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Reduce Plant Pests & Diseases Naturally? Try Neem Oil

Pest and disease issues can ruin a once beautiful garden, or that grow-room full of tomatoes. But, many of us aren’t looking to use strong chemical treatments to solve these problems. Neem oil can be the perfect multi-purpose, low-toxicity solution. One of the most popular natural pesticide/fungicide we sell at Hydro Galaxy is Neem Oil. Why? Mainly because it’s so versatile without being toxic.

What is neem oil?

Neem oil is made from pressed seed of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica. The neem tree is an evergreen tree found in tropical and warm locales such as its native India, but is now grown all over the world in hot climates. The neem fruit looks much like an olive. It has one seed that can have several kernels inside. It is these kernels that are crushed and from them an extract is purified in order to make the horticultural neem oil. Neem oil smells like a combination of garlic and sulphur; it’s quite pungent in its pure form.

Uses of neem oil include:

  • Natural insect repellent
  • Eco-friendly pesticide
  • Fertilizer
  • Human skin and hair care ingredient
  • Pet shampoo to reduce ticks, fleas, mites and other skin parasites
  • Various medicinal uses

Neem Oil reduces rust, such as on this oxalis plant.

Is it toxic?

The most popular use for neem oil is as a natural pesticide and fungicide in the landscape and indoor gardens. It can be sprayed directly onto plants or used as a soil drench, even on edibles. Neem is non-toxic to people, pets, birds and bees. It has been shown shown to be slightly toxic to fish, so if you have a fish pond just make sure you don’t spray it directly into the pond water.

How does it work?

Horticultural oils in general tend to work by smothering the insects they come in contact with - as well as smothering leaf fungal diseases and prevent them from taking hold. Neem can do the same, but there are also some other interesting components in Neem oil that impact insects. It’s most active component is Azadirachtin, which reduces insect feeding and can also act as a repellent. Azadirachtin also has an impact on insect hormones, which can reduce their growth and reproductive ability.

Will it hurt my plants?

When diluted and applied properly using the label's instructions, Neem oil is safe to use on your garden, indoor and edible plants. However, just as with any horticultural oil, you can “burn” plants if you overuse the product, or spray it on plants in hot direct sunlight. Some plants, such as tomatoes, tend to be more sensitive to oils in general. We recommend applying the solution to a leaf or two and wait 24 hours to see if any damage occurs.

Neem Oil Products We Love:

Garden Essential's Neem Oil, is most effective when used as a preventative and applied 7-10 days for prevention of insects such as whiteflies, mites, scale and leaf fungal diseases.

The Safer Brand BioNEEM Insecticide and Repellent concentrate works as a powerful insect killer and as a repellent. The neem oil in BioNEEM disrupts insects delicate hormonal balance within insects, killing them before they molt into their next life stage. Use on trees, shrubs, ornamentals and flowers.

Leaf shine?

Yep. Even if your houseplants just need a good polishing, Neem oil gets the job done. You can use Neem oil to clean leaves of dirt and dust, which gives them a nice sheen. Plus, you’ll help prevent common pests on your plants. A popular leaf shine, Einstein Oil is a 100% finest quality, first extraction, cold-pressed Neem oil to keep leaves clean and plants healthy.

For more products containing Neem Oil, visit www.hydrogalaxy.com.


Looking for the Best Garden Hose?

Garden hoses: you’d think finding just the right garden hose would be an easy task, right? But, not all garden hoses are equal. If you’re like us, you’ve probably gone through any number of hoses, just trying to find one you don’t hate. If you’re an avid gardener, chances are you have a pile of abandoned hoses in your shed or garage. It seems as if hoses are always kinking, tearing, breaking and needing to be replaced. Maybe they are high-quality, but too heavy for you to easily maneuver around your space. If you’ve struggled to find just the right garden hose, here are a few of our pro-tips to help you buy wisely:

Quality Over Quantity

If you find yourself purchasing a new garden hose each year, hose quality may be the issue. As you consider various garden hoses, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. The more expensive hoses not only last longer, but have a layer of reinforcement that less expensive hoses lack.

