How to Control Pests in Aquaponics?

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Aquaponics like any other type of farming can also fall victim to insect and pests attacks. Controlling pests in aquaponics takes a similar approach to controlling pest in conventional types of farming but in a more organic way since aquaponics systems are themselves organic in nature.

Pests in aquaponics systems can be controlled by periodically applying organic pesticides such as neem oil extract, mixed at two tablespoons per gallon of water. Other pest control methods includes using mechanical barriers such as nets, removing the pest by hand or using beneficial insects .

There many types of pest which can affect plants in aquaponics systems. Its usually starts with a subtle introduction and before you know it, the entire crop can be totally wiped out.

For this reason it is important to have some type of defense in the event pests attack. Other preventative methods can also be used to help prevent pests and insects from invading and destroying your entire aquaponics system. We have outlined the various methods of control and how effective they are, further in this article.

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How to Control Pest in Aquaponics?

When it comes to crops, what we put in is what we get out. The purpose of aquaponics is to provide a sustainable organic source of food and we should by all means ensure whatever additives we use to control pests and insects remain in compliance with keeping the system fully organic.

In aquaponics, the best method of pest control is always using an organic approach. Meaning using pesticides derived organically from plants which will repel and remove any unwanted pests. These pesticides should not contain any manmade chemicals or additives which may end up in the plants and eventually in our plates.

There are many types of pest control out there but in aquaponics, pest control is a bit more fine tuned with respect to what you use to repel insects and pests.

All methods are driven by the need to keep producing healthy organic food.

Here are some of the methods we found successful in controlling pests in our aquaponics system.

6 Methods of Natural Pest Control In Aquaponics are

  1. Identification
  2. Organic Pesticides
  3. Manual control
  4. Mechanical control
  5. Physical barriers
  6. Prevention

Identification –

Being able to properly identify the type of insects or pest that is causing the problem in your system is important since each pest may require a specific method of control.

Proper identification leads to efficient removal and eradication of pests and insects saving time and money. It doesn’t make sense purchasing organic insecticide and the problem is not even coming from an insect.

Each pest leaves trademark evidence on plants. Being able to look at a plant and identify what type of insect is causing the trouble makes it easier in choosing an efficient and cost effective method of control.

Pests, Identification and Control in Aquaponic Systems

Organic Pesticides –

Organic pesticides are made from the extract of certain plants which acts like an irritant to insects and pests. One such pesticide is Neem Oil extract. It is derived from the seed of the neem tree. This is a widely used pesticide and can be found at any agro shop or hardware.

Neem oil is used to kill small soft-bodied insects like Aphids, Mealybugs, Mites, Thrips and Whiteflies on contact.

So, Is Neem Oil Safe for Aquaponics?
Neem oil is safe for aquaponic systems since its organic in nature and will not add any unwanted chemicals to the system. The only downside is that it will also repel the good insects, such as bees which are required for pollination of flowering plants.

The neem oil is mixed at two table spoons per gallon of water. So a little bottle of this stuff can go a long way according to how large your aquaponic system is.

As far as organic pesticides go, you can also use beneficial insects such as ladybugs. Ladybugs prey on aphids and other small soft bodied insects, keeping them in check.

Manual Control –

This is where you manually remove insects that you may see crawling around your aquaponic system and is mainly used to remove larger pests like grasshoppers, caterpillars and leaf eating beetles. This method of control is a bit tedious but sometimes necessary.

I remembered i planted some cucumbers in my aquaponic system some time ago. Every day I would admire how fast the vines would grow and how green the leaves would get. Then the levels started to disappear and the ones that didn’t had bit marks.

I placed a security camera and I monitored the plant for a day. It was an iguana. Long story short, I ran after it and I won. yay!

He was safely released into the wild.

Mechanical control –

Mechanical control is where you place some type of device or trap in which the insect or pests get entangled and killed before reaching the plants.

Flies can be controlled by hanging fly catchers close to the plants. The flies sit on the sticky strip and become immobile and eventually die.

If the system is supported by posts and is on a height, wrapping cotton at the base of the posts can cause ants and other creepy crawlies to become caught in the cotton preventing them from climbing up the posts and unto the plants.

Another method of mechanical control is by actually using a handheld vacuum a sucking whatever small pesky insects you may see along the way while tending to you garden.

Physical Barriers –

Physical barriers can extend from just barring around a small system from the elements to creating a large greenhouse in which to house the entire system. Although a greenhouse is a lot more expensive, here you can have total control of the environment especially if you live in temperate regions where it gets really cold.

Using a physical barrier to control pest can simply mean using some type of netting material which would prevent any unwanted pests from entering the planting area.

Barriers in aquaponics is not only confined to plants but also the fishes and prevents pest from getting inside the fish tank and killing the entire fish stock.

About two years ago, a frog managed to jump into my biofilter. He could not escape and became stressed, releasing toxins into the water. The end result was total devastation. My entire fish stock of 75 tilapia each weighing approximately 3 lbs had died. The entire system crashed and i had to start all over.

So imagine what a simple net barrier around my biofilter would have prevented. There’s some food for thought.

Prevention –

Prevention is better than cure

Before you even start your system. Do some planning, see where you are going to site the system and have it sprayed and treated for ants, termites and other ground insects.

By doing this you won’t have to worry about these pest when your system is up and running.

AntsWrap Posts with Cotton
AphidsUse ladybugs or Neem Oil Extract
CaterpillarsRemove by hand
MealybugsSpray with neem Oil Extract
CutwormsSpray with neem Oil Extract
FrogsUse Barrier Nets
Iguanas (yes Iguanas!)Remove by hand, use Barrier nets

General Housecleaning –

Generally by keeping the area around the plants and fishes clean would deter pests and wandering insects to finding their way to your plants. Therefore routine maintenance is necessary time and time again.

This also creates a scenic and inviting area to work. You yourself would find that it is easier to work around the system without having to traverse through any type of clutter. The end result will be rewarding for both you and the plants.

Why Can’t we Use Pesticides in Aquaponics?

Pesticides often contain chemicals which are not always good for our health. They may be very effective since they may serve a certain need such as eradicating caterpillars. But they not only eradicate unwarted insects, they kill good insects and the chemicals may end up in the food we eat.

Aquaponic systems are mainly geared towards producing sustainable, organic food and by using chemicals to control pests or even as additional fertilizers may have risks which are associated with the chemicals they contain.

The Take Away –

With any crop there is need for you to make your presence known and have some type of intervention to ensure it is growing the way you want it to. Employing proper methods of control such as using of organic pesticides and mechanical barriers, you can be rest assured that insects and pests won’t be threatening your hard work.


JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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