Accidental Discoveries: How One Mistake Can Save Your Garden!

How Someone Else’s Mistake can Save Your Garden

How Someone Else’s Mistake Can Save Your Garden

Humankind has benefited time and time again from chance insights made during scientific research.  Among the multitude of accidental discoveries are: champagne, crazy-glue, Post-it® notes, LSD, and penicillin.  Just think how much less fun life would be without champagne and penicillin! Today I will share a story with you that will help your hydroponic garden…and you guessed it, it is a discovery that was made by accident.

In a research laboratory at a large university a lowly graduate student had the unenviable task of mixing up the nutrient solution for the department’s experiments from scratch.  This meant individually adding chemical compounds one at a time to tanks of water to build the fertilizer specifically matched to the particular experiment.  Universities often use custom formulated fertilizers to allow for a higher degree of control which also save money by eliminating pre-mixed commercial fertilizers. The student accidentally used MgCl(magnesium chloride) when they were supposed to have used MnCl2 (manganese chloride).  A few months went by and the majority of the hydroponics systems in the laboratory developed severe Pythium infections.

Pythium is one of the most common pathogens hydroponic growers contend with.  It used to be considered a fungus but has more recently been classified as an oomycete (a group of fungus like-organisms.)  Pythium can cause severe root rot and poses a huge threat to hydroponic crops.   Pythium in its spore stage can move quickly in water and multiply, reeking havoc if left unchecked.

Due to the short duration of the university experiments (about 25 day cycles) the plants did not show visible signs of being deficient in manganese.  There was enough manganese from other sources to meet the minimal needs of the plants, but there was roughly a 15% reduction in yield.  It was not until later when they discovered the student’s mistake that they made the possible connection between the lack of manganese and the increased occurrence of Pythium infections, which led to experiments designed to verify that manganese had the ability to suppress Pythium.

It is well documented that copper is able to suppress microbial growth; however, copper in elevated amounts is toxic to plants.  To this point, manganese had not been examined to see if it too had any antimicrobial characteristics.  Manganese is an active ingredient in the well known commercial fungicide Dithane®.  So it was not a stretch when their research went on to reveal that manganese and zinc (as it turns out) demonstrated some level of microbial inhibition.  Unlike copper, slightly elevated levels of manganese and zinc in your hydroponic solution are not going to cause phytotoxicity, but they may prevent a costly attack of Pythium.

The moral of the story is that there are happy accidents in science and all we have to do is learn from them!  So add some extra zinc and manganese to your reservoir, sit back and sip some champagne.  You can rest easier knowing you have added a level of protection to your hydroponic garden (and you didn’t even need to use penicillin)!

Strong Plants Pump Iron: Facts about Iron Nutrition in Plants

I have been growing for decades and at a certain point I was able to diagnose problems with a quick glance.  Iron deficiency was always one of the first I would notice because it has a very specific look.  The signs of Iron deficiency present as interveinal chlorosis or yellowing of young leaves between the veins.  This can be accompanied by necrotic spotting (brown dead tissue spots) on leaves.  Iron is an immobile element meaning deficiencies will always first show at the top of the plant or on the newest / youngest growth.  Iron is required for photosynthesis, respiration, as well as the production of enzymes. 

There are three forms of Iron chelate, FeEDTA, FeDTPA and FeEDDHA, although the most common form is FeEDTA.
With Iron nutrition, the form of Iron is very important. The three common chelated forms (Iron-EDDHA, DTPA and EDTA) differ in their ability to keep Iron soluble and available to plants as the media or hydroponic solution pH increases. Between a pH of 4.0 to 5.5, any form of Iron will work (including Iron sulfate) at supplying Iron to a plant.  As pH climbs over 6.0 less than half of the Iron from FeEDTA becomes unavailable to your plants.  However, as the media / fertilizer solution pH increases above 7.0, only the Iron from Iron-EDDHA will remain soluble. Research has shown that the ranking of Iron forms from most effective to least effective at supplying Iron at high media pH are:
Iron-EDDHA (pH up to 11.0)> Iron-DTPA (pH up to 7.0)> Iron-EDTA pH up to 5.5)> Iron sulfate (pH up to 5.5).
When choosing an Iron supplement make sure to check the Iron source and match it to your growing needs.  I always recommend that soil and soilless growers use the Iron chelate FeDTPA because it will provide the Iron the plants need and allow them to set the pH of their irrigation solution to the ideal 6.3-6.6 pH range.  The product I use myself and recommend is CALiMAGic from General Hydroponics.

