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!


  1. My concern would be how filthy the water is with chicken waste falling into it all the time. The fish are then drinking that waste constantly and then you eat the fish...

    I have a tropical aquarium myself so I know how the nitrogen cycle works but the bacteria do not instantly convert the solid and liquid waste into ammonia->nitrites->nitrates, it takes some time. During that time the fish are living in a toxic cesspit and it can't be healthy for them. Nitrates are toxic at high levels and the algal growth in the pond suggests that there is a lot of nitrate in there... Well there would be with so much waste falling into it!

    I would change this system to remove chicken waste from the pond and just use the fish waste to grow edible plants (fish produce enough waste on their own!).

    The chicken waste could be diverted to a separate system (without fish) to grow duckweed and other chicken / fish feed (which could be cleaned well before feeding the fish with it). That way chicken waste would not be getting into your edible fish but would still be put to use.

    Chicken waste can contain salmonella which is why I would not want it in my human consumption pond.

    Other than this the system is good.

    1. Thank You Anonymous for your comments; you bring up a great point about the chicken manure.. I have to admit that it made me a little squeamish too at first. You might want to comment on The Garden Pool Blog as they are much more qualified to respond to your concern than I am, however, your concern has forced me to start digging for some answers as it is a well know fact that about 5%-10% of chicken manure does contain the salmonella pathogens. However, once the fish eat it, it may no longer be a concern. I also know that the majority of farm-raised tilapia are fed chicken manure directly as a component of their diet, however, I like your idea of independent systems too. Great Comment....keep them coming!

    2. It should be said Salmonella and E coli are a direct result of industrial farming which forces billions (8 billion with chickens anyways) of animals to live in worse than concentration camp situations. Remember when eggs could be eaten raw and were healthy, and fresh meat could also be eaten raw?