Aquaponic Gardening

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One of my daily "alerts" for google search is set to look for "organic" farming.  Today, I ran across an interesting site that led me to search a bit for organic pest control solutions.  To start with, I read this story about a guy with an aquaponics system near a house that was sprayed for cockroach prevention... (that's what started me off on this quest..LOL)

“I got a phone call early in the week that house was due for annual spider and cockroach spray.” said Rod, “I Thought nothing about it until the same chap arrived on Thursday. Rod even showed the Pest Control guy his aquaponics setup.

“It was windy so I asked him – what about my fish?” said Rod. Will they be safe?

“Not a problem.” said the pest control guy, “The fish are far enough away from the main house.”

Rod was satisfied that this guy was an expert and knew what he was talking about. So he let the pest control guy do his thing – spray around the house and do the regular “treatment.”

Saturday morning came. Rod uncovered his main fish tank and looked inside to inspect the fish. He noticed something odd floating at the bottom of his tank.

“What are the white lines on the bottom of the tank?” He thought to himself. Looking further into the tank he saw the pile of dead fish resting on the bottom.

“Yep! The whole lot of my Silver Perch and Yellow Belly fish. Forty odd fish in total. All dead!” he said. [source link ]

So sad.  As everyone around the world is becoming more aware of the pesticides in the foods we are eating from the grocery store-- we need to make sure that we do not make that same mistake with home grown aquaponic vegetables.

The first thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that you are not just worried about bugs eating your veggies.  Whatever you do, you must also worry about protecting your fish and the good bacteria that is driving your system.

slide source. credit: Molly Stanek.

This site (click this link.) lists home remedies for white/black spot, scales, aphids, etc.. and had some interesting concoctions.  One that looked especially easy was this: your onion skins, peels and ends then refrigerate in an empty margarine-sized tub or ziplock bag until the container is full. Once you have enough, place the onion pieces in a pail and fill with warm water. Soak for a few days, up to a week. You can keep this on the patio in the sun to steep but this is optional. After one week, strain the onion bits out and store the onion water in spray bottles.

Bury the onion bits around plants that are prone to aphids, spiders and other pests. Just spray both house and garden plants with the water to fight aphids and pests. You can also mix your garlic trimmings in with the onion pieces, bugs hate garlic too!

WARNING:  Some of their suggestions, like using soap... were not for food plants or fish systems, so do not use anything that might harm your fish or your good bacteria.

Another site, Eden Aquaponics, had a great idea for using STICKY TRAPS to find out what bugs are eating your veggies when you're not around.

..Sticky Traps- Yellow sticky traps are a very good way to determine the type of insects/bugs in your system…as well as trapping them. The insects are quickly drawn to the yellow color, and cannot escape the sticky “glue” they contain. You can easily make your own traps, or you can purchase them on-line or at your local nursery. To make your own traps: Cut strips of yellow construction paper (about 3″x6″), punch a hole at one end to attach hanging string, then use a plastic knife to smear one side with the “glue” (Tree Tanglefoot Insect Barrier). Hang these at various locations throughout your enclosure.

I loved the last idea in this paragraph below--- just dunk your veggies in the fish tank!  Check this out.

...Never, ever use insecticidal sprays/soaps in an aquaponics system…they will harm your fish, and compromise your organic system. Instead, try “washing” them, first with a stream of plain water from a pump sprayer. This should wash away aphids and deter spider mites (which don’t like the moisture). If the insects are persistant, wash them with a natural, homemade spray: 1 quart water, 1 drop dishwashing liquid soap, 1 tsp Neem Oil (or other “dormant” oil). Holding a towel under the plant (to prevent the spray from getting into your system), spray the tops and undersides of your plant leaves and stems. This may be done twice a week in the early morning or evening.

If all else fails, gently remove your plants, and immerse them in your fish tank for a few minutes…the insects will drown, and the fish will love eating them as another source of protein. After removing the plants from the fish tank, gently replace into your system.

Also ran across several sites that recommend using ladybugs!  I've always loved I love them even more. 

What other safe ideas have you guys used successfully to control nasty bugs?? 

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Comment by Jace Turner on May 28, 2012 at 8:23pm

Here's a recipe for the pesticide that I mentioned:

8-10 whole habaneros
1 whole garlic blub
1 cup of water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh peppermint or 1/2 cup dr bronner's peppermint soap

  • Take the green stems off the habaneros and place them in to the food processor 
  • Break up the garlic bulb and unwrap each clove and place them in the food processor
  • Add the oil

    • Run the food processor for 15 seconds, turn it off and add the water
    • run the food processor for 2 minuets and let it sit over night or 24hr
      (optional) add the peppermint or the soap and run for 15 seconds the soap will foam, don't let it overflow.