  • Vinyl hoses are the lightest weight but have the shortest lifespan.
  • Rubber hoses are heavier, more flexible and resistant to cuts and abrasions, but can be costly.
  • Polyurethane hoses are very lightweight, easy to maneuver and spring back once uncoiled. They are not as durable than either vinyl or rubber hoses.

Favorite Product: Hydrofarm Element Green & Grow Garden Hose

However, keep in mind that some of the highest quality hoses can sometimes be the heaviest. So you may want to look for a hose that incorporates all the best characteristics of a high-quality hose, but in a lightweight form.

What to consider in your new garden hose

Thickness: The more layers of reinforcement your garden hose has, the thicker and stronger it will be, the less it will kink and reduce the flow of water to your plants. Six-ply hoses are the strongest on the market.

Diameter: Depending on what you plan on using your garden hose for, you can choose anywhere from five-eighths of an inch.

Length: Purchasing that 100-foot hose seems like it would be convenient as you’d only have one hose to potentially reach every area of your landscape; but the longer the hose, the heavier it is and the more difficult it is to manage. If you have multiple spigots, consider multiple shorter hoses for ease of maneuverability.

Couplings: The quality of the brass or plastic fittings will greatly affect the price of your hose. Brass couplings are the most resistant to weather and rust, but they can be difficult to tighten. Plastic couplings, on the other hand, are easy to tighten but are prone to cracking and short-lived.

Tough in the Garden: Sunleaves Heavy Duty Garden Hose has a durable, nylon-reinforced six-ply construction, the thickest available, is kink-resistant, has brass couplings and a high burst pressure of 500 psi. Plus, they back it up with a ten-year warranty.

Short on Space? The Rainmaker Revolution Coiled Garden Hose is an ultra lightweight hose with excellent recoil memory. It will not kink or tangle making it easy to use and store.

Concerned about chemicals?

Growing organic vegetables, or just love to drink from the hose while working in the garden? The Element Green and Grow hose is a lead-free, kink-resistant, phthalate safe, drinking water safe hose with high performance stainless steel couplings and a high burst strength. Water your edibles knowing the water won’t be contaminated with chemicals left from other hose materials.

Good maintenance of a quality garden hose will greatly extend its life. Drain the hose after each use to reduce mold or bacteria build-up. Avoid allowing constant pressure in your hose or it could eventually crack, leak, then burst. Don’t leave it on a hot driveway or patio - store it back on it’s hose hanger or covered area. If possible, store in a shed, garage or other covered area when not in use.

The right tools always make garden tasks easier.


Fruit Flies: The Most Annoying Pest Ever!

One of the biggest pest nuisances indoors is the common fruit fly. If you’ve ever had an infestation, then you know why they can be so frustrating. They multiply incredibly fast and are very difficult to get rid of. Because they are attracted to ripening, rotting or fermenting fruits, they are most commonly found in the kitchen, especially during late summer and early fall when edibles from the garden are harvested and brought indoors.

Biology of the Fruit Fly

While fruit flies are very tiny, they are a big bother! The common fruit fly is only about ⅛- inch long with red eyes and a two tone brown and black body. They lay eggs near ripening fruit or moist areas. After hatching, the larvae feeds on the nearby fruit. Fruit flies will lay up to 500 eggs at a time, making them prolific reproducers. And because their entire lifecycle is so short, only about a week from egg to larvae, big outbreaks that happen quickly are common.

No fruit sitting on the counter but still seeing fruit flies? They are also attracted to garbage disposals, empty bottles and cans, the trash, and anywhere else that is moist, which is all they need to thrive. They’ll often be accidentally brought into the house from fruits and vegetables purchased at the store; or, adults will fly in through doors and windows looking for a place to feast.

While they are generally just a nuisance to have in the home and remove, they can possibly spread bacteria onto foods and surfaces.

Eliminate Fruit Flies with our Favorite Products!

The BioCare Kitchen Fruit Fly Trap rids areas of fruit flies and other small pest flies. The discreet jar-shaped trap releases a mild fruity smell that attracts the flies, which become trapped and drown. The nontoxic traps are safe to use in kitchens and around food in addition to compost piles, worm farms and garbage cans. Each trap works for up to six weeks.

