Growing for Good

September 30, 2015

The harvest season is an end of the gardening season for some, but to indoor growers it is just another season. With the capability of growing year-round it is important to remember how important of a technology hydroponics really is for the world.

Hydroponics is More Efficient

Those of us that have been hydroponic growers for a while most likely have seen the benefits to our own stockpiles of produce, but the sustainable effects of hydroponics can have a much bigger impact globally, especially in places where the soil is not ideal for farming, or in urban areas with limited space. According to an MIT study, here’s why:

  • Since there is no need for soil, there isn’t a crop type restriction due to the soil type, or eroded or diseased soils.
  • The water used in hydroponics can be recycled so it can be used in desert climates or other drought prone areas, where gardening on a large scale may have not been a possibility.
  • There is no nutrition waste due to water run-off, which in turn can lead to a chemical re-enrichment in the soil called eutrophication.
  • Hydroponics produces higher and more stable yields because the plants do not use excessive energy in finding nutrients in the soils therefore this energy is goes into the growth of the plant. Also, in soil, plants compete with weeds for water and food, but in hydroponics the adequate nutrients are supplied straight to the roots.
  • Due to the absence of soil, a bacteria growth medium, there is a less frequent occurrence of diseases.
  • The hydroponic growing method also reduces transportation costs, due to container mobility enabling the farmer to grow crops near the area of use.
  • Since labor intensive work such as tilling, watering, cultivating and fumigation is not required for hydroponic farming, and in the case of advanced hydroponics the system is more often than not automated using pumps and computers, labor costs will decrease dramatically.
  • Best of all, anyone can do it! Simplified hydroponic techniques are easy to understand and do not require any prior knowledge to achieve concrete results.  

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How You Can Help

Organizations you can support

While the long-term benefits of hydroponic farming and gardening worldwide are clear, initial start-up can be costly. There are some great organizations aiding the cause of hydroponics to help feed the world and end hunger.

Hydro for Hunger

Hydro for Hunger is a dedicated fund-raising initiative that began in 2002. Through this program, they are raising awareness about global food shortage issues and the vital humanitarian efforts of the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics. Utilizing on-site instruction and interactive training programs created by the Institute, the organization educates in-need communities around the world to become self-sufficient using fundamental hydroponic gardening methods. With the help of independent hydroponic manufacturers, merchants and hobbyists, Hydro for Hunger has raised more than $325,000 to date. The goals of the Institute of Simplified Hydroponics are achievable, and with assistance from you, the results could be revolutionary. The mission of the Hydro for Hunger program is to raise awareness about global food shortages and the issues surrounding world hunger. In addition, Hydro for Hunger solicits and directs financial and in-kind donations to the 501-C (3) Institute of Simplified Hydroponics, Hydro for Hunger’s sole beneficiary.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

A Feeding America food bank, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle recovers healthy food –over 40 percent is fresh produce— that would have been wasted, and redistributes it to partner agencies. However, the similarities to food-banking end there. With its tagline “We Feed. We Teach. We Grow.” as a guiding principle, IFFS’ grassroots approach empowers families in low wealth communities with job skills and education to build their self-sufficiency. Under Bullard’s leadership (with a lean staff of 40 and several thousand volunteers), the Food Shuttle evolved their programs from simply feeding the hungry to teaching skills for self-sufficiency, including culinary job skills, buying and cooking healthy food on a budget, and even how to grow food.  Recognizing that the inundation of cheap processed food has distanced the average family from where fresh whole food comes from, IFFS has created agricultural programs, such as the Teaching Farm where volunteers learn how to grow their own food using innovative techniques including aquaponics, hydroponics, and vermicomposting. 


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 Help Locally

Share Your Knowledge

In many ways, hydroponics is often the world’s best kept secret. However, due to culture changes and the popularity of urban gardening it is gaining traction on a larger scale.  Come out of the grow room darkness and share your knowledge. If you consider yourself a grow master, offer teaching a free how-to class on hydroponic basics to food pantry workers, charities or even schools. We all know that hydroponics is an innovative industry. As you buy the latest and greatest indoor garden products why not donate your used hydroponics supplies to food banks and food pantries?

Worm’s Way Garden Expert, Roger, helps local charity, Growing Opportunities, set up and learn hydroponics. Image Source:

Get Growing

Lastly, don’t let your excess produce go to waste! Local food banks, homeless shelters and charities are hungry for fresh produce, especially during the winter months. There are many tools to find out where you can donate food locally:

Sources for this article:



Vermicomposting: Your Guide to Starting a Worm Farm

September 2, 2015

What is Vermicomposting?

Simply put, vermicomposting uses worms to turn organic waste materials into high-quality compost. Commonly referred to as worm castings or vermicompost, the compost can be collected in a concentrated liquid state known as vermicompost tea. Just like regular compost, vermicompost is a great all-purpose fertilizer rich in macro and micronutrients and beneficial microorganisms. You can apply the odor-free vermicompost to indoor and outdoor plants without the risk of fertilizer burn.


