The increase in consumer demand for fresh organic fruits and vegetables has been recognized by many greenhouse producers throughout the world, including China and the United States (Burnett et al., 2016; Meng et al., 2017; Olczyk et al., 2007; Treadwell et al., 2007). Among organic greenhouse production practices, fertility management of seedlings and transplants is considered a key challenge (Brace, 2017). Unlike inorganic fertilizers, organic nutrients from plant- and animal-based residues are often not immediately available to plants after application. One of their main difficulties is the timing of microbially mediated nutrient release in relationship to plant growth (Bi et al., 2010; Burnett et al., 2016). In addition, the feedstocks and methods for producing organic fertilizers are extremely variable, which results in different components and physiochemical properties among different organic fertilizers. Many traditional organic fertilizers are produced as composts or other formulated byproducts of livestock, fish, and food and other processing industries, including feather meal, blood meal, meat and bone meal, and manure-based materials (Bi et al., 2010; Gaskell and Smith, 2007).
Vermicomposts, produced using the fragmentation of organic wastes by earthworms, have a fine particulate structure and contain nutrients in forms that are more readily taken up by the plants, such as NO3−-N, available phosphorus, potassium (K), Ca, and magnesium (Arancon et al., 2006; Atiyeh et al., 2000; Brace, 2017; Yang et al., 2015). Arancon et al. (2006) reported that food waste and paper waste vermicomposts can increase the amount of ammonium-nitrogen (NH4-N), NO3-N, and orthophosphates in soil on the harvest date. Vermicompost amendment has been shown to increase the growth, yield, or quality of some greenhouse crops, such as tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), pepper (Capsicum annuum), and cucumber (Arancon et al., 2004; Atiyeh et al., 2000; Zhao et al., 2010). Atiyeh et al. (2000) reported that incorporation of 10% or 20% pig solid vermicomposts into a standard commercial horticultural potting substrate (Metro-Mix 360; Sun Gro Horticulture, Agawam, MA) increased the growth of marigold (Calendula officinalis) and tomato seedlings as compared with the standard commercial horticultural potting substrate alone, even when all required mineral nutrients were supplied.
Composting is generally defined as the biological aerobic transformation of an organic byproduct into a different organic product that can be added to the soil without detrimental effects on crop growth (Atiyeh et al., 2000; Baca et al., 1992). The application of composted manure is a common practice in organic culture (Hartz and Johnstone, 2006). Hartz and Johnstone (2006) reported on the effect of temperature on nitrogen (N) availability from feather meal, seabird guano, fish powder, and blood meal in soil. For blood meal after 1 week, 18% of N had mineralized at 10 °C, and 51% had mineralized at 25 °C. By 2 weeks, across materials, approximately half or more of all N had mineralized at 25 °C. Burnett et al. (2016) suggests that substrate-incorporated organic fertilizers are typically used as the sole fertilizer source only for short-term crops because a large proportion of organic nutrients are mineralized within the first few weeks and can leach out of container mixes. Therefore, a difficulty with using organic fertilizers is matching the rate of nutrient release to the plant’s nutrient demands (Burnett et al., 2016; Treadwell et al., 2007).
Cucumber is an important greenhouse vegetable crop and one of the most popular members of the cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) family (Alsadon et al., 2016). In 2017, world production of cucumbers and gherkins was 84 million tonnes, led by China with 77% of the total (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2019). The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of organic fertilizer source and rate of application on nutrient leaching over time and to determine the growth response of greenhouse-grown cucumber to two different organic fertilizers.
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