Houseplant Sticky Stakes are ideal for use indoors to control fruit flies and other pests, or outdoors in potted plants. These simple traps help reduce whiteflies, fungus gnats, blackflies, thrips, fruit flies, midges and other flying insects. This natural pest control trap contains no pesticides and is fully disposable. The yellow color of the trap attracts flying pests, and the sticky glue traps them. Shake the plant gently. Insects hidden on the leaves will fly to the traps. To catch fruit flies, simply place


Prevention is the Best Medicine

Eliminating the source of fruit fly attraction is your best way to keep them from breeding in your home. While that bowl of fruit is beautiful on the counter, it will ripen quickly and could cause a fruit fly outbreak. If picked fruit has cracks in the skin, store them properly immediately. Keep counters, under the fridge, in cabinets and around trash cans clean and dry. Be sure tops of recycling and trash bins are tight. Keep out adult fruit flies from entering through windows by equipping them with tight fitting mesh screens.


Some seeds like it hot!

The beauty of growing indoors is that you can grow just about any plant, any time of year. Tomatoes in winter, broccoli in summer, and indoor bloomers year-round. However, to “trick” plants into growing out of season, you’ll need to provide an environment that mimics their natural one. If you are growing warm season crops such peppers, basil or tomatoes by seed indoors, then getting your soil temperature right is key to getting their seedlings off to a good start. How do you do that? With a seedling heat mat.

What’s the right temperature?

Different plants need different temperatures to germinate. The first place to look to find germination temperature requirements is on the back of your seed packet. Most warm season vegetables germinate at around 86 F. Popular edibles grown indoors include:

  • Peppers germinate anywhere from 68-95 F
  • Eggplants’ optimal temperature is 90
  • Tomatoes germinate at 70-80 F
  • Strawberries germinate 65-75 F
  • Oregano germinates 70-76 F
  • Basil germinates best at 70 F
  • Cucumbers germinate best at 80-90 F

The fastest and most efficient way to reach these temperatures is with a heat mat and temperature controller. Sunlight or indoor lighting alone will never be enough. Without the right germination temperatures, your seeds either won’t germinate, they’ll grow to be leggy and weak. Or, they may succumb to diseases such as damping off, which is common with cool, moist soil conditions.

Seedling Heat Pad vs. Home Heat Mat

If you’ve struggled to get warm season crop seeds to germinate well, the first question you should as is “was the soil or growing media the right temperature?” Soil or growing media that isn’t warm enough can result in seeds that germinate too slowly, or fail to germinate successfully. Most first time seed-starters often don’t know about heat mats or how beneficial they can be when germinating seeds. We sometimes get the question “can’t we just use a regular heating pad under our seedlings?” Unfortunately, home heat pads, such as one used to soothe sore muscles, could be a safety hazard if used in this manner and got wet. Seedling heat mats, made specifically for use with plants, are made to get wet and provide just the right amount of consistent warmth; plus they won’t melt your plant trays or damage the surface they are on. Seedling heat mats also come in a variety of sizes that can hold as many seedlings as you need it to; some can even be linked together to accommodate larger crops.

HydroFarm Heat Mat and Controller Combo features a digital thermostat for greater accuracy that also has a water resistant steel temperature probe, and is compatible with other heat pads. The heat mat consistently warms root area 10 to 20 degrees over ambient temperature.

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Control the Temperature!

Improve heat output and consistency by adding a thermostat to your heat pad setup. This way, you’ll have more control over your seedling’s temperature.

Seedling heat mats typically raise the soil temperature by 15-20 F above room temperature. Most homes’ average temperature is 68-74 F, but may be cooler in the winter. Or, you may be placing your seedlings or plants in a sun room or near windows, where temperatures are typically cooler. Warming up the soil temperature for your seedlings can help them germinate faster and help seedlings grow more vigorously. But adding a thermostat to your heat mat is always a good idea, as it allows you to set a specific temperature set point for your seedlings. f you happen to have the heat cranking in your home, and it warms up to your set temperature, then the thermostat can keep your heat mat from raising the soil temperature any further. A thermostat is a great investment that allows you to know precise temperatures so you can adjust your heat mat as your seedlings grow.

