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Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia 4 ( 2015 ) 440 – 444
2210-7843 © 2015 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of Data Research and Consulting
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
IRLA2014. The Effects of Irrigation and Drainage on Rural and Urban Landscapes, Patras, Greece
Irrigation Management of Greenhouse Tomato and Cucumber Using
Tensiometer: Effects on Yield, Quality and Water Use
Donato Buttaroa, Pietro Santamariab, Angelo Signoreb Vito Cantorea, Francesca Boaria, Francesco
, Angelo Parentea
aInstitute of Sciences of Food Production – National Research Council (C NR – ISPA), Via Amendola 122/O, 7012 6 Bari, Italy
bDepartment of Agricultural and Environmental Science, University of Bari Aldo Moro, Via Amendola, 165/A, 70126 Bari, Italy
Irrigation is a crucial practice that operators often perform empirically, relying on their own experience, especially in productive areas
characterized by low technology agriculture (i.e. several parts of Mediterranean countries). One of the possible approach for proper irrigation
scheduling is measuring the soil water potential, simple and easy to manage. The purpose of this research was to examine the effects of two
different irrigation regimes (obtained by the use of tensiometers connected to a relay controller) on yield, fruit quality and water consumption
of greenhouse tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L. cv Naxos) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus L., cv Sarig, in the first cropping cycle, and the
local landrace 'Mezzo lungo di Polignano', in the second one) grown on a silty-clay soil in Mediterranean conditions.
For each species, two tests (August-February and February-July cycle) were carried out in a plastic greenhouse-tunnel.
Drip irrigation was adopted, with automated schedule based on tensiometer readings. Two water potential irrigation set-points were compared:
-100 and -400 hPa for tomato and -100 and -300 hPa for cucumber, in both cycles. Yield (marketable and unmarketable) and quality traits of
fruits (soluble solids, dry matter and titratable acidity) were determined. Water consumption was calculated at the end of each crop cycle.
In the first cycle, the two water regimes did not affect the yield of tomato and cucumber. The cucumber irrigated at the lowest soil water
potential set-point produced fruits with 8% higher dry matter. In the second cycle, the tomato irrigated at the potential of -400 hPa showed a
40% lower yield (mainly due to the lower fruit size) compared to that of plants irrigated at -100 hPa. However, the fruits of tomato plants
irrigated at -400 hPa showed total soluble solids, dry matter and titratable acidity, respectively 41, 45 and 59% higher than plants irrigated at -
In both crop cycles, a water saving of 35% and 46%, on average, for tomato and cucumber, respectively, was obtained using the lowest
potential as irrigation set-point.
Proper use of tensiometer could allow a better use of water resource. Selection of proper water potential set-points according to the cultivation
season is crucial for satisfactory results. The positive effects of a controlled and moderate water stress on fruit quality should be taken into
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Peer-review under responsibility of Technological Educational Institute of Epirus, Hydroconcept R&D (www.hydroconcept.gr)
Keywrds: Tension switch, cavitation, WUE, soil matric potential, water saving.
Water is becoming an economic scarce resource in many areas of the world, especially in arid and semi -arid regions, such as
the Mediterranean basin (Stanghellini et al., 2003). Agriculture is the largest consumer of global freshwater, accounting for
around 70% of withdrawals as irrigation (WWAP, 2009). Increasing the efficiency of water use within agriculture systems is
important in order to secure water for agricultural production, municipal and industrial purposes and ecosystem function
(Jacobsen et al., 2012). As potential water saving strategies in European agriculture, it has been estimated that better irrigation
scheduling and use of drip irrigation in row crops may save 20% of the water consumption (EU Water Saving Potential, 2007).
Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 080 5929309 Email address: fran email@example.com
© 2015 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of Data Research and Consulting
Donato Buttaro et al. / Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia 4 ( 2015 ) 440 – 444
Proper irrigation scheduling results in increasing water use efficiency (WUE) (Gencoglan et al., 2006). WUE relates to how
much yield is obtained per unit of applied water (Howell, 2003).
Scheduling water application is very critical, as excessive or inadequate irrigations reduce yield, while inadequate irrigation
also causes water stress (Locascio and Smajstrla, 1996).
Availability of adequate soil moisture levels at critical stages of plant growth not only optimizes the metabolic process in plant
cells but also increases the effectiveness of the mineral nutrients applied to the crop. On the contrary, any degree of water stress
may produce deleterious effects on growth and yield of the crop (Saif et al., 2003). Deficit water budgets lead to numerous
physiological changes such as altered root to shoot ratio, reduced leaf area or number of leaves, and finally reduce plant growth
and yield. Fresh fruit yields of cucumber and tomato are highly affected by the total amount of irrigation water at all growth
stages (Mao et al., 2003; Patanè et al., 2011).
