Categories: Articles, Crop productionPublished On: 8th July 2024

Make your plants happy: Keep your hydroponic system free of pests and diseases

By 5 min read

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Botrytis blight.

Over the past few months, you have learned about the benefits of setting up a hydroponic system, the different hydroponic systems available, what you need to start your hydroponic system, and the best plants you can grow in your hydroponic system. The last thing to understand about hydroponic systems is how to take care of them.

Regular maintenance and check-ups will ensure that you grow and harvest the freshest and best plants. It will increase your plant health, yields, and prevent pests and disease in your system. Some of the key tasks for a hydroponic system is draining and flushing the system, sterilising equipment and monitoring your pH and electric conductivity (EC) levels. This can be achieved by setting up a maintenance schedule, keeping maintenance logs and using the appropriate cleaning agents.

Weekly maintenance includes:

Baseline EC check: Measure the electrical conductivity (EC) of your tap water. This value serves as your baseline for adjusting nutrient levels.

Top up water: Add fresh water to your reservoir to fill it to the maximum capacity.

Adjust EC level: Gradually add a small quantity of mineral solution to the reservoir, adjusting it to the recommended EC levels.

Regular cleaning: Clean systems regularly to prevent clogs and ensure proper water flow.

Daily inspections include:

  • Check plumbing components for leaks or blockages
  • Monitor nutrient and pH levels
  • Sterilise equipment periodically
  • Inspect for pests and diseases
  • Ensure proper lighting and ventilation
  • Prune and train plants for optimal growth
  • Remove any fallen organic matter

It is also important to clean your system after every cycle and before starting a new cycle. Cleaning solutions like food grade hydrogen peroxide and vinegar will keep your system clean and will not be harmful to you plants or equipment. Algae growth is a very common issue in hydroponic systems. Algae thrives on light and nutrients. Make sure that you do not overdose and that there are not open patches of water exposed to light. There are products available to combat algae growth.

Some pests to look out for:

Aphids (plant lice):

Identification: These tiny insects feed on plant sap and reproduce rapidly.

Hygiene: Regularly clean and disinfect your growing area to prevent infestations. You can also remove them when you see them or prune the affected stalks.

Spider mites:

Spider mites.

Identification: These minuscule arachnids suck plant juices, causing yellowing leaves.

Humidity: Maintain higher humidity levels to discourage spider mite activity.

Whiteflies:

Whiteflies.

Identification: These small, whitewinged insects feed on plant sap, and they are often found on the underside of leaves

Neem oil: Use neem oil to kill whiteflies

Caterpillars:

Identification: Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. If left unchecked, caterpillars can damage crops by eating plant leaves and sometimes flowers.

Check and remove: Regular inspections of your hydroponics system can keep caterpillar invasion at bay. Always check the underside of your plant leaves, look for the tiny yellow eggs, and wipe them before they hatch. Also prevent access to moths and butterflies by closing your system with shade cloth.

Thrips:

Identification: These are very destructive pests. They can infest plants at a fast rate and cause severe damage in a short time. They come in large numbers and infest younger plants. When they invade your plants, you see tiny white patches with silvery blotches on your plants. Thrips also transmit viruses that cause slow plant growth.

Check: Gently shake plant stems to stir up thrips and remove unhatched eggs. Lightly scrape them off with your fingernails and crush them.

Mealy bugs:

Identification: Usually found in warmer climates, mealybugs are softbodied, wingless insects that often appear as white cottony masses.

Rubbing alcohol: Light mealybug infestations can be controlled by dabbing the insects with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Tomato hornworm:

Identification: One of the most destructive pests of tomato, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants in any garden. They can consume the entire leaf and small stems. Despite their size, they are often tricky to spot because of their protective colouring.

Handpicking: Because hornworms are large, most gardeners control them by handpicking. Hornworms are more easily seen near dusk and dawn when they feed on the plants’ exterior parts. Once picked from the plants, they can be destroyed by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water.

Some diseases to look out for:

Pythium root rot: The fungal-like organism Pythium causes this destructive disease. It affects the roots, leading to wilting, yellowing, and stunted growth. To prevent it, maintain proper oxygen levels, avoid overwatering, and use sterile growing media.

Fusarium wilts: Caused by the fungus Fusarium, this disease affects a wide range of hydroponically grown plants. Look out for wilting, yellowing, and vascular discoloration. Proper sanitation and resistant plant varieties can help prevent it.

Powdery mildew: A common fungal disease, powdery mildew appears as white, powdery spots on leaves. Maintain good air circulation, manage humidity, and consider using organic fungicides.

Botrytis blight: Also known as gray mold, this disease affects leaves, stems, and flowers. It thrives in high humidity. Remove affected plant parts promptly and maintain proper ventilation.

Rhizoctonia root rot: Caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia, this disease affects roots and stems. Look for brown lesions and wilting. Proper hygiene and avoiding overcrowding can help prevent it.

Alternaria leaf spot: This fungal disease causes brown spots on leaves. Maintain proper spacing between plants and ensure good air circulation to prevent its spread.

Verticillium wilt: Caused by Verticillium fungi, this disease leads to wilting and yellowing. Use disease-resistant plant varieties and maintain optimal nutrient levels.

Bacterial leaf spot: Bacteria cause small, water-soaked lesions on leaves. Maintain cleanliness, avoid splashing water on leaves, and consider copperbased treatments.

References:

https://www.cannoncreek.com/guide-to-hydroponicmaintenance

https://gogreenaquaponics.com/blogs/news/common-pests-foraquaponics-plants-and-how-tocontrol-them

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