Tuesday, 16 June 2015

March 2015 Part I - Swimming with the fish

Starting with a list of our failures is not the way to inspire confidence... trust perhaps, but not confidence! 

But we are on a journey and journeys sometimes have flat tyres and detours - we fix them and we move on and tell tales about them when we get where we were going!

Seeing as we only recently moved in, and getting our rentable spaces ready for tenants is the biggest priority right now, our aquaponics has taken a bit of a back seat. First of all it took us a while to be able to fetch our gear from our previous house. And by that time many of the plants in our system had died. 
Perennial Basil,
Yellow Plum Tomato plant
and one of our Koi

When we were able to fetch our system, we brought the fish over first. We had Koi and Tilapia in one system, but the Tilapia died soon after the move due to a number of factors - not the least of which was the fact that we didn't have sufficient filtering capability without the rest of the system i.e. the planter. We really struggled to filter the Koi water sufficiently so made it a priority to fetch our planters. It was a good lesson for us about how efficient the planter actually was as a filter!

We cleaned the existing fish pond, mounted the planter on some bricks in the middle and got the pump going - the water went from soupy to crystal clear in a couple of hours! You can see the Koi pond here with some perennial basil dominating and a little yellow plum tomato plant peeking out on the right. For the planter we just used a black Big Jim crate, which originally had a bell siphon in the centre as we wanted to try an ebb and flow system. (If these terms are confusing right now, don't stress!) But not it is a continuous flow system.

You can see the pond in the far corner of the property in the picture of the pool. There are 4 Koi in this system currently - about the limit for this pond I think! I made the remark that I wished our swimming pool water was that clear as the Koi water and that got us thinking - what about a natural pool / fish pond / aquaponics reservoir all in one. You can see the work of South African natural pool companies here and here.

Our pool is massive - 11.5m x 6m - and over 2.2m deep in the deep end so it works out at over 120 000l. And the pool pump leaked so we had to keep filling it up until we fixed the leak, until it sprung another leak... Oh bother! It just seems such a waste to spend all that time and money and chemical input to keep a pool dead. I'm sure it can't be healthy soaking yourself in that much chlorine on a regular basis - I'd much rather support a natural balance!

By Clear Water Revival (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons
The whole interior needs resurfacing anyway, and with such a huge pond we can easily afford to use some of the space for a gravel bed and some water plants. I'm not sure if we'll be able to afford the finance to do the whole thing this winter - but I'm hoping we can do it next winter!

From what I already understand of natural pools, they use water plants and a gravel bed as the filter - we are guessing we won't need so many water plants as we'll also filter the water through our aquaponics system. Most natural pools we've seen don't incorporate fish - I'm sure there is a way to do it though. We are thinking of making it possible for fish to use the whole pool when there are no human swimmers, but simultaneously providing a designated spot they can retreat to while there is swimming going on. If anyone gets squeamish about swimming in the water with the fish, I'll remind them that people swim in dams and lakes and in the sea all the time!

In the image of our pool above, you can see another black crate to the left of the pond - that is actually a crate resting in an old bath that has been sunk into the ground, with a small solar powered pump - another aquaponics system in the making. That system doesn't have fish in it currently - but we are getting there! 

What we did get from that system though is a batch of lettuce seeds as pictured here - your lettuce plant will get to a point where it 'bolts' i.e. the stem grows longer - culminating in a flower head. These flowers bloom and then later close and start to dry out. 

Lettuce seeds are ready to be picked when the flower heads are fluffy i.e. ready to fly away. Pick them and rub them between your fingers to release the seeds, then blow gently to lift the chaff. 

You can see two different types of seeds - dark and light - in the image here. I got these particular lettuce plants in a mixed pack, so I'm happy to mix the seeds. Apparently lettuce varieties don't cross readily - this makes seed saving quite simple!

Speaking of seeds, this image of my seedlings and cuttings, taken past 7pm in the evening, gives you an idea of when I get to do my gardening! I made a joke on Facebook the other day about how when you are working full time you can't get all your gardening done in the daylight hours - 

'Some call it urban permaculture, 
I call it 'Gardening in the Dark'
You can see some Sansevarias on the left in this image - I found a plant at a nursery that was practically bursting the growing bag it was in - so bought the plant and split it into a number of individual plants that I could put in my house - and give away as gifts! 

The polstyrene containers were rescued and recycled and I used to plant my herbs seeds and various small cuttings I collected. The plastic storage baskets have worked really well for storing my seed trays - I can bring them in if it is too hot outside, or if the rain is too heavy, but can put them outside when necessary. 

March was quite a busy month - so look out for Part II of our March update!

Until then, what are your thoughts on natural swimming pools? Have you ever swum in one? (other than an actual lake or dam!) If you have a swimming pool yourself, would you ever consider converting?


  1. The new pond is beautiful, and the pool looks relaxing as well. Your idea of turning the pool into a pond is a wonderful idea, and I hope that it goes well for you. It looks like the seeds that you have planted are really starting to take off. Mine are just now coming out of their cups, so I hope to see tall plants soon.

  2. I do love the idea of using koi fish to naturally clean out your pond, I've never heard of such a method until now and it seems a very eco-friendly and natural way to do it. Then again, I am a newcomer to these blogs, so I'll make sure to look into your posts more frequently!

    Bernice Cunningham @ Guardian Industries