Fighting the Good Fight: How to Manage Weeds Organically

April 14, 2016

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Whether you want to garden organically for earth friendly reasons or to safeguard children or pets from hazardous chemicals, killing weeds without the help of harsh products can seem like a challenge. However, there are effective home remedies and organic weed killers on the market that keep your green gardener status on the up and up.

The first method, although not a favorite of most gardeners, is taking time to pull weeds the old-fashioned way. It does wonders in the garden, especially when done on a regular basis. Try to weed seedlings before they establish themselves and begin to compete with your plants for valuable resources such as water and sunlight. For mature perennial weeds, dig out as much of the root and plant runners as you can.

Another way to control weeds is to smother them with thick layers of newspaper or weed-barrier cloth along garden paths and around plants, and then top the layers with about three inches of mulch. Some natural mulches include compost, shredded leaves, straw, and dried grass clippings. Not only will mulch keep weeds down, it will also help plants conserve moisture.

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For serious weed patches, there are organic alternatives to traditional on-contact weed killers. One such on-contact herbicide is Bonide BurnOut®. It kills all types of actively growing weeds and grasses. BurnOut is rainproof when dry, works at temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and does not translocate. Made from natural ingredients, BurnOut is approved for organic gardening and is safe for use around people and pets. Use it around borders, driveways, sidewalks, the base of mature trees, buildings, fence lines, barns and pastures, school grounds, greenhouses, and other areas where weed control is desired.

If weeds are invading your lawn, corn gluten meal, a by-product of the wet-milling process of corn, is a great all-natural weed pre-emergent. Corn gluten meal can be spread in a simple push spreader, and is available by itself or in organic lawn care mixes such as Espoma Organic® Weed Preventer (9-0-0). This product not only helps prevent weeds on lawns, it also helps make grass more resistant to heat, drought and other stresses. It prevents dandelions, crabgrass and other common weeds, won’t burn lawns, and it’s safe for use around people, pets and the environment. A 25-pound bag will treat roughly 1,250 square feet.

Gardeners also often have an adversary in moss and algae. Safer® Brand Moss and Algae Killer contains no metals, is non-staining, and eliminates and prevents regrowth of moss, algae, lichens and liverworts in areas up to 500 square feet. Safer Moss and Algae Killer is not to be sprayed directly on garden plants and comes in a quart-sized bottle with a hose attachment.

For more information on fighting weeds naturally, take a look at these other articles:

Rid Your Garden of Weeds Once and For All

Outsmart Those Weeds Organically

Beginner’s Guide to Composting


uncomposted vs. composted

uncomposted vs. composted

Composting is a great benefit to your garden and the overall environment. When you use all-natural compost to amend and build the soil, it affects everything in the surrounding area from water purity to plant vitality. You also help reduce waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic yard waste and food residuals make up 23 percent of municipal solid waste collected and put into landfills. By composting these materials instead, you help minimize this negative environmental impact. You also have a positive impact on your bank account. The more you compost, the less you will invest in fertilizers, amendments, and pest and disease control because compost is rich in macro- and micronutrients, as well as beneficial microorganisms. Finished compost also has an antibiotic effect on plants and improves their general resistance to environmental stresses, pest infestations and disease. You can also save money with composting because the more you compost, the less you may have to spend on trash collection.

Now that you’ve read all the great benefits composting can have on the environment and your garden, how do you get started? Let’s look at three basic types of composting: bin (or pile) composting, sheet composting and vermicomposting.

Bin Composting

Compost bins are low maintenance and ideal for growers with limited space. The Sunleaves SPC400q-1Portable Composter, a tumbler-style bin, spins on its frame and features a built-in agitator to make mixing quick and easy. It has a 53-gallon (200-liter) capacity, and its wheeled frame makes it simple to relocate. As an added bonus, it is made from 90 percent recycled materials. Make sure the bin you purchase has vents or ventilation holes, since oxygen is essential to the composting process. Dark-colored compost bins are ideal, as they help trap heat which speeds the decomposition process. Once a compost bin is full, you will have to wait until the composting process is finished before adding additional materials. During this time some gardeners start a second compost pile or bin to collect the next round of food and yard waste. To avoid frequent trips outside, use  the Sunleaves Stainless Steel Compost Bin to collect food waste on the kitchen counter before transferring it to the main compost bin.

