Overview of a Lab-scale Pilot Plant for Studying Baby Leaf Vegetables Grown in Soilless Culture
The Horticulture Journal
Investigating several environmental factors affecting plant growth implies having sound experimental facilities equipped to test individual factors in lab-scale although applicable later at the industrial scale. Sometimes, detailed information is hardly given in a manuscript that allows for replications by other authors, maybe due to the shortening of pages requested by journal publishers and editors. A system and methodology was developed for qualitative and quantitative analyses of baby leaf
... lyses of baby leaf vegetables (BLV) raised in floating growing systems (FGS). Lab-scale pilot plants (LSPP) were developed in 2 greenhouses differing in structure and equipment, suitable for different growing seasons in a continental climate. The equipment and technology allowed multiple treatments and replicates for sound statistical design and data analyses. Environmental conditions and cultural techniques were studied in major and minor species (white mustard, Brassica alba L. Boiss; black mustard, Brassica nigra L. Koch; garden cress, Lepidium sativum L.; water cress, Nasturtium officinale R. Br.; rocket salad, Eruca sativa Mill.; perennial wild rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia L. DC.; corn salad, Valerianella olitoria L.; baby spinach, Spinacia oleracea L.) to determine best cultivation techniques in a standard soilless culture system (SCS) for BLV, based on FGS. Considering that SCS can improve raw material quality at harvest, and enhance the postharvest shelf-life of many vegetables and herbs, a standardized growing system is required to obtain premium quality raw material in terms of commercial stage, low nitrate content and long shelf-life. Among the SCS used, the FGS are suitable systems to grow leafy vegetables because the plants can grow at high densities, thereby producing high yields, and in a short time. FGS are based on sub-irrigation technology, avoiding over-head irrigation and contact between nutrient solution and edible parts, and result in greater qualitative and quantitative yields than the traditional cultivation techniques, reducing pollution, crop and substrate residues, leading to clean raw material with potential low microbiological load. The FGS is a modern technology that could be exploited more to enhance yield, quality and safety of fresh and fresh-cut BLV. The LSPP installed are providing the basis for expanding the research to other species and agronomic factors.