Introduction: First Try Aquaponics System

Picture of First Try Aquaponics System

This is a quick cheap and easy way to get some practice at producing your own food. Aquaponics is great because it lets you grow healthy fish and plants faster than normal and with little maintenance.
My reason for building this project was to get practice and learn about any problems that will come up before making a bigger system.

Step 1: Get Materials

Picture of Get Materials

-Steel cart and some steel bars
-Plastic bins that cover about the same area as the cart
-Larger, deep plastic bin
-Water pump with a roll of tube that fits it
-Bag of pea gravel
-Plastic colander
-Scrap plywood
-Gallon milk jug
-Whatever type of fish and plants you will want

-Hot glue gun
-Water proof glue
-Knife or scissors

Step 2: Make the Skeleton

Picture of Make the Skeleton

Make it look like the picture. Your pieces will be different than mine so I'm not going to write out specific lengths and sizes.

Once the frame is made cut and attach the milk container. Cut across the handle, cut a big opening in the handle side, and cut a small opening near the top of the other side. This will be a funnel for the water coming out of the grow beds. Attach it to the frame with a zip tie through the handle and around the steel bar.

Lay the plywood pieces on the horizontal steel bars. These will support the cat litter boxes.

Step 3: Make the Grow Beds

Picture of Make the Grow Beds

Drill a hole about 1/2" to 1" in diameter in the lower corner of both grow beds. Make sure you do the opposite corner on each one so both of the beds can drain into the funnel.

Cut the plastic colander into fourths. Glue 1/4 of it over each of the two holes in the grow beds to keep the gravel from flowing out the hole. You don't need the rest of the colander.

Support the back of the drain funnel with zip ties from the corners of the grow beds.

Wash the pea gravel with water and put it in the grow beds. Then rinse it more until the water coming out is clear.

Step 4: Add the Fish Tank Stuff

Picture of Add the Fish Tank Stuff

Center the fish bucket on the lower part of the cart and tie it on.

Cut three pieces of hose: one to go from the pump up to the grow beds, and two to branch out into the beds. Drill a hole every couple inches on the two branching out hoses, and plug one end of each of them with hot glue. Connect all the hoses with the t-fitting and plug the pump on to the end of it's hose. If you pump can't lift the water high enough, shorten the hose as much as possible.

Zip-tie the air pump on to the cart somewhere. Tape a rock to the end of the air hose for an anchor and drop it into the fish tank.

Step 5: Put in the Plants and Fish

Picture of Put in the Plants and Fish

Decide what type of plants you want to grow. I just took what was available, dandelions, blackberry, and raspberry plants from the yard. Dig them up, clean the dirt off of the roots, and put them in the pea gravel.

Get a few fish. Mine are largemouth bass from a nearby lake. I made this choice because they are easy to catch. The main problem with these is that they jump out, so you need some type of a screen to put over the tank if you use them. I originally wanted to use perch or bluegill but the perch weren't biting and the bluegill were at a lake 20 minutes away. Make sure the aerator is on before you put in the fish so they don't die.

Step 6: Update + What I Learned

What I learned:

-A lot of the plants die after being transplanted into the system. Smaller, less established plants seem to do better. If they survive the transplantation they do very well. Make sure they get plenty of light, and keep the pump on. That helps a lot.

-The fish don't like to eat at first and are very picky about what they are fed. But after a week or two they eat better and will agressively take chunks of worm. A food source for the fish is one of the big things that needs to be worked out ahead of time, which I didn't do.

-The pea gravel must already have lots of bacteria because the fish didn't die from ammonia like some people thought they would.

-The fish love hiding spots and shade. They pack in so tight that it is hard to tell if they are all still in there. They also love to transcend their world and enter the relm of men (jump out of the water). So put a screen or lid of some kind on the tank to keep them in. I think each fish will only do this once though because they haven't done it since the first couple days.

-The whole thing seems very easy so far. Anyone can do it.


HydroponicsName (author)2015-02-26

So the fish feed the plants and the plants feed the fish, Amazing.

