Preserving the Environment

Can You Grow All Your Food in an Old Swimming Pool?

September 3, 2014
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Can You Grow All Your Food in an Old Swimming Pool?
Dennis McClung turned his swimming pool into a food garden. Screengrab via Vimeo
This Mesa, Arizona family does; now, they're teaching others their sustainable ways.

With the rise of green living, it seems like gardens are popping up everywhere: in backyards and abandoned lots and on rooftops. However, when the McClung family moved into their Mesa, Ariz. home in 2009, they took one look at the empty swimming pool in their backyard and saw an opportunity for something completely unique.

They turned their swimming hole into something they’ve dubbed the Garden Pool, and over the past five years, it’s changed the McClung’s life, as well as foster a whole new sustainability movement.

So what exactly is a Garden Pool?

It’s a former swimming pool turned closed-loop ecosystem boasting everything from broccoli and potatoes to sorghum and wheat to chickens, tilapia, algae and duckweed. The food produced in the McClung’s Garden Pool is enough to feed their family of five —  cutting up to three-quarters of their monthly grocery bill.

Instead of soil, the Garden Pool grows its plants in clay pellets or coconut coir. Any excess moisture drops from it into the pond below, which, combined with a rain catchment system, means that the garden requires only a small fraction of watering compared to what is usually needed in a conventional garden. A transparent plastic roof covers the in-ground pool.

In addition to less watering, the Garden Pool doesn’t need commercial fertilizer, either. That’s because the chicken excrement falls through a wire mesh covering a portion of the pond, feeding the algae and duckweed that grows in it. In turn, the tilapia living in the pond then consume those plants and release their nitrogen-rich feces. Using a solar-powered electric pump, this enriched fish-water is funneled into the hydroponics system which grows the family’s produce.

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Sounds complicated, right?  The McClungs assure that it actually isn’t as difficult as it seems. In fact, over the past five years, they’ve brought garden pools to a dozen other homes in and around Phoenix. And that’s just the beginning, since Garden Pool is now a certified 501(c)3 nonprofit, it’s helping people across the country and globe start their own.

This past spring, Garden Pool joined forces with Naturopaths Without Borders and traveled to Haiti to construct a garden pool. The group also helped start about three dozen more across the country — from Palm Springs to Toledo to Florida.

But you don’t need Dennis and Daniella McClung around to create your own Garden Pond, since the couple offers a number of free online tutorials such as “Getting Started in Barrelponics” and “Growing Duckweed,” plus a 117-page how-to book containing detailed instructions, pictures, diagrams and links to video tutorials.

The McClungs are nowhere near finished — recently, they added pygmy goats as well as various fruit and nut trees to their Garden Pool.

For Dennis, doing this work is a dream come true.

“I love it,” he told Grist. “I dream about it. What inspires me is watching families’ lives being changed, watching communities change, observing the change.”

Not bad for a guy who started with an empty swimming pool, right?

MORE: The Surprising Second Life of Urine

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