The Super Sprouter Seedling Heat Mat Thermostat is a top quality, reliable thermostat designed to be used with the Super Sprouter Seedling Heat Mat or any other heat mat. Its precise control allows the user to closely control mat temperature and easily dial in the ideal germination temperature.

The Sunleaves Heat Sheet has a built-in thermostatic control to prevent overheating for safe operation, and a durable metal cage keeps propagation containers elevated above the waterproof heating surface for uniform temperature distribution.

Once your seedlings have germinated, they’ll stay on their seedling mat anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on what you are growing. Questions about germination temperatures or seed starting? Ask us on Twitter or Facebook.

Ready to grow your indoor seed starting project?
READ: Start Those Seeds! Grow Your Own Transplants Indoors.


Tips & Gadgets for Thirsty Landscapes

Lawn and landscapes already looking a bit stressed from summer heat? With water being such a limited resource in much of the country, it’s important to give your plants what they need, without wasting water. This week we offer up a few important summer watering tips, plus our favorite drip hoses and water timers to keep your plants alive while you’re away on vacation.

Simple tips for summer hydration include:

  • Have your automatic irrigation system audited, repaired or refurbished by a licensed irrigation specialist. They’ll look for broken sprinkler heads, fix leaks and ensure your system’s zones are set properly.
  • Replace plants you might have lost last summer with water-wise plants.
  • Hydrozone your landscape by planting specimens that have similar water needs next to each other.
  • Add two to three inches of mulch to all garden beds to retain moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperatures.
  • Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Amend your soil throughout the year with humus, worm castings, Growstone Aerator and seaweed to encourage healthy microbial activity that aids roots in the uptake of nutrients and improves overall soil texture and health.
  • Heading out of town? Be sure your automatic irrigation or water timers are set properly. And it never hurts to have a neighbor or your maintenance crew keep an eye on plants while you are away.

Timing is Everything

When you water is as important as how you water. No matter if you are at home, at work or on vacation, you can water at right time of day, for the right amount of time, when you use a water timer. If you don’t have an automatic irrigation system, then investing in a digital water timer that hooks up to your outdoor faucet is a simple solution. Simply attach to your landscape to the water faucet (spigot) and then attach your hose to the timer. Many timers have multiple hose attachments so you can water all the areas of your landscape the right way by creating separate zones. Watering in the mornings is advisable so foliage can dry during the day. Wet leaves can breed fungal diseases, even in the heat of summer. If you’re using drip hoses, which need to run for longer periods of time, and don’t tend to wet plant foliage, can be run at night.

The Dual Select Claber Digital Water Timer features two hose end outlets that can be set to irrigate simultaneously or sequentially. It comes with seven preset frequency options and 14 preset duration options, but can be adjusted to your unique landscape water needs.

Claber’s Aquade Duplo Water Timer allows for two unique hose settings with independent programming and up to three separate watering starts per day. Even timer-newbies will find this water time easy to set up, as it only has three programming buttons to work. Water as little as just one minute up to 23-hours at once. This is a sturdy, hardworking timer that will do your watering for you.

Slow & deep watering is best for plants

The best way to deliver water to your plants is slow and easy. Ever seen how above ground sprinkler heads seem to put more water into the air than into your landscape? Well much of that water is lost to evaporation. So you might think you’ve watered enough, only to see you plants wilting again. Drip irrigation delivers water right to your plant’s root zones, which greatly reduces water evaporation, runoff and water waste. You can either add a drip system onto your current automatic sprinkler system. Or, attach drip hoses to your water timers for complete efficiency and less work for you. In many areas with water restrictions, drip irrigation is allowed anytime.

Raindrip Black Drip-Along hoses include a swivel adaptor that easily connects to a faucet, garden hose or Raindrip 1/2" poly hose. Expand your drip system with a 3/4" cap to add additional hoses to reach various areas of your landscape.

Don’t forget patio and container plants!

Patio Watering Drip Starter Kit with Pressure Regulator is perfect for potted plants, hanging baskets and planter boxes. This easy to set up kit comes with everything you need to get started. Attach to a water timer so plants are always hydrated properly.

With the right tips and products, you can keep your plants well-watered and conserve water at the same time.


