I’m Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

This post has been months in the making.  I have literally been thinking about this post for about four months now, and it’s all finally matured to the point where I can share everything with you.  I’m growing food including edible fish in a greenhouse in my back yard using a system called aquaponics.  Yes, I live on a small plot of land in New York City, and if you have even the tiniest bit of room in a spit of an apartment, you can do something like this too.

First, a disclaimer.  I am a science geek and love these kinds of experiments. I also like gardening as long as I can get the dirt from under my fingernails.  So, I combined my love of experimenting with my love of gardening to complete this project.  Oh, and I have that biology degree hanging on my mom’s wall.  It might not be for everyone, but it’s worth sharing.  It’s time for a science class kids!

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the hybridization of hydroponics where food is grown with just water and no dirt, and aquaculture, where fish are farmed.  Say what? Well, in aquaponics, you grow fish in tanks and use the water in the fish tanks and all of the fish waste as fertilizer to grow your pants.  It’s called a closed-loop system since theaquaponics cycle - I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics water is not discarded, and if everything is done correctly, you do not need to add much to the system to keep it going.  I’ve put an awesome little diagram explaining the system to the right.

Wait, isn’t hydroponics for growing weed?

You might have heard of hydroponics before because yes, lots of home growers use that system for growing their recreational herbaceous smokies.  I’m not a smoker, so the only green and leafy things growing in my yard end up on my plate.  But, if one wanted to use such a system for that purpose, it’s certainly viable.  I’m not endorsing anything, I’m just saying that it’s a possibility.

What’s The Purpose Of An Aquaponic System?

This system is actually highly efficient for growing both a protein and vegetable source, especially in areas where water is scarce.  Growing vegetables take a tremendous amount of water as anyone who has ever watered their lawn can attest.  When plants are grown hydroponically, nutrients normally found in soil must be added to the water.  Eventually, that water must be tossed out. The same is true of farmed fish.  Fish produce an abundance of waste water which must also be tossed out, potentially polluting drinking water through run off.

By marrying these two processes, water will leave the system only when absorbed by plants or through evaporation.  Fish waste is carried to plants in grow beds that do not contain soil.  The fish waste is converted to nutrients for the plants.  When the waste is absorbed by the plan the result is clean water which is then returned to the fish tank.  It’s probably

I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

My cute butternut squash

the most ingenious thing that I have ever heard of.

What Can Be Grown In An Aquaponics System?

Because this entire system is water based, plants that do well with water would be best.  Plants such as potatoes will not work well with aquaponics, but your cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peas, lettuces, herbs, spinach and strawberries will love it – at least that’s what I’ve been successfully growing in mine.  I also have beets going, and while they haven’t died yet, it’s too early to yank them out to tell how well they’re growing.  The best part about my system is that I have grown every single thing that I mentioned from seeds.  There was no spending money on seedlings because, well, I’m cheap {catchphrase baby!}.

Wanna See My Aquaponics System In Action?

Alright you’ve heard the background information, but what you really want to see if my system in action, don’t you? Go on. Go look at my system.  I built the deck myself and my BF and I put the greenhouse together.  He actually bought the greenhouse for me as a birthday gift.  What can I say? He knows that flowers isn’t my thing, but a greenhouse? Way to a nerd’s heart.

We also built the grow beds and hacked a rainwater barrel into our fish tank.  I’m not going to kill you with details, but I am going to show off with these photos. Click to enlarge.

I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

My sweet greenhouse at night.

I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

Cucumbers and squash.

I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

Tomatoes and other edibles.

I'm Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

My fish in the tank!

Want More Information?

If you’ve made it this far, I’m proud that I didn’t completely bore you to death.  I would be happy to provide a bunch of resources for you but I will say that you can build a simple, in house system to experiment with and then move to a larger system outdoors when Spring rolls around next year.

Finally, I leave you with the grandfather of the aquaponics movement, Murray Hallam. I hope that this video will get you interested in potentially growing some of your own food.

P.S. All of the photos here were taken in the greenhouse!

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30 thoughts on “I’m Growing Food In My City Back Yard With Aquaponics

  • Sandy, that looks so awesome! I may have to give this a try next year. I’d try it indoors, but we just don’t have the room. Well, that and I don’t think my wife would look to kindly on growing fish in the house… 🙂 Have you had any of the fish yet?

    • Some of the fish are ready to be eaten, but I’m waiting for them to get even bigger! I love watching them grow from about 2 inches long to a good 8 inches long and fat now! And you can make a tiny system indoors with a normal fish tank! I’ve seen it done with a 30 gallon fish tank. I’d be happy to send you some details. You can have ornamental fish and grow stuff right on top of your fish tank. It’s pretty awesome.

  • Sandy,
    glad that you poste this. are you using talapia as your fish? I’ve heard that they are the most common for aquaponics. I’m thinking that I’ll have to try this sometime. Glad iv’e got outbuildings so I dont even need to build a green house!

    • Yep, I’m using tilapia! They’re hardy, grow quickly, eat almost anything (although I’m feeding them duckweed) and can survive my winters with a water heater in the tank.

  • This is a sweet setup! I’d love to see a post on the $ you spent setting it up and the yield it will bring. I started an urban garden on my balcony this past summer and I really enjoyed it + the ROI on veggies wasn’t too bad either.

