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Revista fitotecnia mexicana

versão impressa ISSN 0187-7380

Rev. fitotec. mex vol.39 no.4 Chapingo Out./Dez. 2016


Notas Científicas

Yield and nutraceutical quality of tomato fruit produced with nutrient solutions prepared using organic materials

Rendimiento y calidad nutracéutica de frutos de tomate producidos con soluciones nutritivas preparadas con materiales orgánicos

José D. López-Martínez1 

David A. Vázquez-Díaz2 

Juan R. Esparza-Rivera3 

José L. García-Hernández1 

Miguel A. Castruita-Segura2 

Pablo Preciado-Rangel2  * 

1 Facultad de Agricultura y Zootecnia, Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango. Ejido Venecia, Gómez Palacio, Durango. México.

2 División de Estudios de Posgrado e Investigación, Instituto Tecnológico de Torreón. Km 7.5 Carr. Torreón-San Pedro. 27170, Elejido Ana, Torreón, COAH, México.

3 Facultad de Ciencias Químicas, Unidad Gómez Palacio, Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango. Calz. Palmas 1. 35050, Revolución, Gómez Palacio, Dgo., México.


Increasing public concern about negative environmental effects of agricultural practices like conventional chemical fertilization has promoted the evaluation of alternatives like the use of organic nutrient solutions. This study evaluated the effect on fruit yield and commercial and nutraceutical qualities of fresh tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruits grown under greenhouse conditions fertilized with nutrient solutions prepared from organic materials. Treatments were: a) Inorganic nutritive solution (Steiner); b) Compost tea; c) Vermicompost tea; and d) Vermicompost leachate. Highest fruit yield derived from fertilization with inorganic solution. However, highest antioxidant capacity, soluble solids content and phenolic content were obtained with organic nutrient solutions. Fresh tomatoes obtained with vermicompost leachate had the best nutraceutical quality, higher phenolic content and higher antioxidant capacity, than the inorganically fertilized fruits. Vermicompost leachate is a feasible fertilization alternative for tomato production under greenhouse conditions.

Keywords: Protected agriculture; organic production; antioxidants


La creciente preocupación pública de los efectos de la fertilización sobre el ambiente, ha promovido la utilización de prácticas agrícolas sostenibles; como el uso de soluciones nutritivas orgánicas. El objetivo de este estudio fue evaluar el efecto de tres soluciones nutritivas preparadas con materiales orgánicos sobre el rendimiento, y la calidad comercial y nutracéutica de frutos de tomate (Solanum lycopersicum L.) cultivados bajo condiciones de invernadero. Los tratamientos aplicados fueron: a) Solución nutritiva inorgánica (Steiner); b) Té de compost; c) Té de vermicompost; y d) Lixiviado de vermicompost. El mayor rendimiento se obtuvo utilizando la solución inorgánica; sin embargo, la más alta capacidad antioxidante, contenido de sólidos solubles y fenólicos se obtuvieron con las soluciones nutritivas orgánicas. Los frutos de tomate obtenidos con el lixiviado de vermicompost mostraron la mejor calidad nutracéutica, al obtener mayor contenido fenólico y capacidad antioxidante que los frutos obtenidos inorgánicamente. El uso del lixiviado de vermicompost es una alternativa viable de fertilización para la producción de tomate bajo condiciones de invernadero.

Palabras clave: Agricultura protegida; producción orgánica; antioxidantes


Milk production is one of the most important economic activities in the region comprising the Southern Coahuila and Northern Durango in México. Such activity has severe ecological consequences to the region: more than 842,000 t of dry manure per year are produced as waste from dairy activities (Figueroa-Viramontes et al., 2015). This huge amount of organic waste is mostly handled inefficiently and inadequately by untreated application to soil. Environmental impact might be reduced by effective alternatives of manure processing. An alternative is treating manure to obtain compost and vermicompost as substrate components and organic nutrient sources for soil-less crops.

Compost and vermicompost might also be used to obtain highly nutritious aqueous extracts like tea or leachate (Edwards et al., 2010) that contain humic acids (Pane et al., 2016) and plant regulators (Zhang et al., 2014). Interest for usage of compost and vermicompost leachates and teas has increased because of their application flexibility in organic production systems under either protected or open field conditions by pressurized irrigation. Application of these nutritive solutions reduces expenses by substitution of expensive synthetic fertilizers (Preciado-Rangel et al., 2014).