Red Wigglers start to compost lettuce with coco coir bedding in a Sunleaves Worm Farm


Do I have to use special worms for vermicomposting?

Different from the earthworms you see inching along the sidewalk after a rainstorm, red worms are preferred for vermicomposting. Red worms, red wigglers or Eisenia fetida, are valued for their ability to process organic waste in a relatively short amount of time. Red worms thrive in a controlled worm bin environment and reproduce rapidly as a result (worm populations can double each month in ideal conditions). In addition, they can handle the frequent intrusions necessary for adding food and bedding material, and the periodic disturbances that occur when harvesting castings. Not recommended for a worm bin, soil-dwelling earthworms spend most of their time deep in their burrows, coming to the surface only to collects leaves and debris that they need for food, making them none too keen on environmental interferences. They thrive best in the outdoor garden where they turn and aerate the soil, and incorporate precious organic matter.

The size of your worm habitat and the amount of waste added will dictate the number of worms you need, however a 2 to 1 worm-to-waste ratio is the basic rule of thumb. For example, one pound of red worms is a good starting point for average households generating approximately a half pound of kitchen scraps per day. This may not sound like many worms, but they are efficient workers with large appetites!



Worm’s Way garden expert, Roger, has a worm farm at the Indiana location.


Worm Bin Basics

Similar to compost bins, you can build your own or choose convenience with a ready-made habitat like the Sunleaves Worm Farm. Before you decide, consider the following:


The dimensions of your bin will depend on the amount of waste generated from your household on a regular basis. This can be estimated by collecting your compostable kitchen scraps for a week and weighing in at weeks end; an average taken over several weeks will provide results that are even more accurate. The general rule is each pound of waste warrants one square foot of surface area.


Red worms can tolerate temperatures from 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, although they prefer temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.


Worms desire dark living conditions. Notice that they will retract if they are on the surface when you open your bin.

Bedding and Acceptable Food Materials

Bedding should be light and fluffy to allow sufficient air exchange throughout your container and make it is easy for worms to migrate through it. Recommended materials include coffee filters and tea bags (with metal staple removed), tissues, shredded cardboard and paper, coconut coir and peat moss. Worms will also benefit from a handful of soil or dolomite lime because it will aid in their digestive process. Acceptable contributions from the kitchen include vegetable and fruit scraps, plain bread and cooked pasta, crushed eggshells and coffee grounds. Avoid meat and dairy products, pet wastes, and any items heavily coated in grease or oil.

How to Harvest

Approximately every three to four months, worm castings will be ready to harvest. Commercial bins should include instructions specific to that particular system. If you have created your own bin, you will need to separate the worms (and any undigested food scraps) from the vermicompost to be harvested. One way to do this is to push all the worms and decomposed materials to one side of the bin and fill the other side with fresh bedding and food. Give the worms a few days to migrate to the “new” side before harvesting. Because worms are sensitive to light, you can also shine a light into the container to send worms burrowing and collect the castings on the surface using a sieve or similar hand tool.

To get a better idea of what this process looks like, Roger, garden expert from Worm’s Way Indiana, demonstrates how to set up and harvest a worm farm in this video:


Additional Tips:

  • Bury all food waste to discourage fruit flies and other insects.
  • Chop food scraps and bedding for faster decomposition.
  • If the bin starts to smell, there is likely more food than the worms can process. Stop feeding your worms, add more dry bedding and give the contents a good stir. If the bin just appears too wet, add dry bedding material, check drainage holes and be sure to empty the vermicompost tea collection tray on a regular basis.

Red worms are available through a number of commercial resources and you can order them from your local Worm’s Way or shop online.

To learn more about vermicomposting, take a look at our Vermicomposting 101.




Let’s Talk About Tomato Diseases

August 18, 2015

There is nothing quite like the flavorful, juicy bite of a tomato you have grown yourself. Don’t let common tomato diseases take that moment away from you this harvest season! Let’s talk tomato diseases and how to treat them.

Early/Late Blight

What is it?
A common tomato disease, caused the fungus Alternaria solani, Early Blight can weaken or kill your tomato plant, or cause fewer tomatoes to set than normal. The fungus originates from the soil or seeds, and it can over-winter in debris for at least a year. This disease likes damp conditions, but can occur at any time. Late Blight is a plant disease that occurs when a fungus called Phytophthora infestans infects and kills the tomato plant. It can be introduced to your garden from infected seeds, transplants, or can be blown from a neighboring garden, and can happen throughout the growing season, especially in cooler and wet weather.

