How To Win The War On Bugs, Part 1 (or Aquaponic Pest Control)
When we first started our aquaponics system, I was utterly amazed by the fact there were simply no bugs! I had always heard about how hard it was for organic farmers to fight pests,and I was excited to find out that it was easier than I thought. In fact, I went so far as to mention this to a good friend, Donna Mitts, who had been an organic gardener her whole life, and even teaches it at a local school. She threw her head back and laughed out loud, then said, “Your farm is so new they just haven’t found you yet!” Did she ever turn out to be right!
(Below) Actually NOT a system pest! This little frog will eat its weight every day in insect pests; and will do a lot of your job of pest control for you. You just have to make certain not to package any of this basil with “extra protein included” so to speak!
Our goal with this introduction is to lay out how simple the subject of aquaponic pest control actually is, in a useful and easy to understand format. To do that, we’re going to give you an overview of all the types of pests and methods of controlling them, then move on to specifics of each.
There are many different methods of controlling pests on your aquaponics, from beneficial insects, to organically-approved sprays, to a 12-gauge shotgun (think wild hogs!). You need to select the correct method based on the pest that has shown up in your aquaponics. For instance, if you have wild hogs rooting their way under your fence and destroying your aquaponics 🙁 , then you are not going to spray them with an organic bug spray because it won’t do anything. Likewise, fixing your fence is not going to keep the ants out!
To be efficient and not waste time or money, you have to match the control method to the type of pest you’re dealing with, as well as to how many of them you’ve got, how fast they’re reproducing, and what kind of physical environment you are chasing them in. As a result, a newcomer can easily be overwhelmed by the different methods and choices facing them. We’ll give you a quick rundown here that will make the rest of this section easier to understand.
First, “Identification”: People often just spray or buy beneficials whenever they see bugs show up in their aquaponics; without bothering to identify the intruder first. This is akin to calling the police because you hear someone in your backyard, without bothering to look out the window and realize it’s Aunt May who came over to water your geraniums because you always forget to. We cover how to identify your pest as the first step in pest control.
Second, “Sprays”: People often think that spraying anything on your vegetables is bad, period. The organophosphate sprays that conventional agriculture uses act as neurotoxins (poison) when ingested by people, even in minutely small amounts. This is why people choose produce that says “no spray”, and “organic” over produce that can’t make that claim.
But we don’t use any of those; we can’t: they would kill all our fish. We do use OMRI-approved organic sprays (that’s Organic Materials Research Institute), in the appropriate amounts, at the appropriate time, for the appropriate pests. We don’t spend much on sprays, and we don’t have much trouble with pests.
Third, “Mechanical Control”: That’s gardener-speak for pinching the bugs off your plants and smushing them between fingers, or for those simple sticky fly traps. Although for you young-at-heart we have the Wild Anteater Bug Vacuum for $15.89 to $29.87 depending on where you shop; it’s our favorite.
Fourth, “Barriers”: Anything from floating row covers to entire greenhouses; things that make it difficult or impossible for the bugs to just walk inside and start eating your produce.
Fifth, “Beneficial Insects”: That’s when you buy a bunch of ladybugs at the mail order shop to eat all your aphids.
Sixth, “Prevention”: This simply means “get ‘em before they get established, because then it’s too late”. This is when you remember to put Diatomaceous Earth (DE) under your weed mat before you put it down and put your troughs and fish tanks on top of it. The DE kills any ants that try to establish a colony in your greenhouse before they can bring any aphids in to farm them on your plants (see “Fourth” above; you probably won’t need to buy any ladybugs to eat aphids if you do this Prevention step).
Seventh through about twelveteenth: Crop waste removal, temperature and moisture control, physical barriers, disease and pest-resistant cultivars, nocturnal foliar feeders, and more.
(Below) Yes, that’s a woodchuck butt you’re looking at! And she is NOT just sipping the water; everything that tastes good to you tastes good to her, too. Notice the lack of any fencing around this aquaponics plot next to a shaded woodland area.
In the rest of this Pest Control series of articles, we’ll cover all these methods in exhaustive detail!