Lamont, 1993). Typical plasticulture production consists of raised beds covered with plastic mulch, drip irrigation, delivery of chemicals through the drip irrigation (fertigation/chemigation), and preplant soil fumigation under the plastic mulch. Claimed benefits of the plasticulture system compared to conventional bare-soil production include: earlier production; higher yields per acre; cleaner, higher-quality product; more efficient use of water and fertilizer; reduced leaching of mineral nutrients; less soil erosion; fewer disease problems; fewer weed problems; better management of some insects; reduced soil compaction; less root pruning; and maximum efficiency through double- or triple-cropping (Lamont, 2004a).


Chapter 7 Protected Culture



Protected Culture

A Brief History of Protected Culture

A greenhouse is a building with clear or translucent walls and ceiling used for growing plants. Some of the very earliest greenhouses and conservatories were built in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s in Italy,

France, Germany, England, Belgium, and the

Netherlands, and were made from expensive blown glass flattened into small sheets. Royalty and the very wealthy commissioned construction of early greenhouses to house exotic plant materials from distant lands (Muijzenberg, 1980).

Although glass was discovered over 4,000 years ago, it was not until the 1800s that glass greenhouses were used for commercial enterprises. The creation of large metal-frame greenhouses for vegetable production coincides with the industrial production of flat glass in the 1800s. The first freestanding greenhouse was built in England in 1806

(Muijzenberg, 1980). The first commercial greenhouse in the USA was reported in 1820. Significant greenhouse production began around Boston,


Chapter 8 Organic and Sustainable Vegetable Production



Organic and Sustainable Vegetable



Background of conventional and organic systems

Organic vegetable production is often considered as an alternative to what is variously called high input

“conventional” farming, “modern” agriculture, or

“traditional” farming. Actually, organic production pre-dates the advent of modern vegetable production.

World War II caused many to realize that food was a strategic resource. Limited manpower and the need to maximize food production during the war lead to agricultural research and policies that accelerated the ascendancy of “modern” agrichemical systems of crop production that began in the early 1900s (Welbaum et al., 2004). The new technologies included synthetic concentrated fertilizers, mechanization and chemical weed control to increase production efficiencies.

Another part of this system was the development of plant cultivars that were increasingly more dependent upon the support of agrichemistry in the subsequent post-war period (Welbaum et al., 2004).


Chapter 9 Vegetable Safety



Vegetable Safety

Pesticide Residues

Monoculture production systems were established over 100 years ago to allow greater mechanization to help farmers grow larger acreages with less labor.

Monoculture systems are more prone to pest outbreaks because the ecological balance is disturbed

(Altieri, 1999). To counter outbreaks of harmful insects, plant diseases, and weeds that occur in monoculture production systems, pesticides were developed to provide control by spraying with minimal labor. Pesticide usage increased steadily from the 1940s through the 1970s as new chemicals were developed for pest control for a wide variety of reasons (MacIntyre, 1987). However, by the 1970s and 1980s, there was increasing public concern about pesticide residues on vegetables and their negative effects on human health. A series of high profile cases that resulted in serious illness and death were traced to pesticide residues on vegetables and focused public attention on this issue. For example, poisoning caused by improper use of the chemical aldicarb (Temik) 2-methyl-2-(methylthio) propionaldehyde-O-(methylcarbomoyl)oxime caused illness after eating contaminated watermelons and cucumbers (Goes et al., 1980; Green and Wehr, 1987). The largest pesticide-related foodborne outbreak in the


Chapter 10 Family Cucurbitaceae



Family Cucurbitaceae

Origin and History

The cucurbits are largely tropical in origin with different genera originating in Africa, tropical

America, and Southeast Asia. Commercial cucurbits are primarily herbaceous annuals that produce distinctive tendril-bearing vines and are commonly grown in temperate regions with long growing seasons. Some are adapted to humid conditions while others are found in arid regions. Most are frostintolerant although some species are more tolerant of low temperature than others.


