Hydroponic fodder grows really fast. At least 10kg of fodder in 7 days from 2kg of seed. This is enough to provide a dairy cow with its daily protein supplement. The problem is, fungus on the roots of the fodder may grow and spread just as fast. So how do you get it under control? The following are step on how a farmer can use simple, inexpensive, and very effective tricks to get rid of the fungus.
This by far, is the most important measure one can take to control fungus. The trays on which the fodder grows must be put on a gentle slope so as to ensure water keeps moving when they are watered. The functionality of this is simple. Think of fungus as mosquitoes, and your trays as a water body e.g. a river or a swamp. In the event that your trays are on a flat surface, they will act as a swamp, and mosquitoes love to breed in stagnant water. And so does fungus. One way to keep the mosquitoes at bay is to get rid of any stagnant water or ensure good drainage. This almost always works in controlling mosquitoes and it is also effective in controlling fungus. This is why rivers are clean, but swamps are filthy. Turn your trays into a ‘river’. Make sure they are on a gentle slope, and the water is always in constant motion. But this does not mean you turn your system into a water fall. Make the slope gentle, not steep. This simple trick does wonders. And the avoidance of this trick is the main reason many farmers experience fungus in their hydroponic shelters. Ensure a good slope. Consult experts if you have to. This one measure will save you alot of trouble.
Another condition that favours the growth and spread of fungus, is high temperatures. Just like mosquitoes, fungus prefer warm temperatures. One way to make your hydroponic shelter cool, is to use fans, thermostats and thermometres to keep the temperatures at an average of 21 degrees centigrade. But what does a farmer who does not have access to these instruments or access to electricity do? The solution is simple. Shade nets. Shade nets may not be an exact measure of maintaining temperature, but they are just as effective. At the Grandeur Africa farm, we have noted that a 50% black shade net does the trick in most parts. Building the walls of your hydroponic shelter with this type of shade net will create a micro environment inside the shelter that is cooler than outside. This will reduce the chances of fungal growth in the shelter.
Another way to control the temperature is to align the structure lengthwise east to west. This ensures minimal direct sunlight entres the structure thus reducing the temperature. Do this, and you are a step closer to a clean hydroponic system.
3. Soilless floor
Alot of fungus comes from the soil. If you get rid of soil, you get rid of the source. One way is to make a concrete floor in the structure. This is expensive but very effective. It not only reduces the chances of fungal infestation but it also prevents the formation of mud and growth other plants on the floor of the structure.
A cheaper way to do this is to carpet the floor with black plastic sheets. This may be obtained from any hardware store. Ensure every square inch of the structure’s floor is covered.
This cannot be stressed enough. The farmer has to take responsibility over the hygiene of the structure. The following are the hygiene measure she has to take.
a) Do NOT lift the fodder mat to inspect the roots. This exposes the roots to air and may lead to fungal infestation. Only lift the mat during harvesting.
b) Recycle the irrigating water for not more than 3 days. Every 3 days, dispose of all of the water in the structure and replenish with fresh water.
c) Do NOT irrigate your fodder with water used to soak your seeds. Farmers who have problems with water availability tend to use the water used for soaking to irrigate the hydroponic system. Although this is very water economical, it does aid in the spread of fungus. Cut it out.
d) Always clean the trays before planting the seeds on them. The best way to do this is to use a bleach solution. This will disinfect the trays. If bleach is not available, soap may be used. Be thorough, like you are washing a plate for human use.
e) Keep the door closed whenever possible. Insects that fly in will aid in the spread of fungus. Whenever not in use, keep the door of the structure closed at all times.
f) Clean all the buckets and gutters with soap, on a weekly basis.
These are the measures we have taken ourselves in running a clean structure. And it has worked wonders for us. Fungus is dangerous and it will negatively affect your livestock if it gets out of hand.
One thing the farmer should note, is that you cannot completely get rid of fungus, but you can keep it at a minimum, at which it has no effect on the system of your livestock.
Now you know, and you are equipped with the skill need to run a clean and effective hydroponic fodder structure. All the best and, make us proud.