The days are longer, sunnier and warmer (if not yet hot!) School will soon be out and the question of how to occupy the kids over the summer becomes problematic in some families. But there can be answers – and ways to teach valuable lessons — as close as your own backyard. There is adventure waiting, as well as fresh food for you and your family to prepare and eat this summer.
Right now, the end of May, is the perfect time to begin. If you don’t have a backyard garden, now is the time to start one. While area Farmers Markets are already selling fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and gearing up for the summer crowds, it is not too late to get in on the fun of growing some of your own foods. It’s easy because there are numerous food-producing plants that do well even in the north Texas heat and sun; it’s a fun diversion and an educational experience for the kids in the family. There is something magical about watching a bean sprout poke through the soil or seeing a flower grow into a cucumber. The best part, of course, is harvesting, cooking and eating the food you have grown! And the growing season in this area extends well into the fall, meaning that those great fall vegetables can be yours for the picking!
At one home in the metroplex, however, there is a new “twist” on the backyard garden. It is an “Aquaponic” system, which has been producing salad greens and kale, herbs such as parsley, basil, dill, rosemary and cilantro, and a variety of other food crops since early March. There are goldfish and tilapia swimming in an adjacent tank. The first harvest of the season at this north Dallas home even included strawberries! Now the owner is picking cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans and yellow peppers. There are additional strawberries (but sometimes the birds get them first!), eggplants and squash developing, and lots more tomatoes to come.
The system of fish tank and raised growbeds was designed and installed by Green Phoenix Farms, (more information is available from their website) and utilizes a closed loop system which combines aquaculture (or fish farming) with hydroponics, meaning that plants are grown in water rather than soil. Each nourishes the other in a symbiotic relationship which requires no additives or chemicals of any kind. Naturally healthy, the fish grow to eating size in about six months’ time, and under normal conditions, the growbeds produce nutritious foods at an amazing rate. In this location, tomatoes planted in soil at the same time as those in the Aquaponic system have yet to produce flowers.
The best part of this type of backyard “farming” is that it is almost self-sustaining, and requires only a minimal amount of electricity to operate. There are several types of systems, and most can be completed by a dedicated DIY’er. Other than feeding the fish and harvesting the “crops,” there is very little work to be done in this garden, with all the associated benefits of growing and eating fresh and nutritious foods, learning about growing cycles, and having fun with the fish. For an increasing number of Aquaponics enthusiasts in this area, it may indeed be the farm of the future.