Most aquaponics gardeners face plant-munching pests in their aquaponics vegetables from time to time, and usually, this is not a big deal. However, sometimes pest numbers rise to an unacceptable level that can cause damage to the plants.
As many aquaponics gardeners become more aware of the potential harm of exposure to synthetic chemical pesticides, many want to skip this method and turn to other pest control methods. This blog discusses the different organic ways you can control pests in your aquaponics system when an infestation occurs.
Why Can't We Use Pesticides in Aquaponics?
Pesticides often contain chemicals that are not good for our health. Using pesticides might be very effective in eradicating insects or pests, but they might also affect or kill the fish in the system. Fish health is essential in aquaponics, so it is very important to avoid adding chemicals that might hurt or kill them. Besides,aquaponics aims to produce sustainable and organic food. So using chemicals to control pests or even add fertilizer may have risks that might be transferred to the fish, plants, and the food they produce.
Aquaponics Pest Prevention and Control
There are several ways of preventing pests from entering your aquaponics system without using any harmful pesticides. These are:
Prevent insects or pests from eating your plants by using physical barriers like installing a weed mat on the ground around your grow bed. Weed mats keep the weeds away from the side of your grow bed. If you have at least three to four feet of open space around your grow bed, it will be difficult for pests to move from the weed mats to your plants.
Another method of protecting your plants organically from pests is through companion planting. This works by growing sacrificial plants to attract or symbiotic plants to keep away insects through scent or taste.
Removal of Pests Manually
One of the easiest pest control methods is physically removing unwanted pests from the plants using your hands or a toothbrush or paintbrush. This can be time-consuming because many pests are well camouflaged and tiny.
In the wild, elements such as wind, rain, and temperature help control the insect populations. Rain prevents winged insects from flying, and droplets knock them off from the plants. You can use a spray bottle filled with aquaponics water to mimic the rain or use a fan to replicate the wind and use heaters to control the temperature of your aquaponics system.
Using beneficial insects that prey on plant-damaging pests in your aquaponic garden is one of the best organic pest prevention and control methods. Several useful insect varieties can be used in aquaponics. You can naturally attract these beneficial insects by creating a habitat for them in your aquaponic garden. These beneficial insects can also be bought from garden or farming suppliers near you. These are some beneficial insects excellent in naturally controlling pests in your aquaponics garden.
Ladybugs/Beetles: Ladybugs are one of the most common beneficial insects in any garden and farm. They are a natural predator of pests and eat aphids, smaller beetles, caterpillars, and most insect eggs. Both adults and larvae of ladybugs work wonders in destroying garden pests.
Green Lacewings: Lacewing larvae eat aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, thrips, leafhoppers, whitefly larvae, a wide variety of moth eggs, and just about any other soft-bodied pest.
Tachinid Flies: The larvae of tachinid fly eat caterpillars, cutworms, squash bugs, beetles, earwigs, and grasshoppers. These insects are also known as excellent pollinators because they generally prefer nectar and pollen.
Spiders: Spiders are great at keeping pests under control. Even a young or smaller spider can do an excellent job in eating up insects that destroy your plants because of their web.
Common Aquaponics Pests and How to Control Them
Aquaponics pests can cause some severe damage to your plants, flowers, and fruits. But to solve this problem, we must identify these pests first. Some common pests found in aquaponics gardens are:
Sometimes called plant lice, aphids are tiny insects that suck the sap from plant leaves, twigs, and stems. While aphids don't cause significant damage, they spread quickly, damaging crops and spreading diseases.
Aphids feed on plant fluids, damaging leaves and carrying plant diseases with them, and because they reproduce rapidly, they are difficult to expect and control. So it is essential that as soon as you notice them in your aquaponics garden, you need to control them immediately.
