AquacultureFishPlant Systems

Backyard Aquaponics

This just in, from Christopher Nesbitt:

Backyard AquaponicsBackyard Aquaponics” is a new book by Joel Malcolm, an innovator in Perth, Australia and is well worth a look.

Aquaponics is a very simple and efficient system involving aquaculture and hydroponics. The system is dependent on plants in grow beds, generally pea gravel, being used to filter out fish manure and other material while aerating the water to maintain oxygen levels.

Joel’s book is substantial, with plenty of information and is broken down into several chapters, spread out over 113 pages of text, photos, graphs and diagrams. In it he does a good job in pulling the reader into the wonderful world of aquaponics by creating a seductive and idyllic picture of the productive system in his backyard.

Backyard Aquaponics is comprised of a book, a DVD and a CD and is substantial, with plenty of information. The information is presented in a clear way, and each chapter leads to the next chapter. Questions that arise while reading generally are answered further on in the text.

The book is broken down into several chapters, spread out over 113 pages of text, photos, graphs and diagrams. The first chapter, “So What Is Aquaponics” explains the concept and components involved in such systems.

Joel does a good job in pulling the reader into the wonderful world of aquaponics by creating a seductive and idyllic picture of the productive system in his backyard.

The second chapter is “Designing and Building A System”, which discusses the many ways to get from nothing to a productive system in your backyard with fish and vegetable production.

Joel discusses the merits of many types of materials and components, and explains how he arrived at the types of components he did. He mentions his preferences, and discusses various alternatives to those components.

He discusses growing media, his grow bed irrigation system and draining system, the flows of water in the system, and the mistakes he has made, while also sharing on experiences of others.

His system is designed using corrugated iron tanks special built to his specifications. He also discusses other tank designs, and offers sound reasoning behind his decision to go with corrugated iron tanks.

Joel uses corrugated iron tanks for both his grow beds and his fish tanks.

The third chapter is devoted to Systems Designs, and covers flood and drain and continuous flow systems. This chapter, like the previous chapters, is well written, and full of information.

This chapter has excellent diagrams of potential system designs, and has detailed information on the components needed to build an aquaponics system like Joel has built. It is based in his system design and includes diagrams showing water flows between the components of the system.

The first part of the fourth chapter, called “The Fish” , covers the needs fish require to maintain health and grow, covering stocking densities and feed quantities.

The balance of the chapter is about the various fish a potential aquaponics system could have. While the information presented in this part of the chapter is Australian centric, a discerning reader could most likely find species whose needs and attributes were suitable for tank based aquaculture in an aquaponics system in their region.

The chapter discusses eight species of finfish and several species of freshwater crustaceans.

The fifth Chapter entitled The Plants, is about the various plant species that can be produced in grow beds in an aquaponics system. It draws heavily on Joels personal experience and is written, as is most of the book, with a contagious enthusiasm that radiates from the page.

Joel discussed various plant species and their suitability for use in an aquaponics system and encourages the reader to “Experiment, experiment, experiment.”

The photo of a grow bed overflowing with several different species of plants is an extremely compelling argument in favor of the aquaponics system.

The sixth Chapter, “Building a System” covers the building of Joel’s system from beginning to end. It is full of photos and offers many tips on construction.

This is the most substantial chapter, vert dense with information, showing each of the steps Joel took between conceptualizing and completion of the system. It discusses how he designed the system, and shows his work. It covers building the structure that houses his system, how the tanks were placed, how the system will work and energy flows internal to the system.

It has a lot of information covering the time between system completion and the first harvest, as well as general maintenance information.

The chapter also includes information on planting regimes, what to look for in sourcing plants or seed, and how to stock the system with fish. With intriguing photos of the completed system, there is plenty of information about how the system operates.

The chapter ends on a very good discussion of the problems of food production and transportation. As elsewhere in the book, Joel does a very good job of presenting information in an accessible manner.

The book is peppered with humour, and Joel, who is obviously well informed on issues of food production, aquaponics chemistry, soil science and regional food security never talks down to the reader.

The book is well written in a friendly manner that is easy to understand, and enjoyable to read.

Armed with this book, I would feel confident to build such a system.

The book by itself gives enough information to establish such a system, however, the other two components pf the Backyard Aquaponics package, the accompanying DVD and CD, are both informative and augment the information in the book with visually appealing clips of Joel and his system.

The DVD has three featurettes covering Flood and Drain systems, Continuous Flow systems, a clip showing the phenomenal growth rate of the vegetables produced in his system, as well as a picture show and some “extra bits Unsorted”.

Joel provides the narrative, with piano accompaniment. The clips show the system at work while discussing the principles of the systems Joel is describing. Joel describes how the components work, and the video shows clearly how the system is set up.

Most of the information in the clips is covered in the book, but seeing the systems physically is a valuable tool to further illustrate the workings of the system, as well as the incredible growth rates of Joel’s vegetables. The DVD component in the Backyard Aquaponics package is very valuable, not to mention enjoyable and inspirational.

The CD has many slide shows as well as excellent Excel documents which cover such topics as Barra growth, pumping cycles, and a materials list to replicate a system like Joel’s. It is a wonderful supplement to the information in the book and DVD.

The author of this review had no regional problems reading the DVD, despite being in another region, nor did I experience any formatting problems using the CD with a Macintosh computer.

Joel’s system is a very impressive accomplishment, noteworthy for its limited resource use, and its productivity. Backyard Aquaponics is a wonderfully informative package of information, a significant contribution to promoting regional food production.