DIYDragon (author)2014-09-04

Thanks for the instructable. Very interested in starter aquaponics. Saving this for later use! : -)

Josehf Murchison (author)2011-09-04

Buy from a fish farm; have them deliver the fish live, it is legal.
Fish from a farm generally are healthy.
Wild fish can carry parasitic flatworms or disease.
I caught a 1,lb Large Mouth Bass with a three-foot tapeworm in it.
You can get catfish, trout, bass, salmon and many other spices from a farm.
Most places outside of flood zones permit controlled pond release.

I have a serious question about this, if the flatworm resides in the digestive tract and I assume you remove that before consumption is there really any risk of getting worms?

Yes but one mistake in cooking and the flat worms are in you.

There eggs are throughout the body if you cook them well it kills the eggs but one mistake.

It is always best to play safe.

Jaycub (author)Josehf Murchison2011-09-04

I will do that when I build the final version.

bmoloney (author)2011-12-11

You could try growing duckweed in your system. It is high in protein and can be fed to the fish.

Jaycub (author)bmoloney2011-12-11

Thank you for your suggestion. I have thought about that a little before and when I build a full size version a tank for duckweed has a good chance of being included.

Do you know how you feed it to the fish? That is what I have not figured out for sure. Do you gind it up and feed it to them as pellets, mabey with some other thinks mixed in?

bmoloney (author)Jaycub2011-12-11

I'm not really sure actually. I saw an aquaponic system at an urban farm in Buffalo that used duckweed to feed the fish. I'm guessing they made it in to some kind of pellet...?

I enjoyed your post and hope to try this out at some point when I have more space. Thanks!

janetsgarden14 (author)bmoloney2012-05-10

Tilapia are herbivores and they just eat the duckweed whole, you must grow it in a separate container or they will eat it all.

winterwindarts (author)bmoloney2012-01-28

Most herbivorous fish will gladly eat it fresh with no processing at all-just dump it into the fish tank. The duckweed is best grown separate from the fish. I've usually kept a pretty good crop going for both fish and turtles. It doesn't need more than a couple inches of water but does like a large surface area to spread out (and fill) in.

Jaycub (author)winterwindarts2012-02-05

When you grow it, do you just get some from a swamp and put it in a swimming pool and watch it grow? Or do you have to put in dirt and fertilizer and stuff?

rnkv23 (author)2011-11-18

some more suggestions,

- you need to run your system to start the nitrogen cycle. don't add plants or fish immediately. if you want them to survive.
- check your water quality. a simple test will be leave a glass or water where it can get sunlight, with few days you can see algae growing, then its safe, Note this is a crude test.
- your drain system can be improved. the water level in your grow bed will be low. you have to plant the roots deep. or you can use a bell siphon to raise the water level and drain completely.

nice reading your post,

Pe-ads (author)2011-10-09

Really great 'ible, thanks. A comment directed me to The Urban Farming Guys website which was very helpful, too.

By the way, how much did this cost? Its seems it was mostly cheap or scrap/salvage material.

Jaycub (author)Pe-ads2011-10-10

The only things that costed money were the clear tubing, the gravel, and the welding wire. + I paid like $2.00 for the pump but that was a long time ago so I am not counting that. ~$5 total cost in money.

Pe-ads (author)Jaycub2011-10-14

Awesome! If I can find a cheap pump and cheap fish and plants to start me off, I might have a go ;-)

jflores-2 (author)2011-09-04

I love the aquaponics idea you should check out this link if you haven't already you may get some good ideas and they do it on a larger scale too.

twynn1 (author)jflores-22011-09-06

Great job on the website. I went there and learned a ton. Thanks. Also thanks for this instruct. Got me to thinking.

Pe-ads (author)twynn12011-10-09

Same :-)

Thinking of doing my own one of these...

masoon (author)2011-09-05

what do you feed the fish? I've seen "bio sphere" aquariums where they put snails and certain plants in with the fish in a sealed container. Would this work for your system? I agree with the previous comment about the air pump being redundant, so long as the water pump runs 24/7 or often enough to water the plants and give air to the fishies. nice instructable, I like the pea gravel idea I've been growing with hydroponics for over twenty years and have never seen pea gravel used. Please let us know how this turns out! P.S. you might want to get a high range ph test kit, they're available online or at your local pet store (plants and fish require a certain ph range for optimal health)

Jaycub (author)masoon2011-09-20

Today the fish started eating worms. This very good news to me because it is hard to catch enough insects. The last time I tried feeding them worms they just ignored them, They must be hungry now.

