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Backyard Aquaponics

Hubby and I started this little aquaponics project last summer using the flood and drain method. We managed to grow quite a few things, but most ended up being fed to the chickens. Aquaponics is the greatest way, to be self-sustaining. It uses 90% less water than conventional farming, in fact you hardly ever need to water. It’s a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture; you can grow fresh organic herbs and vegetables as well as provide fish for the table (unless you are using goldfish) year-round, indoors or out. Water from the fish tank is pumped up to flood the grow bed where the clay pebbles and beneficial bacteria converts the fish poop into nitrates to feed the plants. The plants filter and return clean water back into the tank. The pump runs on a timer, so  you never need to worry about watering. Just feed your fish daily, (also on a timer), and every now and then, top up the water that has been lost through evaporation. It can be a small set up for kitchen herbs, or large scale production. Kits like the ones from Earth Solutions can be purchased ranging from a few $100 to $1,000′s. Or do-it-yourself like hubby and I did.


French beans and cucumbers planted in the ground to climb against the back wall. Both did well, especially cukes later in the season.

Bok choy seedlings that were started in rockwool. Tomato, lettuce and strawberries also in the grow bed. Both the grow bed and fish tank are made from food-grade plastic.

Bok choy seedlings started late summer, sprinkled directly in the clay pebbles. I thought the seeds would be washed away when the bed was flooded, but stayed put in the pebbles.

Tank of fish sits on shelf above ground, where it got too hot in summer and froze in winter. The water in tank and pond is tested every few days to maintain a ph level of 7, where both plants and fish will be happy.

Aquaponics using floating method, broccoli growing right in the pond. These didn’t get very big. Will try leafier vegetables this year. Racoons loved flipping these over at night.

Last year in the aquaponics grow bed, we had success with heat-tolerant strawberries and tomatoes, but cold-loving plants like bok choy and lettuce, didn’t do so well once August came. The heat in the greenhouse on a sunny day would soar to 120ºF even with fan on and doors wide open. Lettuce and bok choy quickly bolted, sensing that their end was near. I lost a fish every day from the heat, often putting icepacks in the water to try and cool it down. As a result, my fish poop/grow bed ratio was off and the veggies were nutrient deficient with yellowing leaves. The remaining fish overwintered in the tank until everything froze in February. This year, we’ve sunk the tanks right into the ground and added styrofoam insulation to hopefully maintain better temperatures.

To the left, our last years tank has been buried in the ground, with insulation added. Hubby digging 2 new tanks.

Shade cloth, fabric clips, and stakes from Lee Valley. This has helped keep the greenhouse cooler this year.

We eat a lot of shrimp, store-bought radiated frozen shrimp from some where in Asia…because of this I wanted to try growing Malaysian Freshwater Prawns in our own backyard. They are born and raised first in saltwater, and then the juveniles do their “growing out” phase from June to October in freshwater ponds or in our case, tanks. We hope to end up with fresh prawns at harvest time, and plenty leftover for the freezer.

Dig, line with styrofoam insulation, cover with fish-safe pond liner.

The prawns thrive in temperatures of 80-85ºF, much cooler…death, much hotter…death. Hubby has dug two large 120 gallon tanks, about 45″ x 28″ x 24″ deep. Insulated with 2″ styrofoam and lined it with a fish-safe pond liner (this was much cheaper than purchasing plastic tanks, cost to build each tank was just under $100).

We’ve filled the tanks with warm water and have been monitoring the temperature. As a backup, we are also looking at raising fish, either Tilapia, Bluegill or Trout (still looking for a supplier of fingerlings). Two more grow beds will be added above these tanks to keep the water clean and provide more vegetables.

Finished and filled tanks, growbeds to come. Seedlings for transplant outside and cottage garden are starting to sprout.

nathaniel - This is fantastic! I will get my parents in Montreal started. I hope they become fans of the site. Thanks so much.

Che(aka Jonny Cash) - Hey Jill, its great to see your website, I would have so many questions as I am still not up and running and its late in the season for us up here. Do you think I could stop by some time to see your set up from up close, as I would like to get a few set up tips from you seeing as you also have a green house and similar climatic situation (mississauga). Compliments on your website and the new tanks.

Harvest Update » FreestyleFarm - [...] poop to power this grow bed, it did surprisingly well. I’m pleased to report that having the tanks in the ground made a huge difference in water temperature. It never got too hot, even with the record-breaking [...]

Shane - This is awesome!
I’ve been living in T.O. for two years now, dreaming, planning, researching, and waiting impatiently for the day that I have the time and the space to create something like this.
Well done!

Shrimp Toast | Eat Boutique - handmade food giftbox, homemade, homespun, gift basket, food that hugs you back - [...] household, why not chow on fresh food from our own backyard. I’m able to grow vegetables in my aquaponics grow beds using just a tenth of the water as conventional farming and the fish or prawns live in tanks below [...]

Strawberries and Balsamic | Eat Boutique - handmade food giftbox, homemade, homespun, gift basket, food that hugs you back - [...] survived winter in the greenhouse, frozen in the clay pebbles of the aquaponics grow [...]

Basement Aquaponics & Raising Tilapia » FreestyleFarm - [...] I found one near my home. The fish spent their summer growing out in the greenhouse where our first aquaponic system was made. Once the cooler temperatures of September came around, we relocated them inside to [...]

DIY: Basement Aquaponics & Raising Tilapia | - [...] I found one near my home. The fish spent their summer growing out in the greenhouse where our first aquaponic system was made. Once the cooler temperatures of September came around, we relocated them inside to [...]

Jess - Finding this website has changed my life. Thank you

Sheryl Stivens - We are visiting Shanghai this week 27th nov- 30 nov staying at Bund Riverside Hotel Huangpu District. Please could you advise how we can meet up and come and see your systems working.
We live on a small organic farm in NZ
Sheryl & Hal Stivens
Phone 0964 211380964
Email sherylstivens@ gmail .com

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