Crop response of greenhouse soil-grown cucumber to total available N in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone
Abstract Intensive vegetable production in soil is commonly associated with low N use efficiency (NUE) and consequently appreciable N losses that have negative environmental impacts. Improved N management practices for intensive vegetable crops require detailed knowledge of crop response to N supply. This study evaluated the effects of increasing total available N (TAN, i.e. the sum of soil mineral N at planting, N mineralized from organic matter, and mineral fertilizer N applied by fertigation) on cucumber grown in soil in a greenhouse. Parameters assessed were: yield, dry matter production (DMP), crop N uptake, nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and potential NO3− leaching loss. The study was conducted in three growing seasons, in autumn, spring and late spring. Three commercial cultivars were examined, in the Late Spring crop, to assess possible cultivar differences. Five N treatments were applied, in the Autumn and Spring crops, as different N concentrations in nutrient solution that were applied in all irrigations throughout the crops. The applied N concentrations were N1: 0.7–1.0 mmol L-1, N2: 4.7–5.7 mmol L-1, N3: 12.1–13.8 mmol L-1, N4: 16.3–17.6 mmol L-1 and N5: 19.7–21.1 mmol L-1. The cultivar ´Strategos´ was used in both crops. Three N treatments (N1: 2.4 mmol L-1; N2: 8.5 mmol L-1and N3: 14.8 mmol L-1) were continuously applied throughout the Late Spring crop to three different cultivars (´Strategos´, ´Padrera´, and ´Mitre´). Total and marketable yield, relative to maximum value, and DMP were strongly related to TAN in linear-plateau relationships for the three growing seasons and three cultivars. Using relationships that include data from the three cropping seasons and the three cultivars, TAN values for maximum DMP, total yield, and marketable yield were 222 ± 15 kg ha−1, 221 ± 14 kg ha−1 and 228 ± 15 kg ha−1, respectively, for the Autumn, Spring and Late Spring crops. The relationships of crop N uptake to TAN, and DMP to crop N uptake, were described by a logarithmic equation. The relationship of N uptake efficiency to TAN (i.e. N uptake/TAN) was described by an exponential decay equation. Considering all crops and cultivars, these relationships were described by individual equations with R2 values of 0.75-0.96. The consistency of these relationships indicate that there are general responses of greenhouse-grown cucumber to N, which is not affected by growing season or cultivar. Measured NO3− leaching losses were low because of good irrigation management. Residual mineral N was considered to be indicative of the potential NO3− leaching loss; residual soil mineral N increased exponentially with TAN, being 196 and 330 kg N ha−1 for the highest N treatments in the Autumn and Spring crops, respectively. The information provided by this study will enable the total N supply (TAN) to be matched to cucumber crop N requirements thereby reducing excessive N supply and consequent negative environmental impacts.