Aphids Control Option
1. Remove Physically
This is applicable for minor aphid infestations, where it is possible to physically remove the aphids from the plants. Wear a pair of gardening gloves and brush or pinch the pests from the stems and leaves. You can also prune the affected stalks or branches if the infestation is only contained to a few stalks or branches. Then drop the pruned stalks or branches into soapy water to kill the aphids.
2. Beneficial Insects
Sometimes, using beneficial insects can prevent or control the growth of aphids. Ladybug beetles, hover fly larvae, and green lacewings are well-known beneficial insects. Planting herbs such as garlic, clover, mint, dill, catnip, and oregano in your aquaponics garden can help attract these beneficial insects into your garden naturally. Still, you can also purchase them from gardening and farming suppliers.
3. Organic Pesticides
Using organic pesticides made from plant extracts that act as insects and pests irritants can also be used to control pests in your aquaponics system. One known organic pesticide is Neem Oil Extract, which is derived from the seed of the neem tree. Neem oil can be used to kill small soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, mites, thrips, and whiteflies. To use neem oil, just mix two tablespoons per gallon of water.
Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. If left unchecked, caterpillars can damage crops, including vegetables and ornamental plants, during the late spring through fall, depending on your location. Most caterpillars can cause damage to plants by eating plant leaves and sometimes flowers.
Caterpillar Control Option
Regular inspections of your aquaponics garden can keep caterpillar invasion at bay. Always check the underside of your plant leaves and look for the tiny yellow eggs and wipe them before they hatch.
2. Exclusion Nets
You can pot all your caterpillar-prone plants in a pod together and cover it with a fine net. The net will also protect your plants from possums. This method works well for leafy greens.
3. Organic Spray
You can use an organic spray to control caterpillars in your garden. Ask your local nursery or farming supplier for safety to use organic spray that won't affect the other beneficial insects in your aquaponics garden.
The tomato hornworm is one of the most destructive pests of tomato, pepper, potato, and eggplants in any garden. They can consume entire leaves, small stems, and chew pieces from fruits, and despite their large size, hornworms are often tricky to spot because of their protective coloring. Gardeners often find large areas where the feeding happened before they see these pests.
Tomato Hornworm Control Option
Because hornworms are large, most gardeners control them by handpicking. Hornworms are more easily seen near dusk and dawn when they tend to feed on the exterior parts of the plants. Once picked from the plants, they are destroyed by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water.
2. Benefecial Insects
Lady beetles and green lacewings prey on tomato hornworms' eggs, and Japanese paper wasps attack and feed on all sizes of hornworm larvae. Encourage wasps colonies near your aquaponic garden to protect your tomatoes from hornworms.
Usually found in warmer climates, mealybugs are soft-bodied, wingless insects that often appear as white cottony masses on leaves, stems, and fruits on plants. They feed by inserting their long-sucking mouthparts into plants and drawing sap out of the tissue. When uncontrolled, mealybugs can cause leaf yellowing and curling.
Mealybugs Control Option
- Light mealybug infestations can be controlled by dabbing the insects with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Other Garden Pests and their effect on the plants
- Grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and slugs chew on plant leaves, stems, and fruits.
- Leaf miners make tunnels on plant tissue.
- Fruit Flies lay eggs on plants tissue
- Ants carry aphids, eat fruit and plant tissue, and transmit plant disease
In aquaponics, you can prevent and control pests from destroying youraquaponics plants without harming your fish. You can do this by avoiding pesticides and choosing natural and organic pest control methods. Still, first and foremost, it is essential to prevent pests byregularly checking,planting pest-repelling plants, and using nets or traps.
The simplest way to keep pests from damaging your plants is by handpicking these pests or eliminating the infected parts of the plants. Using some beneficial insects will also help keep pests under control. Organic pesticides can also be another way to control pests. However, caution must be practiced in using any pesticides in your aquaponics garden because it might harm the fish.
Thank you for reading our blog. If you're an aquaponics beginner, and looking for more resources check our ultimate aquaponics beginner's guide.