Sustainable root-zone management for organic vegetable production in containers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $249,953.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2026
Grant Recipient: The Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Uttara Samarakoon
The Ohio State University


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Sustainable root-zone management for organic vegetable production in containers


Vegetable production in protected culture is increasing rapidly along with increasing demand for local food among US consumers. USDA has approved organic certification for crops grown in soilless substrates. While this provides a plethora of opportunities, soilless substrates and their management are optimized for synthetic fertilizers.  As soilless culture has only recently been accepted as an option for organic production, little research has been done on organic fertilizer options for this type of growing system. The overall aim of the proposed project is to identify the soilless substrates that offer optimum root growth and development with the use of liquid organic fertilizers in containerized production.  We will evaluate crop yield and quality along with disease suppression when crops are grown with multiple soilless substrates and organic fertilizers. We will identify the interaction between soilless substrates and organic fertilizers in containerized production. On-farm trials will engage growers and increase the applicability of results to resource availability in farms.  The results will provide specific guidelines for limited-resource and beginner producers in adopting sustainable soilless substrates and organic fertilizers for vegetable production under protected culture.

When growers employ container production successfully, they limit their exposure to well-known risks associated with soil-based production while simultaneously becoming more efficient and productive. This will reduce effort, expenses, and complexities associated with organic crop production. They will be able to source materials based on local availability and sustainability to minimize the impact on both business and the environment. With the limitations to field crop production during colder months, protected culture growers will successfully capture the off-season organic market, which relies heavily on imports from Mexico and Canada. Protected culture and organic production offer sound business opportunities that should be both profitable and environmentally sustainable for the next generation; however, many start-ups fail due to lack of education. We will follow this research with a multi-pronged approach to disseminate project outcomes to both current and future farmers with the expectation of increasing farm profitability and sustainability.

Project objectives from proposal:

The overall aim of the project is to identify OMRI-approved soilless substrates that offer optimum root zone environment with the use of OMRI-approved liquid organic fertilizers.

As action outcomes we will evaluate the influence of organic liquid fertilizers on yield, market quality, root health, plant nutrients, and phytochemical properties of tomatoes and cucumbers grown using multiple soilless substrates in containers.  Through a combination of on-farm trials and a multi-pronged outreach program, the results of this project will be disseminated with the current and future vegetable crop farmers to bolster adoption and the success rate of these more sustainable practices.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.