Consumers are interested not only in the commercial quality of horticultural products but also in their nutraceutical quality (Sánchez-Hernández et al., 2016). Consumption of vegetables with high nutraceutical content contributes to positive effects on health, like general physiological improvement and reduction of the advancement of chronic degenerative diseases (Llacuna and Mach, 2012). This study evaluated the application of organic nutritive solutions on tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) grown under greenhouse conditions to affect fruit yield, as well as their commercial and nutraceutical qualities.

Materials and methods

Plant material and growing conditions

Saladette tomato seeds cvs. Sahel (Syngenta®) were sowed in polystyrene germination containers with 25 mL cavities filled with wet peat moss (Promix PGXTM, Quebec, Canada). One seed was placed per cavity. Seeds were covered with black plastic for four weeks until germination; the substrate was kept moist through that period. Four-weeks old seedlings were transplanted to a greenhouse located at Torreón, Coahuila, México (25° 36' 36.54" N, 103° 22' 32.28" W and 1123 masl). The circular greenhouse was covered with a plastic polyethylene layer and equipped with semi-automatic cooling.

Experimental plants were grown in 20-L black polyethylene plastic bags containing a blend of river sand and pearl B12 (80:20, v:v) as substrate. Before mixing, the river sand was washed and sterilized with a 5 % sodium hypochlorite solution. A plant density of 4.2 plants m2 was used. Pots were drip-irrigated. The total daily irrigation volume was 0.750 L/plant from transplantation to flowering; from flowering to harvest, total daily irrigation volume increased to 2.0 L/plant. Tomato plants were thinned to one stem per plant, and plant support was provided by polypropylene strings tied to the greenhouse ceiling structure. Pollination was performed daily from start of flowering to harvest, from 12:00 to 14:00 h using an electric toothbrush.


Four nutritional solutions were applied, (a) Conventional inorganic Steiner nutrient solution (Steiner, 1984); (b) Compost tea; (c) Vermicompost tea; and (d) Vermicompost leachate. The organic solutions were prepared according to the methodology reported by Edwards et al. (2010). pH was adjusted to 5.5 with food-grade citric acid (C6H8O7H2O) (Preciado-Rangel et al., 2011). Electrical conductivity was adjusted to 2.0 dS m-1 by dilution with tap water to avoid phytotoxic consequences. Solution composition is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Chemical composition of the nutritive solutions applied to tomato under greenhouse conditions. 

† Ions contained in water used for solution preparation.

Fruit yield and commercial quality

The following variables were measured and recorded: fruit yield per plant, polar and equatorial diameter and soluble solids content. Fruits from 10 plants per treatment were harvested at consumer maturity (firm texture, red color, and absence of physical or mechanical damages) from the first to the fifth branch. Yield was calculated as total fruit weight per plant. Polar and equatorial diameter was measured on the harvested fruits. Six fruits per treatment were randomly selected to measure soluble solid content (°Bx) using an Atago® refractometer (Atago Inc., Bellevue, WA, USA).

Nutraceutical quality

Extract preparation. One g of fruit tissue was mixed with 5 mL of methanol in a screw cap plastic tube. The tube was placed in a shaker (ATR Inc., USA) for 6 h (20 g) at 5 °C. The tubes were then centrifuged at 3540 X g for 10 min in a centrifuge Abtek® model J12 (ABTEK, Monterrey, N.L., México) and the supernatant removed for analytical tests.

Total phenolic content. The total phenolic content was determined using a modification of the Folin-Ciocalteau method (Esparza-Rivera et al., 2006). Thirty μL of extract were mixed with 270 μL of distilled water and 1.5 mL of diluted (1:15) Folin-Ciocalteau reagent (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA). The mixture was mixed by vortexing for 10 s. After letting the mixture incubate for 5 min, 1.2 mL of sodium carbonate (7.5 % w/v) were added, and the tube vortexed for 10 s. The tube was then placed in a hot water bath at 45 °C for 15 min and allowed to cool at room temperature. Absorbance of the solution was read at 765 nm in a spectrophotometer Hach® 4000 (HACH Co., Germany). Phenolic content was calculated using a gallic acid (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA) standard curve, as a reference standard, and the results were reported in mg of equivalent gallic acid per g of fresh weight (mg equiv AG per g FW). Analyses were run by triplicate.

