Once your aquaponics Food Forever™ Growing System is up and humming along with fish and balanced nutrients, you become a year-round gardener. However, aquaponics gardening is somewhat different than soil gardening due to three important facts:
1. You can plant more densely
2. Everything grows faster and
3. It’s an endless garden.
It could be said that aquaponics gardening is gardening on steroids. Everything is denser, bigger, faster; and it never ends.
But one thing that remains the same (except not as intense as when you’re out in the open) is the gardener’s battle with pests. In the last two years, we’ve had to deal with aphids, white flys, the Cecropia Moth Caterpillar and now the Cabbage Looper Caterpillar that was munching on the lettuce in the Grow Bed we just culled making washing that last batch of lettuce a not so fun experience.
These guys are ravenous eaters. The ones in the photo above were in a measuring cup for about 24 hours and devoured every morsel of lettuce that was left in the cup with them. The last little bit of lettuce is being eaten by one of the caterpillars in the photo. After taking this photo, I took them out to that vacant lot and dropped them into the pile of discarded lettuce we left for the rabbits. Now, all they have to do to survive is dodge rabbit teeth.
But the most horrific looking pest of all was the Cecropia Moth Caterpillar. These guys love tomato plants and can grow to be over six inches long and as big around as a cuban cigar. They are really, really ugly with these weird blue antennae things sticking out all over their bodies.
The Cecropia Moth Caterpillar made trimming tomato plants a very conscious and alert experience as the last thing I wanted to do was run into one of them. As big as they could get, they were still very hard to see because they were the exact same color as the plant. Same goes for the Cabbage Loopers. They look just like the lettuce upon which they thrive. Caterpillars are masters at camouflage.
Now, here’s where combating pests is very different in an aquaponics garden than a soil garden. You can’t use poison bug killers because you’ll end up killing your fish. Your fish are like the canaries in the coal mines–they let you know when anything toxic gets into your system because it will kill them. And dead fish are not good food fish.
So what do we do to combat pests? Several things, none of which are harmful to our fish. We buy live lady bugs and let them loose in our Greenhouse (and now Growroom) to eat the aphids. We hand captured those horrid looking Cecropia Moth Caterpillars. There weren’t that many of them when we discovered them, so that worked; and believe me, mine were not the hands doing the capturing. We hang “Sticky White Fly Traps” to capture the white flys; and are selling these handy little gadgets on our “Accessories” page.
As for the Cabbage Loopers, we didn’t discover them until it was time to cull the Grow Bed, so they were washed off the lettuce or placed in the bin designated for the rabbits. Our Growroom is new and pest free (except for a few white flies) right now. We’ll be hanging some “Sticky White Fly Traps” soon in there. We’re hoping because it’s more enclosed, it won’t get many pests. It does have one large spider that is a good guy who is living on white flies and seems to have made the Growroom home. I’ll be taking his photo and sharing his story in the near future.
The Greenhouse is more pest available because we open the Greenhouse door a lot to invite bees in to pollinate our flowering plants, which they do. We’re discovering that gardening is such a multi-life form world; and aquaponics gardening is no exception. It actually adds a entire species–fish–to the amazing process of growing your own food.