What Type of Growing Media is Best for Your Hydro System?

January 20, 2016

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Drip Systems

This is a substrate system where a pump delivers solution from a main reservoir to drip emitters positioned at the base of each plant through individual supply lines. Depending on the growing medium, some will drip continuously. Carefully monitor your system if you constantly run your dripper to prevent over-saturation. To keep irrigation cycles spaced to allow the root zone to dry out a bit, set on a timer to drip 15 minutes every 2 to 4 hours during the day. 

Drip systems that use rockwool cubes and slabs give you the largest “margin of error,” as they retain water incredibly well. Keeping the surface of your rockwool covered with light-proof plastic will minimize algae growth. 

You can also use coco-coir and peat-based soilless mixes, however keep in mind that these growing media (including rockwool) can become over-saturated with water.

Clay pebbles, such as CYCO Hydro Clay, are also great for drip systems. They absorb very little nutrient solution, and their ball shape leaves air gaps for the roots, ensuring over-saturation does not occur.

Sunleaves Rocks are excellent for drip systems as well. They’re reusable with serious water-holding power. Made by superheating shale to temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, they are pH-neutral and chemically inert.

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Plants in rockwool.

NFT Systems (Nutrient Film Technique)

An NFT system is a bare-root system, generally involving a gutter system, in which nutrient solution is constantly pumped over plant roots at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch to form a thin film of nutrient, giving roots access to nutrient and air simultaneously. The solution cycles between the main reservoir and the grow channel (or gulley) which is tipped at a slight angle to create the desired film effect and prevent roots from “damming” the channels.

While growing media isn’t used all that much in an NFT system, for a smooth transition from cuttings to NFT, Oasis Rootcubes are often used for transplanting into NFT systems. With their water-holding capabilities, and the perfect balance of air and water to encourage plant growth and get unrooted cuttings off to a strong start, the transition is smooth. If you have propagated your cuttings in rockwool cubes, ensure roots have overtaken a majority of the block before transplanting into the NFT system.

You can also use a small amount of clay pebbles in a net cup, or sit plants in neoprene collars, to introduce cuttings and seedlings.

Ebb and Flow Systems

For this approach, plant roots are intermittently flooded with nutrient solution. The frequency of flood cycles depends on the type of growing medium and the size and type of plant, but typically 15 minutes every 2 to 4 hours during the day is sufficient. Roots are nourished and aerated as the cycle repeats. 

Most rockwool products are compatible with ebb and flow systems. You can sit your rockwool slab or block directly in your tray. Fabric or plastic pots filled with clay pebbles, grow rocks, such as Sunleaves Rocks, or rockwool cubes can also sit directly in the tray.

Another route is to fill the tray itself with clay pebbles and place clay-pebble-filled net pots into the tray to grow your plants, or just grow plants directly in the pebbles in the tray. 

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Sunleaves Rocks

Deep Water Culture Systems

With this self-contained method, plants are suspended above the water level and a submersible pump is used to constantly bathe roots in nutrient solution. As plants mature, the roots will grow into the continuously circulating reservoir. 

The idea behind the Deep Water Culture System is that water is the growing medium. However, you will need a medium of some kind to support the plant. Use grow rocks, clay pebbles or perlite in net pots to start your cuttings or seedlings, which will support the plants once transitioned to this type of system.

Aeroponic Systems

In aeroponics, plants are suspended without the use of a growing medium and their roots are continuously sprayed with a fine nutrient- and oxygen-rich mist. With this virtually unlimited access to oxygen, roots have maximum potential to absorb nutrients and plants can grow at a phenomenal rate. These systems have a small margin of error and are recommended for more experienced gardeners. Delicate sprayer nozzles must be kept free of debris as they can clog easily, and equipment or power failure can cause total crop loss very quickly. Popular for cuttings and fast harvesting plants. 

Some systems of this type do use a small amount of medium, such as a tiny net cup with some clay pebbles.

DSC_9661

Plant in an Aeroponics System

Wick Systems

The Wick system, the most basic and simple type of hydroponic system, is a passive system, meaning there are no moving parts. The nutrient solution moves up a wick to the growing medium from the reservoir.

Coco coir is an excellent choice for this type of system. Mix with perlite in equal amounts to increase aeration around the roots. Doing this boosts the drainage ability of coco coir.

Take a look at all the great growing media that Worm’s Way has to offer here.

The Best Herbs to Grow Indoors This Winter

December 10, 2015
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Aquaponics system with thyme and curly endive growing in a 2×2 tray with Growstone GS-1 Hydro Stones at WWKY.

 

As much as we love the ever-faithful green pines and spruces of the winter months, we miss the aroma of fresh herbs and spices from our warm-weather gardens. Move your herbs indoors and have fresh herbs all winter!

Here is your guide to growing our top five favorite herbs in your indoor container garden.

Parsley

  • Container Garden
    • Needs 6 hours of sun
    • Average Room Temperature (55-75 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Water Twice a week when soil surface feels dry
    • Cut stems when plant is established, leaving 2 inches to continue to grow

Best Soil: FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil

Thyme

  • Container Garden
    • Needs 6 hours of sun
    • Average Room Temperature (50-75 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Top 1-inch of soil should be dry between waters, then water thoroughly
    • Harvest when at least 6 inches tall.
    • Cut leaves as needed, leaving at least 2 inches of growth above the soil.

Best Soil: FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil mixed with Black Gold Pumice to ensure the right amount of air-to-water ratio for roots.

Chives

  • Container Garden
    • Needs 4 to 6 hours of sun
    • Average Room Temperature (55-75 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Water Twice a week when soil surface feels dry
    • Harvest when at least 6 inches tall.
    • Cut leaves as needed, leaving at least 2 inches of growth above the soil.

Best Soil: FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil

Oregano

  • Container Garden
    • Needs 6-8 hours of sun
    • Average Room Temperature (55-75 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Water once a week when the soil surface feels dry
    • Harvest when at least 6 inches tall
    • Cut leaves as needed, leaving two sets of leaves

Best Soil Mix: Black Gold Cactus Mix

Rosemary

  • Container Garden
    • Needs 6 hours of sun
    • Average Room Temperature (45-70 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • Top couple of inches of soil should be dry between waterings, then water completely.
    • Harvest when at least 6 inches tall
    • Cut stems as needed, harvesting no more than a third of the plant at a time

Best Soil Mix: Mix FoxFarm Original Planting Mix with Black Gold Pumice to ensure the right amount of air-to-water ratio for roots.

 Here are some must-have items for your indoor herb garden:

Harvester’s Edge Titanium Pruner with Holster

HETP800

Grow More Herb Food Formula

HFF403

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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Image Source: hydroforhunger.org

 

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
http://www.hydroforhunger.org/

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
http://foodshuttle.org/

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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Image Source: hydroforhunger.org

 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: http://www.insccap.org/pages/GrowingOpportunities

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:

http://www.foodpantries.org/

http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank/

http://www.ampleharvest.org/find-pantry.php

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Sources for this article:
http://12.000.scripts.mit.edu/mission2014/solutions/hydroponics
http://hydroforhunger.org/

 

 

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.

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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!

 

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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:

Size

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.

Temperature

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

Darkness

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.

 

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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: commons.wikimedia.org)

Late Blight on a Tomato Plant (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

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: commons.wikimedia.org)

Fusarium Wilt (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

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: gardeningwithtomleroy.com)

Septoria Leaf Spot (Image Source: gardeningwithtomleroy.com)

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: commons.wikimedia.org)

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

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!