Growing fish in the backyard

21 January 2009

Many of us are looking for ways to produce organic food in our homes. There was a time we had an aquaponics system in our backyard, and I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it again, despite the fact that our system failed and we sold it.

Aquaponics is a way of growing fish and organic vegetables in one system. The way we set ours up was with two grow beds on top of a 3000 litre (792 gallons) fish tank. We kept silver perch in our pond, they're an Australian native freshwater fish. We had our system from March 2007 until the end of February 2008.

We had our tanks custom made by a local tank maker but they are equally effective using recycled materials of sufficient size. Hanno rigged up all the plumbing and attached the bubblers and underwater pump. Our electricity bill barely registered the pump usage, I think over the course of a year it cost us about $80 to run it. We used rainwater that we had stored in our backyard tank to fill the fish tank.

We grew a variety of vegetables, including some decent pink brandywine tomatoes, chard, celery, parsley, beans, watercress, capsicums (peppers) and chilli. The taste was good and we couldn't tell the aquaponics produce from that in the garden. Of course we still kept our soil vegetable garden but having the fish and vegetable combo was a great project for us and it was very interesting to see what we could grow.

I won't go into aquaponics in depth, please look at my aquaponics posts to see what we did, or go to Backyard Aquaponics. There are a few good photos there of Joel's system and a very good forum where you can ask questions and see what people are doing all round the world. The site is an Australian one but they have a lot of members in the northern hemisphere, including some members with hothouse aquaponics in snowbound America.

Basically, aquaponics is a system that pumps the water the fish have been swimming in up to the vegetables growing in tanks above. The fish waste in the water fertilises the vegetables, the gravel and microbes in the grow beds help purify the water and then it falls back into the fish tank as clean water. Over time the system matures with natural elements helping the fish and vegetables grow and generally, it will take about 12 - 18 months from fingerling to plate sized fish.

Our system failed because we didn't understand the effect sun has on water. It caused algae to grow, which consumed oxygen in the water and when the fish didn't have enough dissolved oxygen in the water, they died. It was heartbreaking to see it happen. We didn't know why it was happening and every effort we made to save the fish was in vain. That was the second time our fish died, the first time we didn't know why, we think it was some poison, maybe someone in the neighbourhood had sprayed. Nevertheless, the second time it happened, we decided it wasn't for us, Hanno had to do a lot of work whenever anything went wrong, so we sold our system. I have to say though, that if we didn't have a very productive soil garden, we would have persevered with aquaponics, and by now would have been happily eating the fish on a regular basis.

I think aquaponics is a good way of growing food if you have the time and strength to put into it. You need to learn a lot about how everything works together, and as it's a fairly new way of growing food, sometimes there are no answers, but it's an interesting hobby and if you get it right, a very good way to produce vegetables and fish in a small space.

Unstuff writes about the failing economy and what she has discovered in the past year. It's worth a read.


  1. Thanks for this post, I often wondered how the aquaponics was going at your place.

  2. Good morning Rhonda,

    What a shame it didn't work out. At least you tried it and I guess we can only learn from trying. And isn't that what self sufficiency is all about. We get our fish from down the south coast every couple of months. We love fishing and we fish in a sustainable way. I especially like mullet which is meant to be an oily fish. Not many people like them but if cooked properly they are terrific. Actually we are heading down there in a couple of weeks time. Do you go fishing at all? My Joe is passionate about it.

    Blessings Gail

  3. That is a fascinating system and I can see how it could be very beneficial when working in all.

    Great post. Love learning about new things. And this is definitely one of them. :)

  4. Good morning Swelsh's, Gail and Money Funk. :- )

    Gail, I do like fishing, Hanno not so much. We have fishing gear here and it was my hope at one stage to do as you are doing and fish locally in a sustainable way. I was given a list the other day about what to catch and what to gently place back. However, we rarely get to the beach now and even though I would love to fish from a jetty near Caloundra, we don't. Maybe it's something I should work towards because I do love to eat fish and we generally have to buy ours at the fisherman's co-op down at the beach.

  5. Hello Rhonda,
    I was just saying yesterday that I would love to convert the old pool into an aquaponics system. I will be doing alot of research before I get into it.
    Thanks for the post

  6. Being an engineer, the whole aquaponics thing fascinates me. I'd love to set up a system, but the space and cost are against me unfortunately.

    It was very interesting to hear about the problems you had. It sounds like anybody just getting into it really should make full use of the forums and get advice from the "old hands". I'll keep that in mind just in case my wish comes true :-).

  7. We found out recently that we have fish in our dam - there was a dead Red Fin on the side! We need to get a fishing rod out and see if there are any live ones :) Neither of us are into fishing though,and I have no idea what to do with the poor fish once I've caught it! Usually they are too small and I throw them back... we'll see!
    I'm so happy about your news of your son's engagement! That is soooo exciting! May God bless their plans.

  8. My husband wants to do this in the worst way, he even wrote a post on our blog about it. I'm uncertain, I think the vegetables are just as good in the ground and the whole growing fish in a container bothers me... I'm not even sure why since I have no problem raising other animals to eat perhaps its that they aren't "free-range" that bothers me :)

  9. Hi Rhonda,
    Thats a great post. I'm sorry to hear the system wasn't working for you, but how would you have known unless you tried it. I bet you did gain something from the lesson and we will be hearing about it at some point in time. It's great to try new things.

    Glad to hear your garden is doing well and thanks for all the photos of the "girls" (Chickens)the other day. I always love to look at them.

    Have a great day.


  10. Wow! You never cease to amaze me! I started following your blog last summer/fall (well, Aug/Sept maybe, fall here, lol), and didn't even know you had done this.
    I've never heard about aquaponics before, so thank you for informing me!

  11. Wow- I have never heard of this! What a neat (and crazy) idea! I don't know if I will ever get the husband to agree to this, but it is nice to dream. wow . . . growing your own fish and food.

  12. This is really interesting. I had watched a video on youtube I think by Gardengirl who used this type of system to start seedlings indoors, but this is the first outdoor system I've seen. Thanks for sharing and I'll have to do some research on it so I can try it.

  13. Wow ... that looks like a really cool system !

  14. Thanks for sharing the info on this. We saw this site and were intrigued. Now I've got more links to check out.

  15. How intriguing. I'd love to do that. Sadly anything involving water is out of the question for us. Im' really struggling to keep what we have alive.

  16. Greetings from Malaysia!
    Just stumbled upon this on the net. Very inspiring Rhonda.
    And I love the note about yourself. Simple yet great philosophy there!
    Wish you all the best.


  17. I know warm water holds less oxygen than cold water. We see fish kills from shallow water overheating here in the Tx summer that's independent of algae bloom. More bubblers to increase dissolved oxygen? Might adding algae scavengers to the system have helped with your algae/oxygen problem. Crayfish and snails perhaps?
    We really want to try this here.

  18. Yes, it would have helped. Also less sun on the water which increased the growth rate of the algae. Good luck when you try it.


Comments with links or email addresses won't be published. All spam and business advertising will be deleted.

Children read my blog so I always make sure the information here is family-friendly. I don't publish comments containing links or email addresses now because I don't have time to check them.

All comments in English, please. Thank you.