Saturday, January 29, 2011

Local Gardeners Convert Old Pool Into Aquaponics Garden!

What do you do when you have a swimming pool, small children, and no fence? There are several options; you can put up a fence but a fence is only good if the gate is closed. You can drain it and fill it in which is a safe option or you can do as Dennis and Danielle McClung did, put a garden in it. The McClung’s didn’t put any old garden in it; they built a fully self-sustaining, completely organic, aquaponics garden that not only feeds a family of four, but also functions as a classroom to teach others how to become aquaponics gardeners and provides Nile Tilapia fish fry to help the new aqua-gardeners get started.

Dennis and Danielle McClung converted
their unwanted pool into a sustainable
aquaponic garden.

I was first introduced to the McClung’s through a friend of mine, Donald Jacques, who thought their garden pool might be of interest to me. When I learned that the McClung’s garden pool was completely self-sustaining and that it provided for a large percentage of his family’s food needs, I was in. My goal has always been to be able to raise my own food in limited space and this was this missing piece of my year’s long search to find a solution for my goal. I have tried many other forms of gardening but Mother Nature is not kind to vegetable gardeners in Arizona; it’s too hot in the summer and there is always a risk of frost from November until February. Aquaponics provides a perfect solution for those who want to have highly productive gardens in not-so-friendly gardening environments.

In general, the McClung’s aquaponics garden pool works like this:

The deep end of the pool was filled with water to a depth of about three feet. The water was allowed to stand for about 24 hours in order for the chlorine to evaporate out. Once the water was stabilized, fish are introduced into the water. While any fish will work, Nile Tilapia are the best choice for warm weather climates because they tolerate warmer water temperatures. Another reason they are good choice is that they grow rapidly from fish to fillet in about 9 months. The waste from the fish introduces nutrients into the water. The nutrient rich water is then pumped up into the  Grow Medium in which supports the plant roots. One of the plants that grows well in the fish water is Duckweed. Tilapia and many other fish just love to eat duckweed so it is used to feed the fish. The McClung’s also have incorporated chickens into the system.  The chickens' waste falls into the fish water which stimulates algae and bacterial growth. Algae and bacteria are very important to the system as they introduce oxygen into the water and remove toxic chemicals such as ammonia found in fish urine. The chickens also eat the duckweed which grows in abundance in the McClung’s garden. The plants in the garden also help to maintain the proper ph level in the water which should be about 7.5.

A fish pond is established in the deep end of the pool.  The plants in
The water help to maintain a proper ph od 7.5.  The nutrient rich water
is then pumped up to feed the plants.  The McClungs use Nile Tilapia
which tolerate warmer water temperatures and low oxygen levels.  They
also grow rapidly and are absolutely delicious!

Waste from chickens cooped above the fish pond introduce algae and
bacteria into the water.  The algae and bacteria helps to keep the ph
level in the water safe for the plants and the fish.

Duckweed, which grows rapidly in water pumped up from the fish
pond, is used to feed the fish and the chickens.  It is a key component
in the garden's sustainability.

Plants thrive in the garden pool.  Not only does the fish water provide
a rich source of nutrients for the plants, it also keeps the humidity at levels
that promote healthy plant growth.

Dennis McClung, in blue hat top center, freely shares info on the
garden during one of his tours.  You can arrange a tour by visiting
his website, and joining his meetup group.

Dennis and Danielle McClung explain the importance of chickens
to their garden.

Here is the beauty of the aquaponics garden, it provides fresh vegetables, fresh fish, and eggs from the chickens (the McClung’s won’t eat the chickens as they have become attached to them but that is an individual choice). The only thing left for the McClung’s to buy are staples such as milk, sugar, and bread, but they are experimenting with sugar cane and I imagine wheat could be grown as well in some larger systems.

