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Backyard Duckponics

Meet Harry and Stella, a pair of Cayuga ducklings and newest additions to our flock this summer. They are a quiet and hardy breed, the males whispers while females make more of a distinct “quack”.

At three weeks old, they weren’t quite old enough to swim in the big pond. Their downy coat isn’t completely waterproof and they can drown if left unsupervised.

Here you can see their adult feathers coming in. Ducks don’t necessarily need to have a pond to swim in; they just need a lot of clean water to dabble and dunk their heads in, clearing their nostrils of dirt and debris.

The two are inseparable. Ducks are much more polite and won’t scratch up your garden like chickens do. They are also excellent foragers, eating bugs and snails in the garden without tearing it to shreds. They also gobble up mosquito larvae.

Harry and Stella grew extremely fast. Here they are at six weeks old. I’m using Honey and Persia for size reference.

Five weeks later, they have doubled in size, fully feathered out, and towering over Honey. Time to put them to work. Where there are ducks, there is poop, perfect for the ‘duckponics’ project. Our basement aquaponics is still thriving, but I wanted to grow outside and make better use of the pond and real sunshine.

Once a week, this harvest comes out of our basement. It makes me very happy.

These balcony planters from Home Depot were inexpensive and the perfect size. They came with a drain hole which we plugged up, drilling a slightly larger hole for drainage.

Once drilled, the fittings for the bell siphon is threaded together.

Other pieces of pipe are added, the height of the pipe will determine the height of the water. It should be one inch below the surface of the clay pebbles.

Hardware cloth is cut for the media guard. This will keep the pebbles from falling into the drain and clogging it up. It also allows for easy maintenance of the drain.

Zip ties are used to hold the media guard together.

Here’s what the finished media guard looks like.

The clay hydroton is washed and carefully added to the grow bed with the media guard in place.

You can see how the media guard keeps the pebbles away from the drain of the bell siphon.

The “bell” cap that sits over the drain is a plastic IKEA cup with slits cut. Once air reaches this level (about an inch from the bottom), the water stops draining and starts to fill up again. I like that it’s clear, so that you can see how well the siphon is working.

The black rubber hose is dipped in hot water to help it slide easier onto the connection points.

Done! The pump is always on, feeding dirty water into the growbed. The bell siphons do an excellent job in automatically draining the filtered clean water back into the pond. A virtually maintenance-free, self-watering, self-feeding system.

Harry and Stella took to it like ducks to water. French salad mix, yu choy, nasturtium, herbs, and green bush beans were seeded directly in the pebbles. Chicken wire lids had to be made to keep the chickens and rabbits out of the “salad bar”.

Cilantro, basil, dill…

and yu choy.

I found that the duckponics worked better than the aquaponics system as I didn’t have to add any supplements (glacial dust). The duckponics bed also produced more beans than the bush beans grown in soil. Next year I will definitely try tomatoes and other heavy feeders.

Plenty for everyone!

Harry and Stella at four months sneaking some lettuce.

  • Mark - This is so awesome – thanks for showing all your hard work. I almost got some Muscovy Duck’s last weekend but Kelly said they are too ugly… will have to look up more info on Cayuga’s.

    Do you use them for eggs or meat too? We’re looking for duck companions that are friendly, good layers and for meat.

    And crazy question, but your duckponics… does it assume ducks usually poo in the water? I get enough chicken poo between my toes already…ReplyCancel

  • Basement Aquaponics & Raising Tilapia » FreestyleFarm - […] Summer Update: We’ve switched it up! Ducks instead of fish…visit this link for Backyard Duckponics. […]ReplyCancel

  • Jill - Hi Mark! I agree with Kelly, Muskovies are pretty gruesome looking! Cayugas are suppose to be good meat birds as well as layers. I’m looking forward to the first egg in a month or so! Stella and Harry are somewhat skittish, but if you raise from ducklings, they will imprint and follow you around. I just haven’t spent as much time with them. They like routine and everything just so…otherwise you will hear about it. YES! they poop as soon as they hit the water…and they poop everywhere else too. I really like ducks!ReplyCancel