Jaycub (author)masoon2011-09-05

I have been feeding them termites, but I will have to find something else they will eat because the termites aren't out for very long. I don't know if it would work to seal in some plans and snails, but it might on a bigger system.

Jaycub (author)cloudifornia2011-09-08

Thanks that's agreat idea. I will grow maggots or something similar.

cloudifornia (author)Jaycub2011-09-08

You're welcome.

bodeddie (author)2011-09-05

I second all the above comments about checking on local regulations. In my state, KY, this would be a violation since the captive raising of any game fish (one on which there are size or catch limits imposed) is illegal without a special aquaculture permit. It would be ok to to use non-game fish such as minnows, but anything that has regulations regarding maximum harvest or size limits would be illegal. In fact that bass you are holding would get you fined unless you immediately put back into whatever lake or pond you caught it in since it is way below the legal size limit.

Jaycub (author)bodeddie2011-09-05

Our state rule for largemouth bass is "No min. size. Only largemouth bass less than 12" may be retained, except 1 over 17" may be retained. Bass may be caught, retained, and released alive from a livewell until daily limit is in possession." So no these are not below the size limit they are legal.

rbbiggs (author)Jaycub2011-09-07

Yeah, you wouldn't want the Minnow Nazi's with sub machine guns to kick your door in over a fish, like they did with Gibson guitar company.

Nice instructable, thanks for posting

cloudifornia (author)rbbiggs2011-09-08

LMAO! No kidding!!! ;-O)

Forest of Cheem (author)2011-09-05

AgentMulders' initial comment was correct, those fish will not thrive/survive in those conditions. Ammonia will build up, as well as nitrite and nitrate, which will KILL THE FISH. Also, FAR from enough space for fish those size. Need at least around 200 GALLONS for 4 bass. Plus, what are you feeding fish? Wild fish need to be trained into eating store-bough pellets; live fish costs are going to add up quickly. Not trying to pour water on your fire, just giving some friendly advice to a fellow fish-keeper. While never having kept native fishes myself, I understand and have researched the prospect. Great idea though, aquaponics is the future of sustainable food production and I'm glad people like you are looking into the subject. Keep us posted on updates!
P.S. Here are a couple links to some sites on keeping native fishes. Though one is on bluegills, the requirements are nearly identical.

Jaycub (author)Forest of Cheem2011-09-05

Thanks for those liks they're pretty good. I have tried feeding the fish chicken mash, worm-on-a-safety-pin (like a corn dog for fish), and flying termites. The only thing they have eaten is termites, and I think a little of the chicken mash but not much.

AgentMulders (author)2011-09-04

It's a nice simple system, and I like that it's sort of portable. But that's not a healthy environment for fish that size. You need way more water, and the fish would appreciate some gravel of their own, as well as some hiding places in the form of wood or plants or rocks.

It looks pretty safe with regards to filtration area, but I'll bet your fish died a few days after these photos. That's because there wasn't enough nitrifying bacteria to break down the Ammonia from the fish waste into Nitrites and then the Nitrites in to Nitrates. The plants are likely to use the Nitrates that the bacteria produces in the last step of the Nitrogen cycle, not the Ammonia or the Nitrites, which are both toxic to fish.

If you added the aquaponics to a healthy fish tank or matured the system as if it were a fish tank you'd have a stable system much quicker :)

Jaycub (author)AgentMulders2011-09-04

No, the fish are still alive and noticealy healthier than when I first got them. Probably because the lake water was warm as pee. I did add a hiding place on the second day and they realy like it.

AgentMulders (author)Jaycub2011-09-04

That's quite surprising. Maybe bass are hardier than I thought. How long has the system been running now?