New App for Home Gardener Insect Identification

New App Can Identify this Critter for You!
Photo courtesy of

Scientists at Clemson University have developed a new app designed to allow home gardeners the ability to identify insects plaguing their garden.  The app called IPMLite costs $9.99 is and is available for both iPhone and Android platforms.  The app also gives tips about garden maintenance and timing.  The app’s name comes from IPM which stands for integrated pest management; a new movement in professional horticulture utilizing organic pest control, predatory insects, and scheduled maintenance to minimize insect damage without trying to eradicate the bugs entirely.

Chloramines in Your Drinking Water: The EPA does a Q&A

As discussed in my earlier blog, Chloramines are disinfectants used to treat drinking water. Chloramines have been proven to damage garden crops.  Chloramines are most commonly formed when ammonia is added to chlorine to treat drinking water. One in five American homes has water treated with chloramines.  My ongoing blog series discussing water quality has been a hit, but if you want more information specifically regarding Chloramines see what the EPA has to say about them.  Remember Chloramines can be removed with a simple reverse osmosis filter and KDF carbon filter.

Choosing a Miticide: Don’t Show Up to a Gun Fight with a Knife!!!

When you are taking a leisurely walk through your garden and notice the telltale yellow speckles on the topside of your leaves (a dead give-away of your arch nemesis the spider mite) what do you do?  Do you grab for the nearest bottle of Neem Oil and a sprayer? Quickly covering everything in reach with a fine mist of that “garlicky” smelling organic insecticide; only to realize that it is 10 am and the weather report is calling for a beautiful sunny day?  Your attempt to eradicate your foe has likely sealed the fate of your precious garden.  In a few hours your garden will be basking in bright sunlight, and covered in oil will likely be burned to a crisp.  Maybe we can rationally deal with this pests in another way.  

Remember that a single female mite can produce a population of over 1 million mites in 1 month.  This incredibly fast rate of multiplication allows them to quickly form resistance to chemicals, and that multiple applications are almost always necessary to eradicate them completely.  Read my other blog to learn more about the life cycle of the spider mite.

First: We need to know what kind of mite we are dealing with.  There are over 48,000 different types of mites out there but most are not garden pests.  As gardeners we are mostly concerned with spider mites, southern red mites, citrus mites, rust mites, gall mites, broad mites, cyclamen mites, Lewis mites, and the thread-footed mites.  By far the most common of the garden mites are the two-spotted and the red mite.  There is a  helpful websiteIf if you need help identifying a mite .

Second: Determine the severity of the infestation by closely examining all plants in your garden and any close by vegetation.  If there is only a few visible mites with little visible damage then you may choose to use an organic or mild miticide.  If the infestation is severe (having larger mite populations and webbing) you may choose to use stronger professional grade chemical miticides.  

Third: Differentiate between plants that are edible and/or consumable as opposed to ornamental.  When treating infestations on edible plants you are limited by the types of miticide that are safe to use.  Using Chemichals on ornamentals on the other hand generally poses less risk to people because there is no fear of humans or animals ingesting them.  

Fourth: With the above information choose your miticide or insecticide.  Consider your crop type; ornamental or consumable, any necessary application tools or safety gear, as well as any chemical rotation necessary to ensure that the mites do not become resistant. Also keep available the MSDS sheets (material safety data sheets) should they become necessary. 

Fifth: Read all instructions before applying insecticides.  Follow all instructions to ensure you and your crop remain safe.  Also note the REI (the restricted entry interval) this is how much time must pass between the application of the insecticide and safe reentry into your grow-room / greenhouse without any safety equipment. Also note the maximum applications per cropping cycle, as some heavy duty miticides can only be used once or twice per crop.  

See the table below for some helpful information regarding different pesticide / miticide choices.