What does it look like?
Tomato plants infected with Early Blight show a couple tan spots with yellow halos appear on leaves. The fruit becomes dark and has sunken spots. The stems also grow darker and have sunken cankers right above the soil line. Characteristics of Late Blight include spots that begin as a pale green color by the edges of the leaves, then turn a brown or purple color in humidity. Mold will appear on the underside of the leaves. Your tomato fruit will have brown spots on the top and sides and white mold might form. Late Blight also causes brown and black spots to appear and spread over the stem.

Late Blight on a Tomato Plant (Image Source:

Late Blight on a Tomato Plant (Image Source:

How do I treat it?
Spray leaves (top and bottom) until dripping wet with Espoma Earth-tone® Garden Fungicide, a copper soap fungus treatment, anytime you see fungus. Avoid spraying fungicide in full sun to prevent burned leaves. Instead, spray in the early morning or when it is cloudy. This garden fungicide can also be used in organic gardening.

Fusarium Wilt

What is it?
Fusarium is a tomato-specific disease caused by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporumsp lycopersici. Originating in soil, Fusarium Wilt develops faster in high-nitrogen, low-potassium or sandy soils. Infected plants often die before they are mature.

What does it look like?
Fusarium Wilt causes one side of the plant’s leaves to turn yellow, and then wilt. Overall growth is stunted by this disease, and fruit development diminishes. The stem has internal brown vascular tissue.

Fusarium Wilt (Image Source:

Fusarium Wilt (Image Source:

How do I treat it?
While there are no chemical based treatments available, you can slow down the disease by maintaining pH levels between 6.5 and 7.0 in your soil. Test your soil with the Sunleaves Digital 4-Way Soil Meter. Since soils that are high in nitrogen and low in potassium can leave your plant vulnerable to fungus, use Happy Frog® Tomato and Vegetable (7-4-5). It has the optimal ratios between nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that allow plants to feed vigorously while producing abundant high quality fruit. This mix also contains calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot and boosts stronger cell walls, helping tomato and other plants fight off disease. Use a nitrate-based nitrogen fertilizer, as oppose to an ammonia-based nitrogen fertilizer. Botanicare Cal-Mag Plus (2-0-0), with its custom blend of calcium complex with nitrate nitrogen and a highly-soluble form of chelated magnesium, works great as a foliar application to prevent and treat Fusarium Wilt.  

Septoria Leaf Spot

What is it?
Also called Septoria Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot is a common disease tomato plants experience caused by a fungus called Septoria lycipersici. Septoria Leaf Spot spreads quickly, defoliating and weakening plants, hindering the ability for the plant to bear fruit. Living on tomato plant debris and weeds, and in the soil, the fungus spreads by wind and water. Like other tomato plant disease, Septira Leaf spot loves damp conditions.

What does it look like?
Septoria Leaf Spot causes a plethora of brown spots with black specks and a yellow halo to pop up on tomato leaves. While there is generally no stem or fruit damage, the loss of foliage can cause sunscald.

Septoria Leaf Spot (Image Source:

Septoria Leaf Spot (Image Source:

How do I treat it?
Septoria often starts at the lower leaves. If the disease is caught early, you can remove these infected lower leaves. If the higher leaves are infected, removing them can cause your tomatoes to suffer from sunscald. Improving the air circulation around your tomato plant can help dry foliage faster and prevent the disease from spreading. To accomplish this, try a stake or cage to raise your plant off the ground.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

What is it?
The Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) is a viral infection that disrupts cellular functioning, causing a reduction in plant stamina, but does not generally kill the tomato plant. Spread predominately by contaminated hands, caused by touching infected tobacco products, plants and weeds, spreading the virus to otherwise healthy tomato plants.

What does it look like?
A yellow-green mottling on the plant’s leaves, stunted growth and curled leaves and flowers are common characteristics of TMV.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Image Source:

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Image Source:

How do I treat it?

There are no chemical-based treatments available that effectively protect tomato plants from TMV. The virus can live over 50 years in plants! The virus control for TMV is prevention. Cleaning your garden tools and keeping them sterilized will help reduce the virus from spreading. Remove any plants that appear to have TMV. Be sure to keep your garden free of any dead and diseased plant debris. If you are a tobacco user, try not to smoke while gardening. Tobacco products are a source of TMV and can be spread through your hands. Rotating your crops can also prevent TMV from showing up in your garden.

Now that you have the tools to treat these common tomato disease, grow in confidence and enjoy this favorite summer fruit!

A Breath of Fresh Air in Your Indoor Garden

July 21, 2015


With the sweltering summer heat, one of the many benefits of growing indoors is the ability to grow indoors! However, even in the cool confines of the modern home, you still have to combat stagnant air.