Coir vs. Peat Moss: What’s the difference?

When it comes to growing healthy plants, whether you are growing indoors or outside, the substrate in which your plants grow is an essential to the success of your crop. Coir and peat moss are two natural products that both help to improve soil texture, improve aeration in compacted soils, increase water retention in sandy soils and encourage increased beneficial microbial activity. However, coir is commonly becoming a more popular choice over peat for a few important reasons.

What is coir?

Coir is made from the fibrous layer of the coconut between the outer coat and the internal shell. It’s used in a variety of products including rugs, ropes, upholstery stuffing, floor matting and hanging plant basket liners. Over the last few years, it’s become very popular with plant growers and gardeners for improving soils and creating growing media.

Char Coir can be used as-is right out of the bag, or customized to each grower's garden conditions.

Sunleaves Classic Coir Block is a compressed coconut-fiber growing medium that expands to approximately 2.5 cubic feet when soaked in water.

Give your plants a sturdy growing structure with Plant!t’s CoCo Coir Bricks.

More Coir products here.

What’s the difference between coir and peat moss?

Peat moss is often used to acidify and loosen soils, as well as for seed germination or lightweight potting mixes. Both peat and coir are equally good at improving air flow to roots, reducing fungal diseases and root rot. However, peat moss is harvested from peat bogs, which are areas of decomposed plant remains that have accumulated over thousands of years. There are concerns about destroying and depleting these bogs, and thus peat moss. Coir, on the other hand, comes from coconuts that can be grown and regrown, making it a more easily replaceable crop. This makes coir a desirable sustainable alternative to peat moss.

Water Retention: For areas of the country where intense heat is an issue, coir is a great addition to soil because it can retain water up to seven times its dry weight. That’s roughly 30% more water than peat can hold. Add it to containers, hanging baskets and raised beds too to make water management easier.

Ease of use: Wetting dried peat to break apart and mix into the soil can be a challenge. Coir, however, breaks up easily once exposed to water, making it fast and easy to use. Coir is an excellent amendment for soil that is compacted and needs increased air circulation and improved texture.

Hydroponic Systems: Coir is a popular choice with hydroponic growers due to its ability to retain water better than peat, rockwool or perlite, and also because of its solid root support and ability to suppress certain pests and diseases. Take note that coir is negatively charged and does have the capacity to hold nutrients; but, that also means that nutrients can be bound up by the coir, leading to nutrient deficiencies. You’ll need to monitor your solution for pH and nutrient levels just as with any other substrate.

Questions about what to use in your landscape or hydroponic system? Find us on Facebook, Twitter or chat with us at www.hydrogalaxy.com


Hydroponics: Functional Home Decor

When it comes to growing crops hydroponically indoors, we often tuck our systems away in grow tents, greenhouses, basements and back rooms. They aren’t always the most stylish setups. The systems are functional in order to grow what we need and want such as edibles and flowers. But what if you want to incorporate your growing activities into your living space? As more products hit the market, we’re seeing a wider array of grow systems that are not only functional, but beautiful as well.

Here are our favorite products we are proud to show off anywhere in our homes:

AquaSprouts Garden Kit

This sleek, modern garden and aquarium is also a self-sustaining countertop ecosystem. You feed the fish, the fish feed the plants, and the plants clean the water for you. Grow herbs, microgreens, lettuce and other small edibles right on your countertop for easy access to recipes. It even comes with a removeable, adjustable lighting mount when you need additional light in areas there might not be enough natural light to grow vigorous plants. Hang a grow light over the system if you’re short on light. More on the AquaSprouts Garden Kit here.

Contained style

Pops of color and a fun, compact design make the Baby Grobal the perfect home or office companion to grow fragrant herbs or small blooming plants. Perfect for desktops at work or group together as home decoration. The bottom reservoir waters and feeds plants with a nutrient solution, while the top half holds the coir-based Grobal Soil to grow beautiful plants. Planting succulents or flowers in the office? They’ll need sufficient light to thrive and bloom. Add on an AgroSun Dayspot Lamp to ensure they have the light they need.

