Date of Award

8-2016

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Walters, S. Alan

Abstract

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum L.) require high amounts of nitrogen to maximize fruit production. The type of nitrogen and timing of fertilizer applications are important in tomato production systems to reduce nitrogen losses while optimizing yields. A two-year greenhouse study was conducted to determine the effects of organic and inorganic fertilization treatments on nitrogen and carbon isotopic compositions of tomato plant leaves and fruit at immature and mature stages of plant growth. The carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios together will also help to better depict trends that develop from conventional versus organically grown tomatoes and their resulting water use efficiency (WUE). ‘Better Bush’ tomatoes were grown in 8 L plastic pots filled with 1:1:1 steamed-sterilized sand:silt loam soil:peat mix. Eight fertility treatments were evaluated: no fertility, synthetic Miracle Grow® (MG), organic bonemeal and bloodmeal (BB), BB with liquid Earthjuice (BBL), BB with 25% vermicompost (VC), BBL with 25% VC, MG with 25% VC, and no fertility with 25% VC. The results indicated that for both growth stages, δ15NAir differed (P ≤ 0.05) between fertility treatments, while no major differences were observed for δ13CVPDB (P > 0.05), although conventionally fertilized tomatoes with MG and MG with 25% VC tended to have lower δ13CVPDB values suggesting a greater transpirational water loss through open stomata. The organic treatments with VC had higher δ15NAir values than the conventional or no added fertility treatments for all five leaflets from three different branches, fruit skins from the first two fruit clusters, fruit juices from the first two clusters and soil samples. Generally, the 15N/14N stable isotope values of tomato foliage and fruit are distinctly different between organic and conventional fertilizers, which could provide a powerful forensic tool in fingerprinting tomatoes grown by organic farming methods. Therefore, nitrogen isotopes can distinguish among different fertility treatments and also help to label the VC applications, which are thought to provide better fertility management due to less soil leaching and volatilization.

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