In field experiments in 1983–85 in Northumberland, UK, early sowings achieved a leaf area index (LAI) of 3·5, capable of intercepting 90–95% total incident solar radiation, earlier than late sowings. As there was a close relationship between total dry weight, bud dry weight and amount of intercepted solar radiation, early sowings invariably outyielded later ones. The efficiency of energy conversion of radiation was 1·28, 2·05 and 2·11 g/MJ for total dry weight and 0·97, 0·83 and 0·67 g/MJ for bud dry weight in 1983, 1984 and 1985, respectively. Harvest index ranged from ca. 25% in 1985 to 40% in 1984.
Increasing plant density from 2·22 to 6·66 plants/m2 advanced and increased maximum LAI and total and bud dry weight per m2 but had an adverse effect on distribution of dry matter. Maximum total dry weights were achieved at or slightly after maximum LAI. The onset of rapid bud growth coincided with maximum total standing dry weight and was advanced by early sowing but largely unaffected by plant density.
Early-sown crops produced more buds than late-sown ones because of a longer growing season. Plant density had a large effect on the number of buds per m2, which was almost directly proportional as the number of buds per plant was not severely affected. However, individual bud size was restricted as a result of competition for assimilates. Approximately 80% of buds finally recorded had been produced before significant bud growth had occurred.
Total bud fresh yields averaged over all sowing dates reached 17 t/ha in 1983 and 31 t/ha in 1984. The lower yield in 1983 was the result of late sowing caused by unfavourable weather. Early sowings significantly outyielded late ones because of earlier onset of rapid bud growth which gave a longer growing period. The effect of plant density on total sprout yield was less pronounced than that of sowing date but effects on yield per plant were large.
Yields of buds in the freezing grade (20–30 mm) increased rapidly between late September and early to mid-November in both 1983 and 1984 and reached 7·5 and 8·8 t/ha, respectively. The difference between freezing-grade yields in the two years (1·3 t/ha) was much less than the difference between total yields (14 t/ha). Late sowing in 1983 restricted bud growth resulting in a higher proportion in the freezing grade. Plant density had a greater effect on freezing-grade yield than on total yield. Low planting densities gave high yields of small buds at early harvests but denser planting gave higher yields at later harvests. Generally, increases in bud fresh weight over the harvest period were greater than those in bud dry weight because of water uptake. The average dry matter content of buds declined by 2–5 % from October to January.
The experiments confirmed that manipulation of sowing date and planting density is an effective way of spreading harvest date throughout the season in order to achieve an orderly sequence of crops for the fresh market and for processing.