Several irrigation management systems, although largely investigated and adopted at experimental level, are expensive and
difficult to transfer at farm level. It is the case of the approach based on measuring plant water status. This is generally difficult
and expensive to measure. In addition, changes in plant water status are not necessarily indicative of changes in water availability
in the root zone of the plant. As a more feasible approach, irrigation decision can be based on direct measurements of soil water
status. This approach has the advantage to be relatively easy to make and to automate (Van Iersel et al., 2013), resulting more
feasible for application at farm level. Soil water status can be referred to soil water content or soil matric potential. Soil water
content sensors measure the amount of water in the soil (new generation of low-cost sensors generally measure volumetric water
content), while matric potential sensors give a measurement of how easy it is for plants to extract water from the soil. Direct
measurements of soil water potential in the field are generally performed by soil tensiometers for relatively low soil water
tension or wet range, whereas indirect measurements can be done by thermocouple psicrometers, gypsum blocks, granular matrix
sensors, filter paper method or heat dissipation sensors for the high soil water tension or dry range (Young and Sisson, 2002;
Durner and Or, 2006).
Tensiometers are rapid, cheap and easy devices for monitoring the water status of substrate and useful for fertirrigation
scheduling (Hodnett et al., 1990). They are often preferred to other type of substrate moisture sensors because of their low cost,
simplicity of use, high accuracy of measurement, not influence of temperature and soil osmotic potential, and the possibility of
electronic data acquisition through differential pressure transducers (Thalheimer, 2003). All this render them suitable also for
automated fertirrigation control. However, tensiometers must be operated carefully in order to avoid the formation of air bubbles
in the shaft; they must be protected from frost and need regular maintenance, for instance to refill the water in the tube and to
avoid the contamination by algae. Possible cavitation in very dry conditions is also a drawback, possibly occurring when the soil
dries to matric potential values lower than about -850 hPa or when air flows through the porous cup. Although the tensiometric
technique is straightforward, relatively easy to use and its range of measurement is adequate for most of the agronomic
applications (Young and Sisson, 2002), it does not cover the entire range of interest and is unsuited for some applications where
soil water limits plant growth, for instance (Durner and Or, 2006).
Under high frequency drip irrigation, it is possible to maintain a small wetted soil zone sufficient for crop water uptake, while
keeping a much larger zone dry (Wang et al., 2007). This condition is similar to what generally occurs in soilless pot culture,
where tensiometer has been proposed to be used with growing media near to their maximum water holding capacity (Montesano
et al. 2005; Montesano et al., 2010). However, also in this case, some precautions are necessary in order to assure a good contact
between the porous tip and the substrate, in particular in soilless conditions, and to achieve a correct sensor positioning taking
into account root distribution and the place of nozzle(s) (Pardossi et al., 2009).
The purpose of this research was to evaluate the possibility of using the tensiometer to rationalize the supply of irrigation
water in the cultivation of cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) in greenhouse drip irrigation
system, by defining proper water potential set-points to avoid cavitation problems of the instrument, to improve WUE and reduce
2. Material and Methods
This research was carried out in the framework of the research project “Rational use of water and fertilizer in greenhouse
vegetable crops” supported by Apulia Region Administration.
The experiment was conducted at the Experimental Farm “La Noria” of the Institute of Sciences of Food Production of the
Italian National Research Council (CNR), located in Mola di Bari (BA, Southern Italy), in a plastic-greenhouse tunnel in a clay
soil mulched with PE black film (50 μm thickness).
Two cropping cycles (fall-winter and spring-summer) and two independent experiments on tomato (cv Naxos for both cycles)
and cucumber (cv Sarig in the first cycle and the local landrace Mezzo lungo di Polignano in the second one) took place.
Drip irrigation with automated schedule based on tensiometer (LT1 28 cm, Tensio-Technik, Geisenheim, Germany) was
adopted in all the experiments. Tensiometers were connected to an electronic tensioswitch (400C, Tensio-Technik) which
controlled the beginning and the end of irrigation based on soil water potential: irrigations started when a specific water potential
set-point was reached and was automatically stopped when water potential was back above the set-point.
442 Donato Buttaro et al. / Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia 4 ( 2015 ) 440 – 444
The tensiometer porous cup was placed at 30 cm dept, where most of the roots are generally present, in proximity of the plant
and of the drip emitter. In both cycles, two water potential irrigation set-points were compared: -100 and -400 hPa, for tomato,
and -100 and -300 hPa for cucumber.
A completely randomized block design with three replications was adopted for each experiment. For every vegetable crops,
each elementary experimental unit was represented by a row with 18 plants, with 26 cm between plants and 130 cm between
rows (planting density = 2.96 plants m–2). The nutrient solutions were distributed using a drip irrigation system, with pressure-
compensated emitters (8 L h–1). The nutrient solution contained 10.4 mM N, 5.6 mM K, 1.3 mM P, 1.0 mM Mg, 1.0 mM S, and
3.0 mM Ca; it was prepared using rain water previously collected and the following fertilizer salts: Ca(NO3)24H2O, KNO3,
KH2PO4, and MgSO4 7H2O. Micronutrients were supplied according to Johnson et al. (1957). Plants were trained vertically. The
minimum temperature inside the greenhouse was set to ≥ 13 °C.
