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I am inquiring about the importance of soil quality used for vegetable gardens maintained in containers. Does the soil need to be the same throughout the container, and does the soil at the bottom of the container affect the quality of the vegetable growt

My questions stem from concern over the soil and material we are using in our home garden. Last year my husband and I attempted our first container vegetable garden on our deck with varying seeds and lots of only high quality organic soil. We used barrels, ceramic pots and wooden crates for containers. The large barrels/pots were very successful with beautiful healthy vegetables (kale, basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, green onion, thyme, tomato, wild flowers) but all of the smaller pots and wooden crates barely produced anything more than slow growing seedlings which halted growth and were followed by a rash of mushrooms. I assumed then that the problem with the crates was that they were made of recycled wooden wine crates and that the integrity of the crates may have compromised the soil conditions because I noticed what appear as black mold growing in the wood; though my husband argues that the dis-colorization in the wood wasn’t necessarily mold and that regardless it wouldn't affect the soil or growth/health of the plants and the mushrooms have no influence. However, because the smaller pots didn't produce any productive growth, my husband started throwing his cigarette butts in these crates. (I personally do not smoke cigarettes and place high importance in the quality of my health and environment leaning toward organic-living hence my concern.) These crates remained on our deck during the off-season because my husband wanted to recycle materials for the next growing season though I was hesitant. The next growing season has now arrived. We purchased more large barrels and reused the containers that supported successful growth last year. However, my husband has already recycled the soil from the crates and pots that were unproductive. Using this recycled soil with the cigarette butts removed, he filled the bottom of all of our barrels and pots (no crates this time around) and then topped them with new bags of high quality organic garden soil. My husband insists that the soil at the bottom as no effect on the growth or growing conditions because the root systems don’t reach that far down. Should I be concerned? Would the vegetables/herbs absorb any toxins from the bottom soil because of the cigarette butts that were previously discarded there? Would the rash of mushrooms from before have dormant spores remaining that would compromise the growing conditions? Would the “black mold” from the previous season’s crates be absorbed into the soil and also compromise the growing conditions? Is it safe to eat food grown from such conditions?

Thank you for any feedback you can provide.

Submitted: 01:25AM, 22 Apr 2016
Answer: Hi There,
You’ve got a few questions in here so I’ll start with the mushrooms. No the mushrooms will not effect the growth of your plants they will actually help the plants by breaking down the organic matter in the soil to help release nutrients. In this case I would say that the wood is not treated so the mushrooms were breaking down the crate wood. Yes there will be spores and mycelium in the potting mix which was transferred over but they are not likely to cause any problem with your plants or the wine barrel.
Now for the roots. Your plants roots will go down at least as far as they grow up (for most plants) so they will reach down to the bottom of most wine barrels. Your main concern with reusing mixes like this is that there may be a pathogen in it which could get transferred to the new mix. Your mix can also be depleted of nutrients so you will need to mix in some Dynamic Lifter or Acticote to feed your plants during the season as well as using a Liquid Fertiliser.
Plants also do not generally absorb toxins (and pass it on to people) although it would be good to keep in mind that nicotine was used as a pesticide for a long time. So your plants grown will be safe to eat although I would not be eating any of the mushrooms which have grown on it.
It’s hard to say exactly why your smaller pots didn’t grow as well as the larger some but in general they hold less water then the larger one and dry out very quickly which also causes them to become water repellent. This inturn can keep them dry when you think they are being well watered.

-Steve

Answered: 09:19AM, 22 Apr 2016

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