  • Marci Lipman - You are living my dream. I can’t believe you can do all this in a backyard in the city. What a treat to see how it all happens. Bravo!ReplyCancel

  • Julie Meeks - I love this idea! I just found my first hatch of Tilapia today in my aquaponics system. I have chickens but this duck idea is great. That just might be my next project. Have you tried anything with the rabbits in the way of aquaponics?ReplyCancel

  • Anna Herman - Thank you for sharing the execution of this idea. What sort of pump would you recommend? Does the pump pump water into each of the the three beds through seperate hose connections from the pump, or are the beds connected? Does the pump and/or pond need to be cleaned out of muck, or does this filtration through the planted beds keep the water clean enough. I am thinking to use a stock tank for my “duck pond” and to pump the water through grow beds to keep it fresh…I wasn’t sure whether it would clean things sufficiently. If you have time and inclination to answer I would be quite appreciative…best, Anna in PhiladelphiaReplyCancel

  • dk - Wonderful~! What do you do for winter greens? Still using aquaponics in the basement?ReplyCancel

  • Luv2sail67 - Thank you for the great visuals. Do you have a picture of the bell installed? For some reason I’m having trouble with figuring out the slits for the siphon and where they go.ReplyCancel

  • JAIME - GREAT STUFFReplyCancel

  • Dana - This looks great! Can I ask-You refer to a pump…is there a pump installed (and where?)-or does it work as a passive system?ReplyCancel

  • Nancy - Hi- this is beautiful! I am in the beginning stages of trying to make this work at my house, as well. Like several other posts, I too am wondering about a pump. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

    • Jill Chen - I get my pumps from a fish store that sells aquariums, or if I want something more powerful, a pond pump from the garden centre or Home Depot. It will depend on your set up and how high the water needs to pump up to.ReplyCancel

  • Ken - how is this working out to keep the water clean. I am just planning my duck area now.ReplyCancel

  • Chinese Salted Duck Eggs » FreestyleFarm - […] and her brother Harry were the Cayuga ducklings that were first “hired” to power our duckaponics system last summer. Now, in addition to helping us grow vegetables, she also provides gorgeous XXXL […]ReplyCancel

  • eric hendricks - sounds like a great addition to the yard.ReplyCancel

  • Tony - How is this system working out for you? Do two ducks provide enough nutrient loading to support those beds? I’m putting together a system of my own and yours is very inspirational. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Todd - What a wonderful site a friend of mine referred me to… and it’s just what we want to do here in Guatemala, in finding ways that some of the poorest people who suffer from great malnutrition might be able to survive. Many of them do not have electricity so we will have to find ways to run a pump without it… hopefully solar will do the trick… but we can implement your basement growing practices outdoors.

    I’m going to be a subscriber right now! Thanks for such encouraging interesting and funny words describing your projects and for the clear, excellent photos that accompany the text. With both of those I think we can do it!

    Gracias, amigos… Catherine Todd, Panajachel Organics (dot) com.ReplyCancel

  • polly blackburn - is there a way i could get written detailed instructions on how to do this?…i have been looking everywhere for pond system for my ducks that doesnt require emptying poopy kiddie pools every day.

    thanks so much.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Summerhays - What kind of pump are you using? I want to make a duckponics pond like yours, but I am not sure what pump to buy. Please advise.ReplyCancel

  • Keri - This is such an awesome idea. Thanks for all the pictures & details so I could understand how you started this up. Looks amazing!!!ReplyCancel

  • Ken Nelson - Hi Mark,
    Looks great! Does the bell cap go over the drain and what holds it in place?

  • Stacy Holland - What did you use for the base of the pond? And do you have clean out the pond often?ReplyCancel

  • Amber - When using Duckponics to grow food, is it ok for human consumption? I was recently informed that it could NOT be used for human consumption due to ducks being carriers of e.coli…. any idea? TIA.ReplyCancel

  • Kylie - Great system! One question though: About how many gallons of water does the system take?ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - I recomend Runner Duck very cute with their upright walk, flightless so easy to contain. I have five in my garden love them!!!!ReplyCancel

  • jen - I am wondering how you handle solids with this system? Are they manually removed? I’d love an update on how this is working!ReplyCancel

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