In the great outdoors, wind naturally exchanges, providing plants with fresh air. In indoor grow rooms, it is up to you to give plants the fresh air they need. This is done with a combination of circulating fans and simple air exhaust systems. Keeping the air moving also helps stomata (tiny pores in plant leaves that allow exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen and water) stay relatively dust-free, so plants can breathe with ease. If your garden room happens to be equipped with a ceiling fan, circulating the air shouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t have a ceiling fan, one or two oscillating fans, like the 16-inch DuraBreeze® Orbital Pedestal Fan should be enough to reunite the warm air, which naturally rises to the ceiling, with the cooler air that’s left behind. By regularly replacing moist, stale air with drier, fresher air, we stabilize temperature and humidity levels while helping our plants maintain a proper balance of usable carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Simply mixing and moving the same air around and around isn’t quite enough for your plants. You should also ventilate the area. From the super-easy to the more complex, there are a couple of ways to take care of this. One simple method is to leave the door to your grow room open as a source of fresh air and then exhaust the stale air with a vent fan mounted in an open window. You also can install a ventilation duct and in-line exhaust fan in one wall leading through to the outside. To get a better idea, this is similar to how your clothes dryer or stove with an exhaust fan is vented.

If you do put in a special ventilation duct for your indoor garden, place it up high since that’s where most of the stale, hot air ends up. As the duct fan pulls stale air up and out, fresh air from the rest of the house takes its place. It is also easy to automate this type of system by hooking the in-line duct fan to a thermostat.

With a thermostat-controlled vent, your indoor garden becomes somewhat self-regulating. If, for instance, you’ve decided you don’t want temperatures to climb above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you can set your duct fan to come on as soon as temperatures exceed your acceptable range. To keep the environment even cooler—and to prolong the life of your equipment—you can also choose a reflector and ballast with built-in ventilation features. A good option is the Predator Lighting 6 and 8 models (Viper 6, Cobra 6 and 8, King Cobra 6 and 8), which can all be fitted with ducting and an inline fan (or fans) to actively cool the lamp and exhaust the hot air. For ballast options, the ION A/C 1000W unit that contains an internal fan to keep components cool to lengthen their lifespan, is a sure bet!

Predator Lighting at Worm’s Way Kentucky

If you already have a reflector and ballast that don’t have any of these special features, don’t worry! In many cases, you can modify standard reflectors and ballasts with ventilation kits. Aside from using simple thermostats, some indoor gardeners like to take things a step further by connecting humidistats to their vent fans or to dehumidifiers. Just as a thermostat regulates temperature, a humidistat regulates humidity. Want your plants to enjoy a constant 50 percent humidity? With a humidistat-controlled vent or dehumidifier, you can be sure your indoor garden doesn’t become too dry or too moist.

For more information about ventilation in your indoor garden, take a look at these other articles:

The Importance of Ventilation in the Grow Room
Humidity and Temperature: What they Mean for Your Plants
Beat the Heat!


All About TDS

June 19, 2015


What is TDS?

TDS stands for total dissolved solids. The Wikipedia definition defines TDS as “a measure of the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained in a liquid in molecular, ionized or micro-granular (colloidal sol) suspended form.” Why is this important for hydroponics? Measuring TDS in hydroponics can indicate the strength of your nutrient solutions.

How to Read TDS

There are two types of readings for TDS in hydroponics. The first is Conductivity and the second is Parts per Million (PPM). Conductivity, the more scientific reading, is represented as Electro-Conductivity (EC), Conductivity Factor (CF) or Micro Siemens per square centimeter (MS/cm). PPM is the more common reading, especially in the United States and is calculated from Conductivity on two different scales:

 NaCL (1EC = 500 ppm)
442 scale (1EC = 700 ppm)

Plants normally require the nutrient strength to read about 1,500 to 2,000 PPM. When mixing your nutrients, it is a good idea to start fresh using purified water or reverse osmosis water, which have no PPM.

What is the best way to test TDS?

HTM500To test TDS you will need a digital meter, such as the HM Digital Handheld TDS Meter which is highly effective and accurate due to its advanced microprocessor technology. Plants normally require the nutrient strength to read about 1,500 to 2,000 PPM. If your TDS measurment is low, add more of your nutrients. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when adding the nutrients. Keep testing until you are at the level you need. However, be careful, too much nutrient can be damaging to your plant, including stunted growth and less potency. You should check the levels in your reservoir daily and adjust as needed. Nutrient solutions usually need to be changed every one to two weeks.

 What can affect my reading?

There are precautions you can take to ensure you have the most accurate reading.

  • Always make sure that your TDS meter is dry before taking a reading from a sample.
  • The meter should be perpendicular when taking a reading, avoiding the sides or bottom of the sample container.
  • The ideal temperature for a reading is 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The longer you have the meter in the water, the more accurate it will be.
  • Always clean your meter after every use.

To learn more about TDS, look at some of our other articles:

TDS Levels
Suggested pH and PPM Levels for Common Plants