It can be purchased through Joel Malcom’s web site,


  1. Hi! All,
    I came across this by chance and went to his Webb Site and checked it out. I am most impressed and will buy the book and goodies tomorrow. Should make a good Christmas pressie for my wife, it is time she had a new hobby and what could be better than producing fresh fish for our table?
    I have been looking for a system I could build, but this one is well within Fran’s capability, so I should be able to hand over and watch it all happen. As far as I can see from my earlier research, he has all bases covered and what I like is, he looks to have broken it all down into easy sections that are within the skill base of most enthusiasts.
    Gil Robertson

  2. Hi Everyone,
    I have just been to visit Joel and have a look at his wonderful system,What a nice guy he is and we had a coffee and chatted while I quized him about all things both Aqua and Ponic, about his system and I came away with some inside information.A large pumpkin and a bag of his organic oranges.
    It was a great afternoon.Thanks Joel.
    Thanks Dave
    urban aquaculture has gerat potential to be developed and is one of the least applied methods of production in an urban setting.
    Cheers Geoff

  3. Joel, I am very interested in your ideas on aquaponics. From cost to self provision of quality food that our children should have a chance to taste. I would like to be able set up a system with marron. Could you please send me some idea of what the initial set up cost would be to provide for a family of four. I think it is wonderful that you are sharing this information as I believe that the freedom of choice has been taken away from us by ANZFA who will not lable how products are produced.
    Regards Mat
    Hi Mat
    you can contact Joel directly through his e-mail.
    Cheers Geoff

  4. I’m interested to see Joel Malcolm’s backyard aquaponic systems featuring in a permaculture website. What do all of you permaculture producers out there think about these aquaponic systems, water soluable fertilisers and plant obesity? I think these systems may form part of the urban solution (in the search for the holy grail of sustainability). We’re living in a world where ideals need to be thrown out of the window to some extent – ala Tim Flannery and his sulphur dioxide solution to climate change. Does anyone have a take on this?

  5. I agree we need to rethink our approach to many of the world s problems Highly recommend Peter Andrews Books ” Beyond the brink”
    I am looking at building a natural pool and pond and incorporating some fish into the system in an aquaponics style but am a little wary of growing veggies without dirt. Aquaponics is probably a better approach than hydroponics but would like to see some research on the nutrient value of veggies grown with aquaponics
    Anyone know of any info

  6. Hi Steve, Check out Aquaponics Made Easy DVD available from the PRI shop. It explains the whole process of constructing an Aquaponics System from either a kit or recycled bathtub system. We were so impressed with Aquaponics that we now have a system growing food in our own backyard. It REALLY works! Plants grow like crazy – all powered on fish poo. Its a new industry and Australians are taking to it like never before. Suppliers are now making “Organic Fish Pellets” as there was some concern with commercially bought fish pellets being unsustainable and depleting fish reserves. You can also make your own fish food from harvesting black soldier flies or growing duckweed which has a high protein content. Google “Aquaponics HQ” and read more about it in that forum.

  7. Be very cautious of information sold by suppliers that sell hardware as well! Thats not good business! We are currently doing our PDC after spending many months building, studying & researching Aquaponic & hydroponic systems. We tested many different growth methods & found the most productive. Firstly, plants need more than just fish poo to grow to a “healthy” mature size. The plant needs to be beneficial to us by way of what it stores in carbohydtrates. This also keeps a lot of pests away as the plant is very healthy through to harvest. Any Aquaponic & hydroponic grower will tell you they are in constant battle with pests, why? Because their plants don’t have sufficient mineral levels to keep the carbohydrates up! Their plants grow rapidly because of the nitrogen & the constant supply of water. That does not mean the plant has the health benfits to pass onto us! Plants need good humus, full stop! Please, do not believe everything you are told, from the hydroponic or aquaponic industries. We spent almost 5 years speaking with anyone that we could find & finally found through our own trial & error that plants need nitrogen & “ALL” minerals to keep us healthy! We were achieving mature growth in many different breeds of lettuce in our aquaponic systems within 25 days when adding the “Aquaponic” recommended nutrients which achieved unsatisfactory carbohydrate levels. We started adding a complete & natural mineral blend which obtained the same growth rates but doubled the carb levels in the plants. We even noticed a major difference in taste & our overall health.
    Please do your own complete research before investing time & money, also have a look at wicking beds with very wide open eyes & mind!
    Good learning

  8. Thanks Scott – this is an area I’ve no experience in (aquaponics) but which my soil science study makes me very cautious of. I’d like to eschew hyroponics systems, and would like to know how aquaponics is that much different from it. It doesn’t seem to be to me.

  9. Craig,
    My limited experience with aquaponics (which is not a title I will be using in business!) & the very experienced contacts I have made in aquaponics, hydroponics & aquaculture tell me you are correct. You must input to receive output, whether it be nutirents out of a bag, a bucket or a fish’s A*#? which you still have to feed every day to get the nitrogen. I showed a 27 year hydroponic veteran why he constantly had pests by using a brix metre.(refractometer) When we finally realised why we had pests it was like finding utopia! We went from $60+/week in bottled nutirents to about $5/week in blue metal crusher dust (60+ essential minerals in every spoon full!!!)
    There are mulitple outcomes from water based plant growth in aquaponics. We persevered to plug in all sorts of trials which gave us good feeds of fish, red claws & more greens than we could manage, our friends got a lot of basil & lettuce! Some of the aquaponic ‘sales” people make some really extroidanary claims which when tested are found to be simply false.
    So, to answer your statement directly, they are the same but aquaponics has potential for multiple outcomes. Now if you integrated aquaculture, water harvesting & wicking beds with constant water flow from your fish ponds. Now your really talking mulitple outcomes. Hang on, that sounds like “Permaculutre”
    I’m a big advocate of doing your own research before jumping in feet first!

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