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Backyard Aquaponics System – Unlimited Food Production

This is our fully enclosed organic aquaponics system. Aquaponics is a wonderful way to grow food, herbal medicines, or any kind of plant to be honest. The plants are constantly being fed nutrients from the poop and pee that the fish produce in the pond below.

We protect the garden with a cage enclosure since the squirrels love eating the plants just as much as we do. However, even with the cage on top, that didn’t stop some insects from enjoying the garden. We constantly see bees flying in to pollinate the flowers, but that isn’t the only reason.

We used lava rocks as the grow bed medium for the plants, but it also makes the garden the perfect spot for bees to make pit stops for water. This, in turn, attracts spiders and preying mantises that eat the moths and bees that decide to venture into the garden.

One thing we also did but never had the chance to document was add earthworms to the system. They eat all the dead plant waste in the grow bed and provide extra nutrients for the plants in the form of their castings. You might be asking, “but wouldn’t the worms drown since the grow bed is full of water?” Actually to my surprise no. As long as the water has enough oxygen the worms have no reason to return to the surface of the rocks, and in truth the more oxygen in the system there is the better for the fish and plants as well.

To make sure our pond water was full of oxygen we added a venturi pump, which basically sucks the water in and spits it back out with the addition of extra air. We often saw the goldfish swimming through the bubbles. The fish love it.

This was a very satisfying project that we’ll continue indefinitely. We’ll make sure to update this page as we continue.


First things first, we had to get all the wood we needed for the pond and grow bed. Once we had what we needed it was time to cut and weather treat it.

Once we got all the wood sized it was time to start building the frame for the pond.


We decided to use 3- 1/2 in. x 3- 1/2 in. posts as the frame and use 10″ lag screws to reinforce the frame vertically. You can also see that we used the lag screws horizontally on the first layer of posts to give that bottom level some extra strength.


In the corners, we used some angles to give them some extra support. By the time this was all done the frame was extremely solid.


After the pond frame was done it was time to build the grow bed.


This was our first look at how this was going to fit in the backyard. After seeing this we realized we needed to elevate the grow bed from the pond.


So we got some more posts, sized them up, treated them, and placed them between the pond and the grow bed.


Now we had to get ready to put the pond liner in. We started off by stapling down black felt to smooth out the surface and reduce the risk of punctures.


We also lined the grow bed for additional protection.


This was quite a chore, and that might be because we accidentally ordered about 3 times the amount of pond liner we needed. Oops. Regardless, getting the pond liner to fit and trying to reduce the number of folds on the sides was challenging.


A good amount of the folds smoothed out when we started filling it up with water. While that was going on we started to cut off the excess pond liner and then fastened it to the wood frame.


We tend to like things to be aesthetically pleasing and after about 5 seconds of seeing how the exposed liner looked, we decided to add a wooden frame to the top layer.


Next, we put a liquid pond sealer on the posts to provide waterproofing since they would be in direct contact with water at all times. You’ll notice that the one in the back was cut in half to provide spacing for the pump cords and tubing.


Now that we got the grow bed liner and frame complete it’s now time to install the drains. You’ll see the 2 smaller drains towards the front. Those constantly let the water drain back into the pond. The taller drain in the middle is the overflow preventing the water from going beyond that point.


Once everything was set up it was time to test the system, and it worked great!


Red lava rocks – our medium of choice. We bought several bags of these and then had to clean them so it wouldn’t upset the balance of the system. We would rinse, then dump them onto a wire mesh, spray them off, put them back in another bucket, rinse them again, dump them back onto the mesh, then finally put them in the grow bed. It was a ton of work, but the result was exactly what we wanted.


Here you see us putting all the rocks in the grow bed and making sure that it is all nice and level.


We tested the system again trying to see where puddles would form, so we can add more rocks to prevent algae growth. Obviously, we needed more rocks.


Now that the system is complete we added our first batch of plants (basil, collard green, chard, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and chili peppers) and fish (goldfish and catfish). Push play to get the full experience.


This is about 1 month later. As you can see the plants really took to the system and started to thrive.


Fast forward three and a half months and look at how well all the plants are doing. Don’t they just look positively fabulous?


But the plants aren’t the only ones thriving in the system.


The fish have been constantly growing. The more they grow the more they eat, the more they eat the more they poop, the more they poop the more nutrients are in the water for the plants to enjoy.


So what do you think?



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