The Q&A Archives: Soil-less Growing Media

Question: I have been growing zucchini squash, cucumbers, bush beans and carrots in a mixture of horse manure and pine shavings with some hay for mulching on top. Three bins of heavy mesh fencing, each bin is 4' x 4' x 4'. So the growing media is over three feet in depth. We've been having rain almost every other day which is great and this mixture media holds moisture but as it's within the open mesh fencing it drains beautifully so no water logging is occuring.

Squash and beans have been heavy producers for almost two months, cuke vines are becoming loaded and have already produced delicious, non-bitter full-size cukes. Carrots have a lot of greens on top, long roots but are completely shaded by the zucchini's leaves so I haven't harvested any carrots worth giving to the horses.

Question 1: -- fertilizing. The manure was only about six weeks old before I spread the seeds. Do I have to add any kind of fertilizer this summer? (Leaves are large and dark green, no yellowing has occurred so far.)

Question 2: -- Come late fall I plan on breaking down these bins, removing this mixture and over the winter rebuild and restock the manure/shaving mixture to be ready for spring planting. But I've read where cukes and squash shouldn't be planted again and again in the same location. Is this true when the growing mixture is completely new each year? Should I move the bins to a new location each year?

Answer: Sound slike your garden is going great guns! The soil should be very rich, so you may not need to add any fertilizer this season. You could run some basic soil tests and see what the results show, or you can keep an eye on the plants and let their performance be your guide. Although unlikely given the mix you used, it is possible that rain will leach some of the nutrients.

As long as you are replacing the soil mix form year to year, you should be able to leave the bins in place since rotation is geared toward preventing soil based problems and managing fertility levels. (Make sure to use that great leftover compost on your ornamental plants!) However, do be sure to clean up and remove all plant debris in the fall to limit any chance of carryover of insect or disease from year to year.

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