Water Garden Kitchen Companion

Love to cook and want fresh herbs right at your fingertips? The Back to the Roots Water Garden grows vegetables and herbs using aquaponics in a compact, modern designed, 3-gallon fish tank that fits perfectly on your kitchen counter. Just like the AquaSprouts Garden kit, you just feed the fish, the fish waste provides nutrients for the plants and the plants clean the water to keep the fish healthy. Have easy access to fresh basil, salad greens, mint, cilantro and other culinary flavors year round.

Whether you are new to hydroponics or just getting started, incorporating live plants into your home’s decor using a hydroponic or aquaponic system is a modern, functional twist on the classic potted plant. As with all plants, be sure you understand your specific plant’s light and nutrient requirements.


​Grow a lush lawn, from the roots up!

While lawns have been attracting their fair share of criticism over the last few years, and severe drought making many homeowners question their value, lawns can serve an important function used in the right place and for the right purpose. And if you choose the right type of lawn, you can maintain it more responsibly; certain native grasses can make good alternatives to traditional lawn grasses. While many homeowners are now taking out their lawns in favor of hardscape, it's important to point out that hardscape doesn’t come with some of the important environmental benefits of grass.

In areas where you need a groundcover that can handle foot traffic or a place for the kids and pets to play, lawns are a great fit. Lawns also help reduce the “heat island” effect in hot urban environments by reducing temperatures and reflected heat (which helps us with building cooling costs); as well as reducing soil erosion and water runoff. Oh, and did we forget air quality? As plants, lawngrasses do their part to filter pollution and CO2 out of the air. However, caring for the lawn properly and without waste is key to maximizing its benefits.

Soil

Good soil health is fundamental to the health of any plant in your landscape, including your lawn. When soils are full of bioactivity and organic matter, plants can thrive with less water and fertilizer. So, if you want to build a strong lawn, you must first build a strong soil. If you live in an area that suffers from drought conditions, adding organic matter to your soil will help it retain more moisture so you can water less. By aerating compacted soil you’ll improve air and water flow around the root system. Healthy soil also promotes a more vigorous root system that is better able to take up available water and nutrients.

General Hydroponics compost tea increase promotes healthy roots and builds plants’ immune systems. Apply to lawn to increase microbial activity.

Vermicrop Organics VermiBlend Premium Soil Amendment is a blend of compost, earthworm castings, Alaskan humus, Fossilized Kelp and Mycorrhizae to grow lush lawns and gardens.

Fertilizer

Synthetic lawn fertilizers can be a big culprit when it comes to water pollution concerns. Too often, lawns are over-fertilized with synthetic nitrogen or phosphate fertilizers, which can then leach into local water sources. Over-fertilization also means your lawn will grow faster, requiring more water and more frequent mowing. More frequent mowing means more thatch build up.

Espoma Lawn Food (15-0-3) is a premium formula designed for safe, easy lawn feeding. It provides slow-release nitrogen for extended feeding.

If you’re concerned about water quality issues, then switching to organic fertilizers is a good choice. Plus, incorporating organic or natural fertilizers into your lawn regimen will help you build strong soil full of microbial activity. Organic fertilizers condition the health of your soil over time, as opposed to delivering a high concentration of nutrients at once.

Another bonus? You won’t have to worry about exposing your kids and pets to lawn chemicals.

Water

Water waste is the biggest issue when it comes to good lawn maintenance. While you might think you have to water your lawn frequently to keep it healthy, that approach usually leads to water waste and reduced lawn health. Lawn areas are hydrated best with deep infrequent waterings in the early morning. When you water your lawn several times a week for a few minutes at a time, you’re actually creating a lawn with a weak root system that won’t stand up to drought, extreme temperatures, pests or diseases very well. Renovating your automated sprinkler system so that you don’t lose as much water to evaporation is also key. More on summer watering here.

Even if you don’t have an automatic sprinkler system, you can set your watering on a timer attached to your hose. The Rain Drip single-station analog water timer is easy to use and can be set to multiple watering times as well as adjustment of how long you water.

Mowing

Improper mowing can damage the health and the aesthetic value of your lawn. Mowing your lawn too short can make the grass more susceptible to pathogens, encourage weeds and cause the soil to dry out more quickly. The variety of grass you grow will dictate the best height at which to mow the lawn.

