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Fish poo to table food: Backyard aquaponics helps in urban farming set up

Urban farming
Jenny Sleep and her family grow everything from lettuce to chillies in their backyard.

ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf

Fresh fruit, vegetables by the dozen, chillies, herbs, chickens, turkeys and fish — it sounds like a bustling market, but it is actually the backyard of the Sleep family in Whyalla, South Australia.

They have set up their own 'urban farm' and found a love for growing all their own fresh produce, prompted by a fussy child who would not eat her vegies.

And they are doing it with the help of a tank of fish.

Jenny and Daniel Sleep have set up an aquaponics system that uses fish waste to feed their produce.

Ms Sleep said they simply cut a rainwater tank down to size, insulated it and added pumps for the silver perch growing in there.

"They like a certain temperature, not too cold and not too hot," she said.

"So basically the fish do a poo and it gets sucked out from the bottom of the tank and goes into the bins, and they mineralise in there and break down, and that is basically the fertiliser for the rest of the system."

Ms Sleep said with aquaponics the produce could grow faster and in a smaller area.

All sorts of produce grown

The Sleep family has trialled a wide range of produce including corn, spring onions, kale and an array of chillies.

Their side fence is lined with new fruit trees, and under the verandah there are pots filled with herbs.

The fish in the aquaponics tank can also be caught and eaten, and the chickens and turkeys play their part as well.

Ms Sleep said it all started when she was looking for new things for her daughter to try.

"My daughter is a fussy eater and she does not like vegetables, so we started growing out of wine barrels and growing salad-type vegetables, and we started to research better methods of producing our own goods," she said.

This is where the aquaponics system came in.

Lettuce pipes
The Sleep family has set up different planting systems to grow a range of fruits and vegetables.

ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf

"The other one is it uses a 10th of the amount of water. The only water lost is through evaporation, and there are no issues with soil-borne diseases."

And the turnaround for most of the produce is quite fast.

"Our lettuce that we grow, we can grow from seed to actually producing food on to the table within six weeks, depending on the time of year," Ms Sleep said.

A social presence

The Sleep family keeps everyone up to date on social media under Whyalla Urban Farming and Australian Urban Farming.

Ms Sleep said a lot more people were keen to learn more about urban farming and the use of aquaponics.

"It's not a new thing, but it is just starting to really get out there and developing a lot more interest," she said.

And the family also shares the meals that they have created with what they have picked that day.

"My daughter's eating habits are improving and she does try new things," Ms Sleep said.

"Sometimes her tastebuds are not the greatest, but I have got a son who will basically eat anything out of our garden, so that's a good thing."