    When you're ready to strain the mix get your gloves and goggles on. Set up the glass or glasses with coffee filters and put rubber bands around them to hold them in their place. Then simply, carefully pour the mush and liquid in to the coffee filter very slowly. Fill the filter, it will drain over a few hours time. Eventually you'll be done straining the material. If you have in ground plants you can put this mush around the base of the plants or even bury it in the roots to keep chompers away.

    Remember to use a spray bottle that you can point upside down to get under the leaves.

Comment by Jace Turner on May 28, 2012 at 8:04pm

I just bought praying mantis eggs for my garden (not aquaponics yet) I also use a olive oil, harbanro, garlic mix (I also use dr. bromers peppermint soap and I don't know if that would be harmful in any way) You could simply add peppermint. I take all these ingredients add some water and combine them in a food processor until the bits are finer than if you had chewed them and let them sit for 24hr. Then I strain the material using a coffee filter in a glass with a rubber band around the glass to keep the filter from falling in to the glass. I use gloves when doing this and recommend also waring goggles. You will not be a happy camper if you get this mix in your eyes or on your skin.

Then I take the strained material and put it in a bottle to contain it. When I'm ready to use it I dilute it - I've found that experimenting with how much to delete it is the way to go. Most plants will wilt and seedlings will die if the mix is too strong. This works for many bugs that chew on your plants. Most bugs like a mild diet. They will move on. This mix can kill some bugs and bug eggs.

Comment by Dustin Holzberger on May 28, 2012 at 7:02pm

I have been battling a few different insects in my AP system and thought I would reach out to see if anyone can assist me in identifying them.  Next will be how to get rid of them but first things first.   Thanks all.


Comment by Carey Ma on May 27, 2012 at 6:08am

I believe in using nature to fight nature. Back in the States, I was a strong believer and supporter of using IPM (integrated pest management) techniques and like Sylvia, used different insects to combat infestation. In order to prevent crop loss, it was necessary to deliberately contaminate the growing area with the typical pest and their natural enemies together, so that they were able to strike a balance. It is near impossible to eradicate pest in a controlled/ semi controlled environment like greenhouses. Unfortunately, I don't have the option of using beneficial insects anymore as China is still very much a developing country, geared towards mainstream Ag.

Today, as I strive to go beyond organic farming methods, I use food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) as my main source of insect/ pest control and probiotics via different "teas" to control pathogens. DE can also act as a natural dewormer. These teas are either fungal or bacteria based depending on what type of pathogen I am expecting to counter.

IMO using those "natural" sprays are only applicable for small home systems as the cost in time and money are too demanding and thus impractical for commercial operations.

PS Healthy plants grown using IPM techniques (distance separation) makes it uneconomical for pathogens or infestations to ruin an entire crop.

Comment by Barbara McLain on May 25, 2012 at 6:11pm

One reason that I researched this was that I am renting an apartment on a commercial nursery.  The back yard is at least 25 yards away from the nearest covered greenhouse--where they spray insecticides every day..(environmental grrrr...)  Hoping that this will not stop me from building my system...although I intend to first try cheap goldfish before I invest in anything edible.  I would also LOVE to be able to show them that my organic plants don't get bugs and convince the owner/landlady to STOP putting Roundup in our groundwater.

Comment by tonya penick on May 25, 2012 at 5:59pm

So I have heard you can take your pruned/waste tomato leaves, and pulvirise them then steep them in water for a few days and use the water as a pesticide. Does anyone know if this is true? I would like to test that theory but not in my commercial system. My small system has no pests at all.

Comment by Sylvia Bernstein on May 25, 2012 at 5:31pm

Awesome post, Barbara.  Thank you for the time you put into this.  I have a different opinion about insecticidal soap, especially in a media based system.  It is my belief that as long as you don't spray over your fish and sump tanks (and if you need to, then cover them), and you don't spray so much that it drips down the stem and into your media that an organic insecticidal soap is fine...but I would absolutely avoid Neem.  Neem works on the nervous system on bugs and is powerful stuff.  I sure wouldn't want that anywhere near my fish.

We use a variety of beneficial insects here, including ladybugs, lacewings and encarsia fermosa for white fly.  I've also fed the bugs to the fish on more than one occasion with that floating method you were talking  about - LOL - my favorite!  I find it takes about 15 minutes to really down an aphid.

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