    • Yeah the money was.. Uhm lots only because of the cost of the greenhouse. However, we did get it on sale! It was about $400 because we bough it off season. We also bought the lumber on clearance because they were bent. I think that with the cost of the fish, the pumps, etc, we spent close $900 on everything.

      I’m going to say that we plan on running this thing year-round. So far we have yanked lots of tomatoes, spinach, lettuce and herbs from the greenhouse. I have about 6 squash on the vines and more cucumbers than I can count. I’m probably going to juice them.

      We plan on adding prawns in one of the grow beds as well to increase the crops as well. Finally, we plan on allowing our fish to have babies so that we will not need to purchase fish.

      We ARE thinking of adding solar panels to make everything self-sustaining. I know, I’m nuts.

    • Yes! They’re going to be dinner at some point. I’m going to foist that job off to mom. She can dispatch the fish for me. I’m a little squeamish.

    • This is one of the most exciting posts that I have seen on a personal finance blog! I am completely blown away and envious. We have a small garden in our backyard, and I am also extremely picky about any fish I eat because of the environmental consequences of the majority of both farmed and wild caught fish. This seems like a perfect solution! Since we are moving to New York soon I don’t think it’ll be put into practice immediately, but I am definitely bookmarking this and using it as a goal for the future.

      • Welcome fellow New Yorker! I am very picky about the fish that I eat after visiting a fish farm for an Ecology class about 12 years ago. I was so disgusted that I pretty much stopped eating most seafood. I spent two years learning everything about Aquaponics and them getting my BF up to speed on it. He’s the one who said, “let’s do this” even though he’s allergic to seafood! He likes being able to control what is being put into our vegetables as well… Plus, he likes having bragging rights with the neighbors. 🙂

    • Maybe just the initial process of getting it up to speed was a lot more work. But after that, there is literally no weeding or anything. My fish feed themselves with plants that I have floating and growing on top of the fish tank. I spend about 10 minutes per day in there now just picking stuff, moving the growing vines, watching the fish swim and making sure that nothing is clogged.

  • Nice system kinda reminds me of the green house from Minority Report. I remember growing up in South Carolina everyone had a garden and everything was fresh. But how much would one of those things cost?

    • The green house was the most costly thing. I did one only because I’m in New York and want to have this run for the entire year. I cheap system can cost you less than $100 including a fish tank, pumps, air stones and fish.

  • ” I’m not a smoker, so the only green and leafy things growing in my yard end up on my plate.”

    LOL.

    Great pictures and thanks for the insight! We have a chain here called the Switched On Gardener that’s all about hydroponics – ostensibly for this kind of thing but in reality, well…

  • Wow. That’s crazy. I’m tempted to show Mr. PoP, but then he’ll want to replicate it!
    Do you have issues with bugs?
    Are you growing pesticide free?
    Do you get fungus on your squash from all the excess moisture? (We got powdery mildew on almost all the squash we planted on the ground in FL…)

    • All great questions.
      Bugs: Mosquitoes are not my friend. They have a of my blood. They were initially a major problem with the floating raft bed, but once it was fully covered and we began circulating the water, they pretty much died. We get some, but they’re finally all dying now.

      Pesticides: None. We just add iron and seaweed extract to the system. We could just toss some rusty nails into the beds for iron, but I’m afraid of puncturing the pond liner.

      Fungus: We had a problem with one of the vines. It got white fungus on it and basically died. The others are surviving so far. The cucumbers really held up and are going NUTS. What you don’t see is that the vines run under the beds as well. They went bonkers.

  • I’m fascinated by this and have been watching / reading about it for a while. My biggest worry is the lack of diversity in the system and I am wondering if there is a way to bring some more diversity into the system. If I was settled I would definitely set up a system to play with, I don’t eat fish though so not sure what I would do with those!

    • When you speak about diversity, do you mean bio-diversity such as the plants that are grown? I can say that there are a lot of plants that CAN be grown with this system. I’m using floating rafts in one bed and hydroton (clay) balls in the other bed. That way I can have plants that don’t mind having their roots submerged all day and plants that will get water running through their roots a couple of times every hour, but will not stay wet.

      That allows me to grow a decent amount of vegetables. I’ve seen the following grown in Aquaponics: okra, green leafy veggies (kale, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, etc.), papaya, peas & beans, herbs, tomatoes, vined veggies/fruit (cucumber, pumpkin, squash, zucchini), strawberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots, etc. How’s that for diversity!

      With regards to fish, you can try different kinds of fish including ornamental fish since you’re a vegetarian. They can be pretty to look at and provide the same function. I’m also adding prawns to increase my yield so I’ll have fish, prawns and veggies to harvest from my system.

  • I have seen a few Aquaponics videos, but reading your post made me really interested in trying it out. I’m sure my wife will agree with me that it is a great idea to grow our own greens and a few fishes in a water tank. We both like to eat healthy and this project will surely benefit us both. However, I’m lazy as hell and won’t go through with it. Also.. that looks like a green house.. umm hmm

    • But I took it to the extreme, so yes, it’s a greenhouse! You can totally do this indoors or in your garage or something with a tiny setup. If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you can run an aquaponics system of the same size.

      Personally, my BF wanted this for spinach, lettuce and collared greens especially after the last e. coli scare.

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