Antioxidant capacity equivalent in Trolox (DPPH+ method). Antioxidant capacity was determined using a modification of the DPPH+ method published by Brand-Williams et al. (1995). A DPPH+ methanolic solution was prepared adjusting the absorbance of the solution at 1.100 ± 0.010 at a wavelength of 515 nm. The antioxidant capacity test was run by mixing 50 μL of sample extract and 0.950 mL of DPPH+ solution and reading the absorbance of the mixture after 3 min of reaction at a wavelength of 515 nm. A standard curve was prepared with Trolox (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA), and the results were reported in equivalent μM in Trolox per g fresh weight (μM equiv Trolox per g FW). Analyses were run by triplicate.

Lycopene content. Lycopene content was determined based on the method proposed by Olives et al. (2006) and a modified chromatographic method (Berra, 2012). One gram of fresh tomato was mixed with 5 mL of a chloroform:methanol (5:1) solution in a plastic container with screw cap. The mixture was agitated under dark conditions for 24 h at 20 g. Afterwards, the chloroform phase was separated, centrifuged at 4720 Xg for 10 min, and filtered in a separation column packaged with activated sodium sulphate (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA). Chloroform was evaporated in a rotary evaporator Buchi® R-210 (Buchi Labortechnik AG, Flawil, Switzerland). The residue was stored at -20 °C until its reconstitution for analysis.

Each residue was reconstituted with HPLC-grade chloroform (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA) and filtered through a cellulose-acetate membrane filter (0.20 μm) before its injection into an HPLC chromatograph (Series 1200, Hewlett PackardTM, Palo Alto, California, USA) using the ChemStation software for LC (Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, CA, USA). Lycopene was eluted in a C18 Supelco column (150 mm x 5.0 μm x 0.5 cm) with a 0.5 mL min-1 flow using a 50:50 mixture of acetonitrile and 70 % methanol as a mobile phase. Both solvents were HPLC grade (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA). The effluent was monitored at 472 nm in a diode array detector G1315D (Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, CA, USA). Results were calculated using a standard curve of lycopene (Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, Missouri, USA) and reported as mg of lycopene per g of fresh tomato fruit.

Statistical Analysis

The experimental design was set-up as a random block arrangement, and the obtained data were analyzed through ANOVA. Mean comparison was conducted using the Tukey test (P < 0.05).

Results and discussion


The type of nutrient solution significantly affected fruit weight (P ≤ 0.05, Table 2). The Steiner solution treatment produced the highest yield (Table 2). This result agrees with Preciado-Rangel et al. (2011), who indicated that using inorganic nutrient solution produced higher yield of tomato fruits. In addition, these authors also mentioned that regular application of organic fertilizer produces lower yield compared to traditional fertilizers (Márquez-Quiroz et al., 2013). Generally, growers involved in organic agriculture accept these results as a rule (Márquez-Quiroz et al., 2014). However, lower yield from organic agriculture systems is usually compensated by premium prices (Leifeld, 2012).

Table 2 Yield and fruit size of tomato fertilized with different nutrient solutions under greenhouse conditions. 

Values followed by different letter in the columns are significantly different, according to a Tukey test (P ≤ 0.05).

Nitrogen is reported as the main nutritional constrain to high crop yield (Fonseca and Piña, 2006); thus, lower yield in crops fertilized with organic nutrient solutions could be attributed to lower N concentration and bioavailability (Preciado-Rangel et al., 2014). The organic nutrient solutions in this study were diluted before their application to avoid phytotoxic effects caused by salinity (Oliva-Llaven et al., 2010) (Table 1). Therefore, prior evaluation of nonsynthetic fertilizer alternatives that can fulfill nutrimental crop requirements without toxicity to plants or environment is required. Toxicity might be reduced by application of organic nutrient solutions mixtures (Márquez-Hernández et al., 2013) or higher dilutions of such organic liquid extracts (González-Solano et al., 2013).

Commercial fruit quality

Polar and equatorial diameters of fresh tomato fruits were evaluated as indicators of commercial product quality. Both diameters showed differences among treatments (P < 0.05, Table 2). Bigger tomato fruits were obtained from treatments fertilized with Steiner solution. Organic fruits are regularly smaller than those fertilized with inorganic solutions (Rodrigues et al., 2010). However, organic tomato fruits might concentrate more lycopene (Zhang et al., 2016) and have more soluble solids (Preciado-Rangel et al., 2011).