The Cucurbitaceae family is well defined but taxonomically isolated from other plant families. The family Cucurbitaceae consists of about 120 genera and more than 800 species. Two subfamilies,

Zanonioideae and Cucurbitoideae, are well characterized: the former by small, striate pollen grains and the latter by styles united into a single column. The food plants all fall within the subfamily Cucurbitoideae and belong to two tribes: the Cucurbiteae and Sicyoideae (Maynard and Maynard, 2000).


Chapter 11 Family Solanaceae



Family Solanaceae


Origin and History

The potato is an ancient crop. Potatoes were used as food at least 8,000 years ago according to carbon dating of starch grains found in archaeological excavations in the Andean regions of Peru and

Bolivia (Brown, 1993). The potato was unknown to the outside world until the Spanish explorer and conqueror Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada (1499–

1579) and his men took it to Spain. The Spanish thought the potato was a kind of truffle and called them “tartuffo”. However, potatoes soon became a standard supply item on the Spanish ships because sailors who ate them did not suffer from scurvy

(Brown, 1993).

Both wild and cultivated potato plants survive well in soil because of their high moisture content and starch and other nutrient reserves, which enable repeated regeneration of shoots. Unharvested tubers remain dormant in the soil but sprout under favorable conditions, enabling continued survival without replanting. The Inca’s ability to preserve harvested potato tubers as chuño, a product made by the mashing and naturally drying tubers during repeated freezing and thawing cycles at high-elevations, increased their versatility as a food crop.


Chapter 12 Family Asteraceae



Family Asteraceae

Origin and History


Asteraceae is a very large and widespread family with more than 23,000 species, spread across

1,620 genera (Jeffrey, 2007). Family members are annual or perennial herbs, many are weeds or wild flowers, and a few are woody but are not usually classified as trees. Asteraceae contains many familiar ornamental plants including aster, marigold, calendula, daisy, chrysanthemum, dahlia, and zinnia and medicinal plants including grindelia, echinacea, yarrow, and many others

(Duke, 2013).

The Latin name “Asteraceae” is derived from the

Greek word for “star”. Compositae is an older family name that still appears in the literature and is derived from the word composite, which refers to the characteristic inflorescence found in only a few angiosperm families.

A characteristic of many Asteraceae species is milk-like latex contained in its tissues. Latex from dandelion roots can be used as a source of rubber. During World War II, some European nations grew dandelions for rubber production when tropical sources were unavailable. Today, several species of dandelion, most particularly


Chapter 13 Family Poaceae



Family Poaceae



Origin and History

Sweet corn, also known as green maize or sweet maize in many parts of the world, is a crop of New

World origin. Scientists believe that sweet corn was domesticated in southern Mexico very long ago

(Ranere, 2009). The progenitor of modern corn was a wild, annual grass, perhaps with a terminal flowering structure with male flowers above and female flowers below. Another theory suggests that the original plant had a terminal male spikelet with several small female spikelets at the nodes immediately below the male flower cluster (Goodman,

1988). Pollen samples collected near Mexico City were estimated to be 60–70,000 years old, illustrating how old corn is (Beadle, 1981; Sears, 1982).

Deliberate cultivation of corn began approximately

7,000 years ago. Teosinte (Zea mays spp. mexicana) may be similar to the wild plant from which corn was developed (Matsuoka et al., 2002). From the original

2.5 cm (1 in) wild pod, human selection has created a pod many times larger than the wild form (Galinat,


Chapter 14 Family Amaryllidaceae, Subfamily Allioideae



Family Amaryllidaceae, Subfamily


Origin and History

Onion originated in Middle Asia and was domesticated in what are today Afghanistan, Iran, and

Pakistan. Onion is a very ancient crop and has been under widespread cultivation dating back to as early as 600 bc. Onions were a popular food of the

Greeks and Romans as early as 400–300 bc and were introduced into northern Europe about ad

500 at the start of the Middle Ages (Zohary and

Hopf, 2000). Production occurs worldwide but the greatest concentration is in the northern hemisphere. In the tropics and much of Southeast Asia unfavorable climate and handling conditions limit onion production so shallots are preferred. Shallots are believed to be native to Asia, explaining their popularity in this region.