Brand Name Active Ingredient REI Mode of Action Target species Target stage Food Safe Effectiveness
Avid abamectin 12 hours GABA Blocker Southern Red, Two Spotted, Broad, Cyclamen, Eriophyid, Spruce Nymphs & Adult NO Medium
Azamax azadirachtin none IGR, Antifeedant, Anti Ovulent Spider Mites & Mites Any Yes Medium
Beethoven TR etoxazole 12 hours Not Yet Understood Spider mites, Lewis, Pacific, Spruce, Citrus, Southern Red, European Red, Two Spotted, McDaniel Egg & Nymph NO High
Bifen I/T,   Attain bifenthrin 12 hours Sodium & Potassium Channel Disrupter Broad, Clover, European Red, Spider Mites Adults Varies by Crop Medium
FloraMite carboxamide 4 hours GABA Blocker Two Spotted, Southern Red, European Red, Spruce, Citrus Red Eggs & Adults YES High
Forbid spiromesifen 12 hours Inhibitor of Lipid Synthesis Two Spotted, Southern Red, Euonymus, Tumid, Lewis, Rust, Broad, Cyclamen, and False Spider Mites Eggs, Nymphs, & Adults NO High
Insecticidal Soaps potassium salts of fatty acids none Contact Dessicant Spider mites,  Two Spotted, European Red, Broad, Citrus, Rust, Russet Eggs, Nymphs, & Adults Yes Medium/low
Magus fenazaquin 12 hours Mitochondrial Electron Transport Inhibitor ALL Mites NOT Spider Mites Eggs, Nymphs, & Adults NO High
Neem Oil  neem oil none Suffocation Spider Mites Adults Yes Low
Organocide sesame oil none Suffocation Spider Mites Adults Yes Low
Pylon chlorfenapyr 12 hours Prevents Conversion of ADP & ATP  Two spotted, Broad, Rust, Cyclamen, & Citrus Mites Nymphs & Adult Yes High
Spider Mite Knock Out, Don’t Bug Me, Pyrethrum TR, Doctor Doom Fogger pyrethrum/ pyrethrins 12 Hours or less Sodium Channel  Modulator Spider Mites Adults Yes Medium

Water Quality: Just Because It’s Clear Doesn’t Mean It’s Clean!

Reasons to but an RO Water Filter

Do You Want to Drink this Water? Niether do Your Plants.

On a hot summer day after working in your garden you might reach for an icy cold glass of water; that clear refreshing beverage we all take for granted is the life blood of our planet.  It sustains us, our plants and in turn the entire global ecosystem.  If you grabbed for a drink of water and it smelled bad, was dirty brown, or tasted funny you wouldn’t drink it; would you?  Most of us would either buy a water filter (like a reverse osmosis system) or bottled water because the thought of drinking a glass of brown dirty water is revolting.  So why would you feed it to your plants?

Too often I help people only concerned with their water quality after their gardens have shown serious problems.  As long as the water is clear and doesn’t smell bad most people give little thought to the water that comes out of their faucets or hoses.  There can be bacteria in the water, high chlorine levels, or even dangerous levels of salts or chemicals.  All of these are good reasons to be proactive and learn a bit about you water quality before there is an issue.

It can be as simple as a phone call to your local Department of Water Shed Management.  Often they will come to your home and test your water for chlorine levels, contaminants, and bacteria (for free.)  Now the bacteria they test for are typically the types which are harmful to people but the chlorine content and information about contaminants are useful to us as gardeners.

Here in AtlantaI did as I am suggesting you do.  I contacted the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management.  They were helpful, and provided fast service at no charge.  Within 1 week I had documented lab results stating that there was no Coli Form bacteria present in my water, No E Coli, and a Chlorine level of 0.7 PPM.  An acceptable amount of Chlorine for most plants is less than 140 PPM, but many plants such as orchids are much more sensitive to Chlorine and will tolerate almost none.

The Department of Water Shed Management was also kind enough to supply me with the official 2010 City ofAtlanta Water Quality Report.  This provided me with a few more pieces of useful information.  My water contained:

  • 0.6 PPM of Nitrate Nitrogen of which there should be less than 10 PPM (mostly from fertilizer run off entering our water system)
  • 0.12 PPM Copper of which there should be less than 0.2 PPM
  • 0.93 PPM Fluoride of which there should be less than 1.0 PPM

    Stealth Ro 200 GPD

    A RO System Like this Transforms Bad Water into Clear Water

Lastly a phone call to a supervisor provided me with a piece of information that was extremely important; Atlanta’s water supply is not treated with any kind of Chloramine, only Sodium Hypochlorite.  This meant that the purchase of aspecialty KDF activated carbon filter (to remove Chloramines) would not be necessary to make the water safe for my collection of orchids.  Chloramines unlike Chlorine can not be removed by a typical water filter or even a standard R/O system; they require a KDF style activated carbon filter to remove them.  Checking if your water department uses Chloramines is something all of us need to do; exposure to Chloramines for as little as 1 hour significantly inhibit plant growth according to recent scientific studies.  Check with your local water department to learn more about what is in your water.  Also check out my next blog to learn how to decipher a water report.

