We’re building an aquaponics garden!

I’ve learned very important lesson as a mother. It’s how to get my family to do things that they might not want to do. Some may call it manipulation, but I prefer to refer to it as mutually beneficial collaboration.

For example, if I want my youngest to take interest in something, all I have to do is to tell him, “It’s very rare, precious and incredibly expensive”….which is how I got him to try raw oysters. When I order a platter of oysters, I go through my little ritual of intently examining each and every one, squeezing just ONE drop of fresh lemon juice and meticulously placing just a couple of Maldon sea salt flakes in each. I savor each oyster as if it were the most precious commodity in the world, making sure that I don’t spill a single drop of brininess.

This ritual isn’t for MY benefit, but for Nathan. (For the record, when he’s not present, I slurp ’em like a champ and can eat 2 dozen in 5 minutes – just ask Elise and Guy) I explained to Nathan that not everyone can eat oysters (leaving out the fact that 94% of them are just grossed out by raw oysters) and that only sophisticated, worldly and enlightened individuals could enjoy them. You know what happened next….he wanted to prove to me he was mature and had a developed palate. He ate one….and as he chewed, chewed, chewed and tried to swallow the slimey thing, I had to pinch my thigh hard to not laugh.

Every muscle in his face squeezed tight and it looked like his mouth was playing Twister, wrestling with the oyster. Then he grabbed for his chocolate milk as a chaser, which probably made things worse (blech!) But of course, he HAD to say he liked it.

To this day, he still eats the first oyster on my plate – I just know he doesn’t care for it, but he always asks and he takes it down like a man. A sophisticated man.

To get both kids to enjoy salads and most vegetables, I got them to help me garden. This was a much easier task than oysters.

They help me decide what veg to grow and they’re responsible every day watering, harvesting and chasing the chickens from the salad greens.

The garden you see here is our Earthbox and raised beds. Instead of covering the soil with mulch or hay, we tarped the entire bed and poked holes in when we planted each seedling. The tarp is held in place with ratcheting straps around the outside of the bed. This prevents weeds, helps the soil keep moisture and all the nutrients. Oh and during the winter, the black tarp helps the soil retain heat. When we water the garden, the water only goes where the plants are, so we save quite a bit of water.

Next season, I’d like to find thick burlap to use instead of plastic tarp.

(That’s Nathan using Swiss Chard as a sunshade for his brother.)

Now that you know about my boys, let me tell you about how I got Scott interested in aquaponics and hydroponics:

No, this isn’t a new Maxim competitor. It’s a HYDROPONICS MAGAZINE. Really!!! (Hydroponics = gardening without soil)


Between the pages with photos of bikini babes, are articles like, “Protecting your young plants from morning frost with a DIY garden cloches made with a wine bottle” and “How to battle slugs with copper tape and diatomaceous earth.”

Bravo….well done, publishers. You’ve finally figured out how to get men interested in gardening!!

That is, until I figured out why the magazine’s name is Rosebud, which has nothing to do with a little precious flower or Citizen Kane. Rosebud is a slang term for marijuana.

Ooooooooh…..now I get it. DUH!

Well, it turns out that Scott really is interested, but not for the obvious reason above.

A couple of weeks ago, he helped me assemble a Windowfarms, which I had backed on Kickstarter a while ago. After we set it up, I looked at the system and thought to myself that this is really expensive for small plastic pots, tubing and fish tank pump. My Windowfarms came with chemicals – liquid plant food that I had to feed weekly to the plants. It just seemed….unnatural.

Because there is no soil, the plants have no way to get nutrients unless you feed them manually. I felt like a chemist, using a small pipette to add 6mL of one thing and 8mL of another into the water.

I told Scott that hydroponics just lost its appeal to me. I’d rather dig in dirt! Play with worms! Spread homemade compost!

But what about Aquaponics, which is a soil-less garden system that uses fish to complete the cycle?

I showed him this Kickstarter campaign for a home aquaponics system, which I immediately backed and after watching a few YouTube videos on home aquaponics, he asked the magic question: Why is it so difficult to set up an aquaponics system for the home garden? 

Which led me to say, “It’s really difficult to set up. I don’t know of anyone, other than strangers on YouTube, that has built one in their backyard. What would be really cool is if the whole thing was AUTOMATED and you could control it with your iPhone.”

Which led him to say, “I bet I could do it.”

Which led me to silently give myself a high-five.

And now, he’s obsessed…. a geeky factor into gardening!

Within days, he scoured Craigslist for food-safe “totes” – which are 275 gallon plastic containers.

One for the fish (we’ll raise tilapia), and the others are cut down for the garden beds.

That night, we had a “Steamy Kitchen Board of Directors Meeting” during dinner to explain to the boys the difference between Hydroponics and Aquaponics (fish!) and planning out how the system will be set up.

I have the best Board of Directors, ever.

Oh, and I ended up feeding the Windowfarms hydroponics system some compost tea that I brewed instead of something called Formula CN-17. So far, so good. I haven’t killed anything yet.