Use of Biostimulants for Organic Apple Production: Effects on Tree Growth, Yield, and Fruit Quality at Harvest and During Storage
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The experiment was conducted during two consecutive seasons (year 2016 and 2017) in an organic apple orchard of the cultivar Jonathan. Several biostimulants were tested (10 in total), including humic acids, macro and micro seaweed extracts, alfalfa protein hydrolysate, amino acids alone or in combination with zinc, B-group vitamins, chitosan and a commercial product containing silicon. Treatments were performed at weekly intervals, starting from the end of May until mid-August. The macroseaweed extract was effective in stimulate tree growth potential in both years, as shown by a significantly larger leaf area (+20% as compared to control) and by an higher chlorophyll content and leaf photosynthetic rate in year 2016. As for the yield performances and apples quality traits at harvest (average fruit weight, soluble solids content, titratable acidity and flesh firmness), they were generally affected by the different climatic conditions that characterized the two growing seasons (year 2017 being characterized by higher maximal and average temperatures and by limited rainfalls at the beginning of the season). Treatments with macroseaweed extract, B-group vitamins and alfalfa protein hydrolysate were able to significantly improve the intensity and extension of the red coloration of apples at harvest. Correspondingly, the anthocyanin content in the skin of apples treated with the same biostimulants resulted significantly higher than control, highlighting the potential influence of these substances on the synthesis of secondary metabolites in apple. The incidence of physiological disorders was also monitored during apple storage period. Amino acids plus zinc application was effective in reducing (more than 50%) the incidence of the ‘Jonathan spot’, the main post-harvest disorder for this cultivar.