Sun

Did you know most lawn grasses are full sun plants? This means they’ll need anywhere from 4-8 hours of direct sun to thrive. Trying to grow a lawn under the wrong conditions will result in wasted resources. Research the best type of turf to grow in your area and your light conditions. If you have a large shade tree, grass might not be an option for you. In this case, consider replacing your lawn with shade-loving groundcover and perennials.

Mind your local water restrictions

It may be you live in an areas that has restricted or disallowed traditional lawn watering. If so, then making the switch to native grasses or drought tolerant perennials may be a better option for you.


Grow Your Own Potatoes

Growing your own potatoes is both a rewarding and healthy endeavor. Because of their thin skin, while still underground, potatoes can absorb chemicals easily when grown via conventional agriculture. So if you’re looking to reduce your chemical exposure, eating organically grown potatoes, or growing your own, is a great option. Plus, potatoes contain vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, and potassium making them a healthy diet choice.

When growing your own potatoes, be sure to start with organically grown “seed potatoes”, which you can source online or at your local garden center. Avoid using potatoes from the grocery store to start your new potato crop, as they may be sprayed with growth inhibitors, or be a variety that does not perform well in your climate. If you’re just starting out, try growing reliable varieties such as Kennebec, Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold. For something a bit more unusual, try Adirondack Blue and Red Fingerling.

When planting outdoors, or in outdoor containers, prime potato planting time will depend on your climate. Shoot for getting your seed potatoes in the ground about four weeks before the last average killing frost date in your area. If you’re growing indoors with consistent temperatures, you can plant potatoes anytime. Just know you’ll need to provide supplemental full-spectrum light with a daylength of at least 12+ hours.

New to growing potatoes? Here are easy directions and tips to get you started.

  • Cure first: Cut seed potatoes into quarters with at least 2-3 swelling eyes per section. If the potatoes are not showing eyes, keep in a warm place to force them to sprout. After cutting, dust with sulfur to prevent rot when planting.

Dust cut seed potatoes with St. Gabriel dusting sulphur to reduce rot once planted.

  • Let potatoes callous and dry for a few days before planting. When planting fingerlings leave seed potatoes whole then dust before planting as well.
  • Choose an area in the garden or on a patio where plants will get good, bright light. If you live in a hot climate, a bit of afternoon shade is good.
  • If growing in a fabric grow pot, add a 2-inch layer of straw and compost at the bottom of the container.

Small space living? No problem when you use the Smart Pot to grow potatoes.

Save time and money building a raised by just quickly unfolding the Big Bad Bed.

  • If growing in the ground, dig a trench roughly 4-6 inches deep and add the layer of straw/compost mix. Potatoes must be grow in loose, well-amended soil.
  • As the potatoes sprout shoots and grow, mound or “hill” compost and straw around the base of plants every 6- to 8-inches as the shoots emerge, leaving up to 4-inches above the soil/straw mixture. The same layering principle can be applied when growing potatoes in cloth pots. Rolling down the sides of the pots help with light exposure until the shoots emerge, and then you can roll up as layers are created.
  • Water: Potatoes will need consistent moisture. Water lightly during growth, but be sure not to overwater as the seed potatoes could rot.
  • Fertilize: Once your potatoes have been growing for about 2 weeks you can apply the first dose of fertilizer. You can reapply every 4 weeks and up to 2 weeks before harvest.

Potatoes grow best in loose, fertile soil. Compost is a great way to improve soil texture and health prior to planting.

FoxFarm organic edible fertilizer can be applied after about 2 weeks of growing.

Plants will need about 10 weeks before they produce harvestable potatoes.

Pests & Diseases

While potatoes are relatively easy to grow, there are a few pests and diseases to watch out for. Good cultural practices such as proper planting and watering will greatly decrease their chances for an infestation. Aphids, flea beetles and leafhoppers are insects that often attack potato plants. Early or Late blight is caused by overwatering. Potato scab could appear if soil pH is too high.

AzaMax Pest Control is organic and controls aphids, flea beetles and leafhoppers that attack potato plants.