The can stands 11 inches tall with a 7-inch diameter, has a 1.1-gallon capacity and houses a double-layer replaceable carbon filter in the lid to keep odors at bay.

Sheet Composting

Sheet composting, best done in the fall season, is ideal for growers with larger gardens. This type of composting entails layering raw materials, such as leaves and grass clippings, and then raking them into the soil of your garden. The material then breaks down into compost. A downside to sheet composting is that it is limited to the fall season since you are using your garden as your compost bin, when the composting process uses the nitrogen your plants would normally use.

Vermicomposting using redworms.

Vermicomposting using redworms.


Vermicomposting uses redworms to compost organic material. It is low cost and low maintenance, and can be done year-round. You can build your own worm farm, or choose a ready-made redworm composting habitat. The Sunleaves Worm Farm is a four-layer home for red wiggler worms that eagerly devour unwanted food scraps and other wastes. Fill each layer with egg shells, newspaper strips, fruit peels and more, and watch as the worms transform it into rich, dark worm castings. The bottom of the farm also houses a collection tray for worm tea, a nutrient-rich liquid by-product that results from the decomposition and processing of the natural waste in the farm. When maintained properly, this unit is virtually odorless and can be used indoors all year or outdoors when the temperature remains between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. To learn more about vermicomposting, take a look at this video below:

Now that you have a composting method and the materials to start…what do you compost? The most effective composts are made of brown, carbon-rich materials and green, nitrogen-rich materials at a 25-1 ratio.

Brown Materials:

  • Dry grass and leaves
  • Dead bush and twigs, chopped
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Straw

Green Materials:

  • Fresh grass clippings and garden trimmings (weeds that haven’t gone to seed, twigs and branches, etc.)
  • Food scraps (organic fruit and vegetable sources)
  • Manure (chicken, horse, rabbit or cow)
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds, filters and tea bags

Avoid composting these items:

  • Diseased plant materials or chemically treated waste
  • Any allelopathic species (ex. black walnut)
  • Citrus
  • Meat and dairy products
  • Pet waste (cats and dogs)
  • Oil- or grease-covered food materials
  • Coal and charcoal ash

Make sure to chop or shred materials to speed the rate of decomposition. It is also a good idea to add healthy soil, which contains live microbes, to your compost mix. Adequate moisture is also important to your compost pile. The pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

 Here are some important troubleshooting tips to keep in mind:


The size of your compost pile will dictate processing time. During warmer weather, small- to medium-sized piles should be ready in four to six weeks. When your compost is ready to be used it should have a crumbly texture. The original material that went into the pile should be unrecognizable.

Fresh compost can be used almost anywhere—except with seedlings because compost may contain remnants of disease or harmful bacteria. Instead, use sterile soil or a soilless growing medium for seedlings.

For more information about composting, take a look at these other articles:

Vermicomposting: Your Guide to Starting a Worm Farm

Advanced Composting Techniques

Don’t Let Fallen Leaves Go to Waste!



When and How to Transplant Plugs

February 25, 2016

Congratulations! You have successfully germinated a seed or propagated a cutting in a plug! Now what? How do you know when your plug is ready to transplant into a soil or hydroponic medium? What is the best way to do it? Take a look at the videos below to ensure your plug is successful!

When is my plug ready to transplant?


How do I transplant my plug into a hydroponic soil?



How do I transplant my plug into a soil medium?



To see the full video, including tips on starting your plug, watch below!

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

January 20, 2016


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.


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. 


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.


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

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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


Grow More Herb Food Formula