WUE was calculated according to FAO (1982) as follows:
WUE = yield (kg) / total water applied (m3) (1)
Total soluble solid (TSS) content, dry matter (DM) percentage and titratable acidity (TA) were assessed on fruits. TSS content
was determined using a portable refractometer (Brixstix BX 100 Hs, Techniquip Corp., Livermore, CA, USA). Fruits were dried
to constant weight at 65 °C in a forced-draft oven to determine their DM contents. TA was measured on filtrates of homogenised
samples by potentiometric titration with 0.1 M NaOH. The results were expressed as the percentage of citric acid in the juice.
All data were analysed using ANOVA, by means of the SAS-GLM procedure (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA). Means
separation was performed with the least significant difference (LSD) test (P = 0.05).
3. Results and discussion
In the fall-winter cycle, the two water regimes did not affect the yield of both tomato (3.6 kg plant-1, on average) and
cucumber (3.2 kg plant-1, on average). The quality traits of tomato fruits, TSS, DM and TA, were similar regardless of the water
regime used (on average, 3.7 °Brix, 4.6 g 100 g-1 FW and 0.4 g citric acid 100 mL-1 juice, respectively). The cucumber irrigated
at the lowest soil water potential set-point produced fruits with 8% higher DM percentage, while TA and TSS were not affected
by the water potential (on average, 0.11 g citric acid 100 mL-1 and 3.3 °Brix, respectively) (table not shown).
In the spring-summer cycle, the cucumber yield (6.8 kg plant-1, on average) and quality traits (2.9 °Brix, 4.5 g DM100 g-1 FW
and 0.11 g citric acid 100 mL-1 juice) were not influenced by treatments, whereas tomato irrigated at the potential of -400 hPa
showed a 40% lower yield (mainly due to the lower fruit size) compared to plants irrigated at -100 hPa. The fruits of tomato
plants irrigated at -400 hPa, however, showed TSS, DM percentage and TA, respectively, of 41, 45 and 59% higher than plants
irrigated at -100 hPa (Table 1).
In both growing cycles, when the lowest water potential set-point was imposed, water consumption was reduced by 40 and
46% in tomato and by 49 and 42% in cucumber, respectively, in fall-winter and spring-summer cycle. The WUE was 65 and
14% higher in tomato and 96 and 73% in cucumber, respectively, in fall-winter and spring-summer growing cycle (Table 2).
However, while the yield and the fruit quality, for both species, were not different between treatments in the fall-winter cycle, in
the spring-summer cycle the reduced water supply resulted in a better quality and lower yield. Similar results were found in
previous experiments where the adoption of deficit irrigation strategies allowed to save water improving the WUE, minimizing
fruit losses and maintaining high fruit quality levels (Wang et al., 2007; Patanè et al., 2011). Shae et al. (1999) suggested that
tensiometer based methods produce yields and quality potato equivalent to those from reference treatments with significant
savings in seasonal irrigation totals.
An additional strength of using tensiometer, and in general soil water status sensors, for irrigation decision, potentially
resulting in larger applications, is the fact that this approach results in a simple feedback system: a low soil water content will
trigger irrigation, which increases soil water content and indicates that irrigation is no longer needed, until the water reservoir
will be again depleted. Measuring soil water potential has the advantage of a direct determination of the soil water availability to
the plants (Van Iersel et al., 2013). The determination of the appropriate threshold for a particular crop remains a fundamental
point for efficient irrigation management (Lemay et al., 2012).
Table 1 Fruit number, mean fruit weight, total fruit yield, total soluble solids (TSS), titratable acidity (TA), and dry matter (DM) of tomato fruits in spring-
summer cycle at different irrigation set-points based on soil water potential.
Mean fruit weight
Total fruit yield
kg plant -1
g 100 mL-1
g 100 g-1 FW
(a) ns and ***, non significant at P≤0.05 or significan t at P≤0.001, respectively
Donato Buttaro et al. / Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia 4 ( 2015 ) 440 – 444
Table 2 Water consumption and water use efficiency (WUE) of tomato and cucumber in fall-winter and spring-summer cycle at different
irrigation set-points based on soil water potential.
Water consumption (L pl ant-1)
WUE (kg m-3)
(a) ***significant at P≤0.001.
The irrigation management system used in this study, the water potential irrigation set -points and the proper tensiometer and
drip emitter positions, made the irrigation scheduling management similar to that of a soilless cultivation, with a relatively small
wet growing medium volume and small volumes of irrigation water per plant. It was possible to identify proper soil water
potential set-points, to obtain frequent and small volume irrigations, without incurring in problems of cavitation, and then
automate irrigation management with a simple system. Proper use of tensiometer could allow a better use of water resource.
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