Harvest & Store

Flowers on your plant mean potatoes are forming below the straw and soil line. Once the plants begin to yellow and fall over, your potatoes are ready to harvest. For small potatoes, harvest early, usually 10-weeks after planting. Fresh potatoes harvested early will need to be eaten right away. Or, you can wait a couple more months for plants to go dormant and harvest full-sized potatoes that can be stored in a cool dry dark place. Never wash before you store, as this could lead to decay.

Looking for more seasonal grow-your-own tips? Bookmark our Blog or ask us questions on Facebook and Twitter.


Are Spider Mites Attacking Your Plants?

Spider mites are destructive pests that can be found chowing down on both your indoor and outdoor garden plants. These small mites cause damage with their sucking mouth parts. You may see webbing, leaves begin to look mottled and yellow, and eventually defoliation. Plants will also appear stunted and could stop producing flowers or fruit when under attack. Eventually, the plant could die.

mite.jpg

Once present, spider mite populations grow quickly, so infestations can seem to appear overnight. Due to their reproductive speed, spider mites adapt and build resistance to miticides, making them difficult to control.

What causes an infestation?

Typically, spider mites move in when your plants are stressed. Indoors, poor air circulation, not enough light, nutrient deficiencies or lack of water can trigger a spider mite infestation. Same goes for your outdoor garden. Tomato plants are particularly susceptible to spider mites. They usually fall victim when temperatures outside get hot and plants are stressed due to inconsistent watering.

This phenomenon, however, isn’t limited to just spider mites. Pests typically move in to cull the weak plants - that’s their job. So any plant that is stressed will attract pests and diseases. 

My plants have spider mites - what do I do?

If you spot a spider mite infestation on your plants, you’ll need to act quickly - because the mites will definitely act quickly. If you don’t take action with the right treatment, your plants could be toast.

Here are a few products that fight spider mites:

Biological Control: If your garden is not already highly infested with spider mites consider using predatory insects to keep spider mite populations in check. Predatory mites, lacewings, and ladybugs are very effective in controlling mites and other harmful insects. Beneficial insects can be applied in both outdoor and indoor operations when you are pesticide free.

On contact: FoxFarm Force of Nature Miticide is a great product when protecting your precious crops from spider mites. This miticide controls various species of mites and other insects and is great for field and greenhouse use. Requires an application approximately 3-4 weeks.

Stop the lifecycle: SpiderWipe Natural Miticide Liquid is effective for killing on contact and also kills the eggs of many spider mite species. This is a natural control specific to spider mites hindering their normal activity.

Suffocate them: Monterey 70% Neem Oil is an all time favorite method of eliminating them from your garden. This miticide also works as a broad spectrum insecticide and aids in fungal control. Can be used in shady areas or when temps don't exceed 90 degrees.

Sacrifice the weak

When growing indoors, you might want to consider thinning the herd if spider mites break out. If there are a few plants that are heavily infested, it would be best to remove them from your grow space and dispose of them, then treat the remaining plants that are in better condition. The more mites that are present, the more they will quickly reproduce, making them harder and harder to control.

Common Spider Mites

The most common spider mites are Southern & European Red and Two-spotted spider mite. There are about 48,000 different kinds of spider mites, with a majority of them not pests to your landscape plants.

Southern Red Mites: Cause damage to a variety of plants and are the most common spider mite to attack your plants. Females are reddish brown in color and have a pale mid stripe. Males are slightly smaller than the females and are darker in color. Favors humidity.

European Red Mites: Infest mostly fruit trees and vines, especially apple trees. Females are brick red in color and have white hair like appendages. Males are slightly smaller and yellowish-red in color. Favors humidity.

Two-spotted Spider Mite: Typically found in field crops, especially corn. Color can range in this species from yellow/green to orange/brown. You’ll notice two pigmented spots, hence the name. The spots are actually a part of the mite’s gut. Active in hot dry conditions.

Ultimately, if your grow room or garden becomes infested with any insect or disease, there is typically an underlying issue in nutrient availability or an error in cultural care. Or, you may have unknowingly introduce a new plants that came with some hitchhikers. Keeping your plants healthy will always be the best defense measure. Inspect all new plant acquisitions closely to make sure they aren’t introducing pests to your healthy plants.