Soluble solid content is an important quality parameter of tomato fruits that mostly suggests sugar content and flavor (Rodrigues et al., 2010). Total soluble solids (TSS) content measured in tomato fruits in this study approximate reported values for fresh or processed tomato (4.5 °Bx) (Márquez-Hernández et al., 2008). Yet, the type of nutrient solution applied affected TSS values in tomato (P < 0.05, Table 2). Fruits obtained from plants fertilized with vermicompost leachate had the highest TSS (6.0 °Bx).

These results agree with those reported by Preciado-Rangel et al. (2011) who obtained higher TSS in organically-fertilized tomato compared to fruits produced with inorganic fertilization. This effect could be attributed to higher saline concentration of the organic solutions and also to Na+ and Cl-ion concentration in such nutrient solutions (Wu and Kubota, 2008). Higher salinity compromises water and nutrient uptake in tomato plants (Hassan et al., 2015) and causes oxidative stress that affects normal fruit development.

As a response to higher salinity, fruits accumulate organic solutes like simple sugars (glucose, fructose and sacarose) that reduce the cellular osmotic potential and facilitate water absoption (Goykovic and Saavedra, 2007). Alternative organic nutrient solutions with lower salinity and adequate nutrient content, that fulfill the tomato crop nutritional requirements, need to be evaluated.

Nutraceutical fruit quality

Polyphenols and antioxidant compounds present in fruits are nutraceutical indicators mainly determined by genotype (George et al., 2004) and plant nutritional status (Zhang et al., 2016). Nutrient solution applied affected phenolic content and antioxidant capacity of tomato fruits (P ≤ 0.05, Table 3). Other researchers (Bunea et al., 2012; Omar et al., 2012) have reported that application of organic manure on crops increases fruit phenolic content and antioxidant capacity.

In this research, fruit fertilized with vermicompost leachate had higher phenolic content and antioxidant capacity (higher nutraceutical quality) than inorganically fertilized tomatoes (P ≤ 0.05, Table 3). These results might be the result of high content of humic acids (Gutiérrez-Miceli et al., 2007) and low N content in the organic solutions applied (Table 1).

Table 3 Soluble solids, phenolic content and antioxidant capacity of fresh tomato fruits obtained with different nutritive solutions under greenhouse conditions. 

†Values followed by different letter in the columns are significantly different, according to a Tukey test (P ≤ 0.05). ††Method ABTS.

Plants respond differently to the N supply: when nitrogen requirements for the crop are satisfied, some Ncontaining compounds such as amino acids, proteins and alkaloids will be produced (Hallmann and Rembiałkowska, 2012). Contrary to this behavior, plants grown under N-deficient conditions will produce simple and complex sugars, organic acids, vitamins, secondary metabolites, pigments and antioxidant compounds like terpenoids and phenolics (Nguyen and Niemeyer, 2008).

Additionally, N deficit causes oxidative stress in tomato plants, which results in higher anti-oxidative activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) (García-Hernández et al., 2001) and higher antioxidant capacity and phenolic content in fruits (Oliveira et al., 2013). Fruits obtained from plants fertilized with Steiner solution, compost tea or vermicompost leachate had the highest lycopene content. Potassium present in the nutrient solutions (Table 1) might influence lycopene content, as it improves carotenoid synthesis, increases lycopene content in fruit (Almeselmani et al., 2009), and is a key enzymatic cofactor in lycopene synthesis from ß-carotene (Bramley, 2002).

Application of organic nutrient solutions represents a feasible option that produces fruits free of chemical agents with better nutraceutical quality. These traits provide marketing advantages and promote environment preservation from reduced usage of chemical fertilizers. Organic nutrient solutions with higher K and N content are viable products for increasing yield and nutraceutical quality of tomato fruits produced under greenhouse conditions.


The source of nutrient solutions applied to tomato plants affect yield, as well as the commercial and nutraceutical fruit quality. The biggest fruit and highest fruit yield was produced with inorganic nutrient solution. However, the tomato fruits produced using organic nutrient solutions had better antioxidant capacity and higher content of soluble solids and phenolic compounds than those produced under inorganic fertilization. Overall, tomatoes produced using vermicompost leachate had the highest nutraceutical quality among all the nutrient solutions.

The application of organic nutrient solutions on tomato produced under greenhouse conditions is a viable alternative that favors high commercial and nutraceutical qualities. Further evaluation of organic nutritive solutions for promoting yield increments, higher commercial value, and better nutraceutical quality of tomato fruits, is required to finetune production.


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Received: March 17, 2016; Accepted: October 16, 2016

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