Garlic is believed to be of middle Asian origin with a history of human use of over 7,000 years

(Ensminger, 1994). The culture of garlic parallels that of onion. Greek author Homer mentioned garlic in the ninth century bc (Zohary and Hopf,


Chapter 15 Family Convolvulaceae



Family Convolvulaceae


Origin and History

The sweetpotato is an ancient crop of the New

World. The sweetpotato was an important food crop of the Mayan and Inca cultures long before the arrival of the Europeans in South and Central

America. In Central America, sweetpotatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago while in

South America, Peruvian sweetpotato remnants date back as far as 8000 bc (Austin, 1988).

The center of origin of the sweetpotato may have been somewhere between the Yucatán Peninsula of

Mexico and the mouth of the Orinoco River in

Venezuela (Austin, 1988; Zhang et al., 1998).

Molecular genetic comparison studies suggest that

Peru–Ecuador was a secondary center of origin for sweetpotato (Zhang et al., 1998).

Sweetpotatoes were introduced to Spain by

European explorers about 1600, to western Africa by Portuguese traders and later into India, the

East Indies, China, and Japan (Woolfe, 1992). The sweetpotato has been cultivated in Virginia since at least 1648 (O’Brien, 1972). The introduction of the sweetpotato in North America is unclear.


Chapter 16 Family Brassicaceae



Family Brassicaceae


Brassicaceae is a very important family with over

1,800 species from more than 100 genera worldwide including many important vegetable, field, and oil crops (Table 16.1). Members of this family are also sometimes referred to by their archaic family name Cruciferae or are called crucifers for short (Nieuwhof, 1969; Rubatzky and Yamaguchi,


Plant and Flower Characteristics

The word Cruciferae means cross in Latin. The family was so named originally because of the characteristic cross-shaped flowers shared by all members of this family. Close examination reveals that each floret has four opposed flower petals that form a square cross (Fig. 16.1). Flower petals vary widely in color among species and may be white, cream, pink, or purple (Nieuwhof, 1969).

The flowers are bisexual with one pistil, and four long and two short stamens on each flower for a total of six. A superior ovary develops into a long fruit pod called a silique, 4.5–10 cm (2–4 in) in length, with a thin, translucent inner membrane, the replum, that separates the two chambers of the pod, and to which the seeds are attached (Fig. 16.2;


Chapter 17 Family Amaranthaceae, Subfamily Chenopodiaceae



Family Amaranthaceae, Subfamily



Origin and History

Beet, also known as beetroot, is a very ancient crop with a long history of cultivation dating back to the second millennium bc. Beet was likely domesticated somewhere in the Mediterranean region, taken to Babylonia around the 8th century bc and introduced to China by approximately ad 850

(Zohary and Hopf, 2000). The writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus suggest that leafy beets were grown extensively during the crop’s early history.

However, once spinach was available, the use of beet as a leafy vegetable diminished significantly.

The Romans ate beets in the second and third centuries because they were believed to be an important food for promoting good health. Chard was apparently of later origin and was likely not eaten as a vegetable until the 13th century. Colonists introduced beets and chard to the western hemisphere from Europe. George Washington conducted experiments with them at his Mount Vernon home.


Chapter 18 Family Asparagaceae



Family Asparagaceae


Origin and History

Asparagus is a very ancient crop native to the eastern

Mediterranean region, Asia Minor, and possibly as far east as the Caucasus mountains (Rubatzky and

Yamaguchi, 1997). The Ancient Greeks (200 bc) and

Romans considered asparagus a delicacy that also had medicinal qualities for relieving toothaches.

Asparagus was gathered from the wild until the

Romans began cultivation. After the Roman

Empire ended, there was little mention of asparagus during medieval times (Vaughan and Geissler, 2009).

There are historic references to asparagus production in England in 1538 and Germany in 1567, and by the end of the 16th century asparagus was produced in France. Louis XIV enjoyed asparagus so much that he constructed hothouse beds for out-of-season production (Ilott, 1901). Asparagus was introduced to North America from Europe by 1672, and President Thomas Jefferson grew asparagus at his home in Virginia in the late 1700s.

Asparagus was first planted in California in the


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