ACT News


Pushing the boundaries of self-sustenance

Got a veggie patch? Maybe a compost heap? Perhaps you even have some chickens – but here's betting you aren't farming trout in your own backyard.

Ricky Somerville is an electrician-by-trade, who has taken the idea of biodynamic, organic, solar-powered, recycled, sustainable, aquaponic locavorism to its ultimate end – turning his 700 square metre suburban backyard into a walk-in market for fruit, vegies, honey, fish, yabbies, chickens and eggs.

The unassuming block in suburban southern Canberra is also home to a sophisticated aquaponic system which uses the same 4000 litres of water to feed the plants and then the fish in an endless loop of nutrient-enriching recycling.

It all began about two and a half years ago when Mr Somerville combined his natural bent for creating things using recycled bits and bobs with his interest in sustainable food production and gardening.

"I just reckon we waste our backyards by growing grass in them," he said.

Instead he grows a dizzying array of fruit and vegetables.


From bountiful plum, pear, fig, and apricot trees to thriving kale, zucchini, cucumber, pepper, celery, tomato, silverbeet, and basil, the garden provides feast-worthy seasonal produce in abundance.

Vegie scraps are fed on by 12 happy chickens, while underneath each raised garden bed sit six large 700-litre plastic tanks holding nearly 200 silver perch and trout.

Pipes, timers, gauges, knobs and switches suggest it is not a project for the technically inept – but there's always Mr Somerville's "Aquaponics in the backyard tour" on Youtube if you're keen to follow in his ecologically-virtuous footsteps.

He's had about 7000 hits and is part of a growing community of Canberrans keen to push the boundaries of self-sustenance.

Indeed, Mr Somerville says he is not alone and is aware of similar aquaponic set-ups in a handful of suburban plots around Canberra.

A year ago Mr Somerville knocked up some bee hives in his Wanniassa front yard. He recently won first prize for his honey at the Canberra Show – and second for his honeycomb.

His wife Atsuko Ichikawa-Somerville loves the home-grown bounty and the couple eat fish about twice a week – a red plastic chopping board lying ominously beside two large tanks of azolla and duckweed.

Mr Somerville said he was fine with the concept of harvesting his fish, knocking them on the head with a pipe, but he's not at the stage where the chickens are in any imminent danger.

"Ahh, they're gorgeous, I love these chooks," he says, tenderly moving a broody Silkie off her eggs.

He often ponders the economics of home food production, coming to the conclusion that it takes a lot of land and resources to produce relatively small amounts of food.

And, quite frankly, it's not all that cheap either.

Still, Mr Somerville is a deeply satisfied man – feeling both proud of the systems that keep his backyard a thriving, harmonious and lush environment, and healthy from consuming the proceeds of his labour.

There are still challenges ahead – such as mastering the art of asparagus-growing.

And an old bathtub sits under the carport waiting for the day Mr Somerville arrives home with his next project – ducks.


Comment are now closed