The Life Cycle of a Spider Mite: What You NEED to Know Before Going into Battle!

Spidermite webbing and mites on heavily infested tomato plant.

As many of you, my gardening friends know big damage can come from small pests!  One of the most ubiquitous foes of indoor and outdoor gardeners alike is the Spider Mite.  This creature which is not a spider as the name may imply, is actually a member of the Acari (mite) family Tetranychidae.  Their similarity to spiders ends with their ability to spin telltale webs which can often be the first clue to their presence in your garden.  These little garden pests can multiply so quickly under the right conditions that a single female can spawn a population of over one million in under 1 month.  They reproduce quicker under warmer conditions and prefer low humidity as it helps them excrete the water they ingest as they suck the life (sap) out of your plants.  The two-spotted spider mite can hatch in as little as 3 days, and become sexually mature in as little as 3.5 days. One female can lay up to 20 eggs per day and can live for 2 to 4 weeks, thereby laying 800+ eggs. 

This capability for exponential population growth, coupled with the speed at which each individual mite itself becomes reproductively mature allows spider mites to rapidly adapt to novel pesticides.  This ability to become resistant to pesticides has caused millions and millions of dollars in damage to food and ornamental crops every year.  This is why it is imperative to rotate pesticides in your attempts to control them.  Any pest management program should be a rotation of at least three different pesticides, each having a unique mode of action; not just a different active ingredient but a unique way of killing the mites.  For example some will be mitochondrial electron transport inhibitors while others may be neuronal inhibitors or GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) blockers. 

Spider Mite Life Cycle

Grow-Room Temperature in °F





Number of Days from Egg to Adult





Now that you understand what you are up against read my next blog about miticides that will cure your mite problem quickly and painlessly.

Battle Your Garden Pests With Ladybugs

Atlantis Hydroponics Hydroponic Grow Room Ladybug Pest Control Aphids Thrips Plant Leaf

We recently had a thrip and aphid infestation in one of our hydroponic grow rooms at the Atlanta Woodmont location. So what’s the greatest way to get back some order in the room? Ladybugs! These cute little beetles are completely harmless to humans and deadly to small crop pests like aphids and thrips.

Atlantis Hydroponics Hydroponic Grow Room Ladybug Pest Control Aphids Thrips Plant Leaf

Adult ladybugs can eat up to 50-60 aphids per day, with larvae ladybugs eating about half that much. After feeding for a few days, female ladybugs will lay 10-50 eggs daily depending on how bad the pest infestation is. That is a lot of hard working ladybugs!

Atlantis Hydroponics Hydroponic Grow Room Ladybug Pest Control Aphids Thrips Plant Leaf

When you receive a package or carton of ladybugs, wait until the cool of night (for outdoor gardens) or while your grow lights are off (for grow room gardens) to spread them around your garden. If you scatter them during the day or under your grow lights, the ladybugs have a tendency to become overly active and dissipate from your problem area. Also make sure that the plants have been adequately watered, as the ladybugs will need to hydrate while they feed.

Atlantis Hydroponics Hydroponic Grow Room Ladybug Pest Control Aphids Thrips Plant Leaf

Do you also have an aphid problem? We have plenty of ladybugs in stock and ready to be sent your way. Don’t have a pest problem but anticipating? Ladybugs can be refrigerated and stored up to 2 months. Either way, get your little ladies now and be ready to fight back for your plant’s health. Click here to order your 1500 ladybugs or stop by one of our retail stores today!

A Bug Army For Your Garden

Last blog I wrote about controlling harmful insects using pesticides and an Integrated Pest Management approach.  A necessary part of any IPM program is the use of beneficial insects.  Think of them as your own little army fighting for a pest free grow-room 24/7/365.  Having released thousands, yes thousands of Hippodamia convergens (ladybugs) in my grow-room I will say I became more comfortable with insects crawling on me but 99% of the time they were on the job, on a search and destroy mission for any pest intruder attempting to sabotage my garden.  There are lots of beneficial insects to choose from but you must match the pest to the predator, although many predators are not picky and will eat a variety of harmful insects.  Using the chart below you can easily match the kind of insect problem you may be experiencing with the correct predatory insect.

