A West Ashley man spent his working hours showing others how to grow prize-winning tomatoes, broccoli and other vegetables.

But police say he was using his green thumb to cultivate a more illicit crop in his down time.

Edward Ross Atkins, the owner of a North Charleston gardening shop, and two Horry County brothers are accused of conspiring in a scheme to grow and distribute marijuana.

A federal grand jury handed down a six-count indictment this month against Atkins, 30, owner of GreenSpirit Hydrogardens on Meeting Street Road; Ryan Ashley Harris, 35, of Murrells Inlet; and Christopher Harris, 31, of North Myrtle Beach.

Atkins and Ryan Harris entered not guilty pleas during a brief appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. Christopher Harris is due to appear in court this morning.

The indictment accuses the men of growing with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants. Atkins allegedly maintained a home at 31 Yeadon Ave. in West Ashley's Byrnes Down neighborhood for the purpose of growing the weed, the indictment stated.

Property records show Atkins bought the home in 2006 for $5 and assumed the remainder of a $180,000 mortgage on the property. It is unclear if Atkins lived in the house, as a police report lists his home address as another location in West Ashley.

His attorney, Tim Kulp, declined to discuss specifics of the case.

Atkins' business sells hydroponic gardening supplies, which allow plants to be cultivated without placing them in soil. The shop sells a variety of gear for indoor growing, including lamps and climate-control devices, according to its website, which features photos of hydroponically grown tomatoes, broccoli and wheat grass.

The federal case against Atkins stems from his arrest by Charleston police in October on charges of manufacturing and trafficking marijuana. Trafficking charges kick in when 10 or more pounds of marijuana are involved.

Police were called to the Yeadon Avenue house on Oct. 8 after neighbors witnessed two suspicious men enter the home through a side door. The two men initially ran deeper into the home when officers yelled for them to step outside, according to a police report.

Police went inside and found the men, along with about 90 marijuana plants located under heat lamps in a rear bedroom, a police report stated. Officers also found a jar containing about 10 grams of the weed and a marijuana grinding device, police said.

The men told police they didn't answer the door because Atkins had instructed them by phone not to let officers into the home, a report stated.

Those two men, North Myrtle Beach residents Gennadii Shytkovskyi and Ievgenii Tomkovych, have since been indicted on state charges of trafficking marijuana.

The Harris brothers also hail from Horry County. Ryan Harris was arrested by authorities there in December on a marijuana trafficking charge. His brother was charged with the same offense this month.

Ryan Harris also was caught up in a large marijuana bust last year in Dorchester County. He was one of four people arrested in January 2010 after a month-long investigation by the Dorchester County Sheriff's-Summerville Police Metro Narcotics unit culminated in the seizure of more than 300 marijuana plants and thousands of dollars worth of cultivating equipment at a Ridgeville property, authorities said.

At the time, Harris was living on Spring Street in Charleston.

Harris was charged with manufacturing marijuana in the case, but court records show the charge was dismissed a month later at a preliminary hearing.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.