Poolside Fish Farmer
By Robert Glisdorf
Note from Greg Peterson: When I was young my first interest was fish ponds. In fact my first business was cleaning and servicing fish ponds here in the Valley of the Sun. That was in 1976 and I was 15 years old. Around that time I had a client contact me (his name was Robert) and asked me to convert his swimming pool into a fishpond and garden. We used the jacuzzi that sat next to the pool for the filter and put the fish poop in the garden. A fish powered garden of sorts. I completed the job and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward to 2008, I am writing my first book (Grow Wherever You Go) and I do a shout out to the community for stories about unique ways people are raising food in their yard. I get this email with an incredible story of how Robert converted his swimming pool into a fish pond and made a community project out of it. This was a full circle moment for me when I realized the impact of our actions can have ripples of impact for many years. Below is his story, as excerpted from my book.
When the last of my five kids entered high school I found that no one was using the swimming pool in the back of our one-acre yard in the old Arcadia orchard area of Phoenix. I had two gardens that were doing well with the compost from the yard and since the kids did not keep up the pool maintenance, I decided to raise fish in it. I could use the backwash system for irrigation and fertilization of the gardens and also grow surface plants for additional composting material. I purchased fingerling catfish from a fish farmer in Verde Valley and tilapia fingerlings from a mail-order farm in Arkansas. Every fall I would order about 1000 fingerlings, after harvesting the previous year’s crop of about 100 pounds of catfish and tilapia fillets.
The transformation process was simple — I cut a trench across the pool deck from the Jacuzzi to the pool and circulated the water from the bottom of the pool to the Jacuzzi, which acted as a settling tank for the fertile muck that accumulated. Then once a month I backwashed it from the Jacuzzi into the gardens.
I had some difficulty catching the fish and eventually found I had to drain the pool and net out the large ones. My costs were small: the fish fingerlings and the feed. I calculated that I raised fish fillets for about 74 cents a pound. However, there was that little additional cost of beer and cigars for the guys and girls who came over to clean the fish the night before the annual neighborhood “Bayou Bob’s Fish Harvest Party”. My bonus consisted of great community, wonderful gardens, and enough fish for an “all-you-could-eat” fish fry.
I retired and sold the house to my daughter and her seven kids who needed a pool for their summers in Phoenix. So, the pool was returned to its original crystal clear blue state. I recently built a small addition to the house, so my wife and I can visit for six months of the winter. This spring I’ll be putting in a large garden where I plan to put in grapes for wine!