To learn more about the McClung’s garden pool or to sign up for one of their classes, go to their website: which offers all of the information needed to build your own garden pool. Don’t have a pool, No Problem, the McClung’s also teach classes in barrelponics which uses 55 gallon drums to support the fish and the plants (chickens excluded). Aquaponics gardens can also be built using a 10 gallon aquarium which works well for the hobbyist.

For those who don't have a pool, 55 gallon barrels also work great.
The McClung's teach classes in barrelponics.  To learn how to sign
up visit their website:

Nile Tilapia in an aquarium are used to grow strawberries in
a smaller scale aquaponic garden.

I hope you have enjoyed this post, and that you will consider using an.  aquaponics system.  Oh, by the way, I tasted one of the tomatoes in the McClung’s garden and they are absolutely out of this world.

Until the next time, Happy Gardening!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Seven Tips Tomato Lovers Need To Know or How to Love Your Tomatoes

Have you ever seen those gigantic tomatoes at your local farmer’s market or on exhibit at a fair and wondered how they grow them that big? I used to wonder the same thing too until I stumbled across an article in a popular gardening magazine about pruning tomatoes. Now I had never heard about this before or maybe I had and wasn’t paying attention but in any event it made sense.

Tomatoes, which most culinary institutes and the U.S. Supreme Court consider a vegetable, are technically a fruit. Now I don’t care what the Supreme Court says, trees, bushes, or vines that produce fruit must be pruned; tomatoes are no exception and must also be staked.

Prune Away Shaded Interior Branches

Tomato plants, when young, produce tons (ok an over abundance) of sugar. The only way the plant can use up that sugar is to produce new leaves which leads to rapid, snowballing, growth. Eventually, the plant begins to set fruit and when this happens the weight of the fruits pulls the branches down to the ground; this creates several problems.

A Dead Leaf Caused by Consuming More Sugar Than it Produced. 
This is Typical of Leaves on the Inside of the Plant That are Shaded.  Prune
Away Shaded Branches to Maximize Sugar Production.

First of all when the plant is hugging the ground many of its leaves are shaded from the sun and stop producing sugar. When the leaves start using more sugar than they are producing they turn yellow and die. To keep it from lying on the ground either tie it to stakes or place a tomato cage around it while it is still small.

Another problem caused by plants lying on the ground is that the leaves and often the fruit come into contact with fungus and bacteria that cause disease which is evident in plants with spots on the leaves and fruit.
Avoid Contact With The Ground, Prune Away
Low Hanging Branches.

Finally, when the plant has too many leaves, sugar is diverted from the fruit to the leaf resulting in smaller fruits and less of them. We want to show our tomatoes a little love by maximizing photosynthesis and by keeping them off the ground. Leaves that are in the shade produce less sugar than they consume and the additional sugar needed by the leaves is diverted away from the fruit. By pruning away the branches that are on the inside of the plant and away from the sun, we make the plant more efficient and therefore produce larger, tastier tomatoes. When pruning, it is not necessary to remove all of the inner branches; we only need to remove enough to allow the other inner branches full exposure to the sun. Remember, a shaded leaf is an inefficient leaf but we don’t want to remove leaves that are exposed to the sun and are feeding the fruit. As a rule, if a leaf is exposed to the sun it is producing more sugar than it consumes with the excess going to the fruit.

To wrap this up here do a few rules to follow when loving your tomatoes.

1. Do not let the leaves and vines lie on the ground.

2. Do not plant tomatoes too close together, keep about 3 feet between them.

3. Do not prune plants when they are wet.

4. Prune the plant to allow for maximum leaf exposure to the sun. Leaves in the shade are inefficient and they should be pruned away.

5. Keep the leaves clean and free of dirt or dust which inhibit the leaves ability to make sugar.

6. Love your tomatoes like they are a family member and they will love you back by producing large, healthy, succulent fruits.

7. Practice sustainable gardening by keeping some of the seeds to plant next year.

I hope these tips help and that you have fantastic tomato crop. Please write and leave me your tomato success stories; I like to know if I’ve offered you advice that has helped. Until the next time, Happy Gardening!