Beneficial Insect IPM Chart

Some interesting facts regarding these insects are:

  • You never should worry about your beneficial insects eating your plants as they will only feed on harmful insects
  • One Lady Bug may eat 5,000 aphids in 1 year
  • Green Lacewings will eat 200 aphids a week
  • Spider mite destroyers will eat 40 mites a day
  • Predatory Nematodes will kill over 250 different types of insects

The Bad Little Beasties Inside

All of us have dealt with some sort of critter, varmint, beastie, or #$*%@#% as I sometimes have called them. I am referring to insects that attack our gardens. There is nothing more frustrating than putting in all the labor involved in making a perfect indoor garden and then having some little critters come in and lay waste to all of our efforts! How these little #$%$@ know to attack our best & most prized plants I will never know. In my time I have battled and waged all out WAR on several different destructive insects. Sometimes I am the winner and sometimes not. So what are we to do?

My suggestion today is accept the things we can not change, change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Wait…why does that sound familiar? The point is that it can be very difficult to eradicate an insect population, however like in a natural ecosystem we can establish a balance where an “acceptable” level of insects are left in our garden and an ongoing treatment regime is utilized. To maintain this balance we will use beneficial insects, and organic or non-toxic pesticides (as needed.) This approach has gained a lot of support as of late, and is better known as IPM or Integrated Pest Management. IPM is an approach that combines a wide array of crop production practices with careful monitoring of pests and their natural enemies. IPM practices include use of resistant plant varieties, biological controls (such as beneficial insects), and judicious use of pesticides. IPM systems anticipate and prevent pests from reaching economically damaging levels.

Next blog I will discuss beneficial insects, today I would like to talk about my favorite organic insecticides. The first group of insecticides we will call sufficants include the following products: Neem Oil, Organocide, Einstein Oil, Safer Insect Killing Soap, etc. These are oils and soaps that work by covering the exoskeleton of insects which they breathe through and literally suffocating them to death. This type of insecticide is an effective method for spot treating of insects that are slow moving. However, it is less effective on fast moving insects, flying insects, and egg or larval stages of most pests.

The second class of insecticides is the knock down type. This group works by impairing the central nervous systems of most types of flying and crawling insects, blocking nerve junctions so that nervous impulses fail, and the insect dies. The most common active ingredient in this type of insecticide is derived from the chrysanthemum plant and is called Pyrethrum. It can be found in products under the names: Doktor Doom Spider Mite Knock Out, Pyrethrum TR, Don’t Bug Me, or Safer Houseplant Insect Killer. Beware of the synthetic or manmade Pyrethroids which are not organic. Pyrethrum is highly effective on most pests but is only effective if it comes in direct contact with the pests. It is short lived as it deteriorates in the presence of light within 12 hours.

Now my personal favorite Azamax, this insecticide is derived from the Neem plant but is not a sufficant. It was discovered that plants treated with Neem oil seemed to show some future resistance to insect attacks. Research found that there is a compound in Neem oil called Azadirachtin which was responsible for this insect resistance. Azamax is essentially Neem oil distilled down to get a much, much higher concentration of Azadirachtin. Azamax has 3 modes of action to control insects. First it prevents insects from feeding on the treated plant surfaces resulting in damage prevention. Second it reduces the hatchability of insect eggs resulting in population reduction. Finally it interferes with insect reproduction resulting in reduction of egg-laying. All of these combine to drastically weaken, and over time destroy populations of harmful insects. One of the best things about Azamax is it is systemic meaning absorbed into the plant’s tissue so you do not actually have to contact the insect with it. It is also proven that Azamax’s effect of weakening insects makes other insecticides much more successful because the insects in question are already weak and thus more susceptible to insecticides such as Pyrethrum. Azamax is most effective if it is used before an insect attack and reapplied on a regular basis. Azamax is also not harmful to beneficial insects or bees.

Remember it is better to prevent an insect attack than to have one, but they will eventually find your garden. Integrated Pest Management will allow you to control the damage caused by pests and not devote all your time to pest control.

– Doctor Dave