Jaycub (author)AgentMulders2011-09-04

It's been about 5 days. Yes bass are very hardy I think. Three of them have even been laying on the ground beside the tank when they jumped out before I knew they would do that.

anisbet (author)2011-09-04

Try one of the Rule bulge pumps. They are cheap ~$20-$30. They last forever. One of the reviews on amazon says a guy let one run without water for over a week and it was fine. The same guy also used them for pond pumps and said they did fine being run 24/7 for years on end. I have one That I'm going to use for a live well to keep bait fish alive. It was also really easy to use. But most are 12Vdc. The one I have is the 360Gph version(quite small). It moves water pretty well. The instructions even come with charts on how high each pump can move the water. If you get a car battery and charger its a built in back up system. The charger keeps the pump going and charges the battery. If the power goes out the pump keeps running off of the battery. The 360Gph's inlet also fits 2inch PVC pipe couplers. If you do a little trimming on the coupler it works really well. The outlet will work with the clear tubing shown but you will need to check the size.

gbrajovic1 (author)2011-09-04

I asume that the water pump is always on. In that case, I suggest to take away the air pump. The constant flow of the water (specially while going down through the funnel) will make insignificant the additional aeration provided by the air pump.

Nice project!

Jaycub (author)gbrajovic12011-09-04

I'm scared the fish will die if I take away the air. The pump can just barely lift the water to the beds. It is a very cheap pump, I got it at a thrift store a couple years ago.

azamir (author)2011-09-04

Great project and fabulous photos! One comment: it may be a good idea to use non-transparent pipes for delivering the water into the growth-beds. Transparent pipes tend to grow all kind of weed-like greens inside them, where light-blocking pipes (regular garden hoses will do), prevents most of it.

Jaycub (author)azamir2011-09-04

Thanks I'll deffinately remember that for the next one.

lasselin (author)2011-09-04

You shoudn't use clear tubing and should cover the fish tank since algae will grow in there and steal the nutriments from your plants.

druidrat (author)2011-09-04

In Washington, you can buy trout fry (others I don't know) and transport them with a permit.
Some requirements to have your system of holding inspected to make sure they don't escape into the wild.
Check with WDFW for more info.

druidrat (author)druidrat2011-09-04

Also use of food grade containers and glues would be recomended, Don't want chemicals or heave metals leaching into the water of the fish and produce that you'll be eatting.
Otherwise well done.

Jobar007 (author)2011-08-31

I highly recommend checking your local laws before transporting live fish in your local. I know that in the State of Oregon in the USA, it is illegal to transport live fish for any reason. Just a heads up and make sure you are in the right with your local laws so you don't catch a large fine (Example: $500 per fish in Oregon).

Jaycub (author)Jobar0072011-08-31

Thanks for the advice. I live in Washington and even after reading through a buch of stuff about related laws just now, I don't know if it is legal or not. I know you can go to the pet store and buy and transport fish legally, so I don't see how this could be worse especially considering that bass are already in every lake around here so there is no invasive species spreading risk.

Packerswin14 (author)Jaycub2011-09-04

The concern isn't just for invasive species, but for disease. There are a variety of diseases (mostly famously VHS) which you could unintentionally cultivate in your pond/container. They don't want people moving diseases, but as long as you're going to eat the fish, the risk isn't there. Of course, taking fish from a lake that are under the size limit with the hope of raising them to be food-size would be another potential violation.

I think they're going to have to start issuing simple permits, this looks like another 'chicken' sustainability thing-- many cities and towns are now permitting raising of chickens in town for similar purposes.

dia (author)Jaycub2011-09-04

As a forewarning, I'm not familiar with the American laws on wildlife transportation. But I would speculate that the laws may be similar to Ontario where you cannot sell, keep or trade and -native- species.
Imported aquarium fish (and any other exotic species) are excluded - but bass could get you fined. IF you were stopped by police or wildlife protection services and IF they cared to ticket you.

Jobar007 (author)Jobar0072011-09-01

I should append what I said, it is illegal to transport live fish away from any natural or man made body of water. Check your WDFW fishing regulations. I know that is where the law is listed for Oregon. Straight from the Oregon Regulations:

It is unlawful to: transport live fish into, within or out of this state; hold any live fish in the waters of this state; or release or attempt to
release any live fish into the waters of this state; except as provided by OAR 635-007-0600(3)(a) for aquaria fish intended for aquaria
use and those holding a valid Fish Transport Permit.

askjerry (author)Jobar0072011-09-04

Well... if you read the last part, "and those holding a valid Fish Transport Permit."

So if you went to the department of Fish and Wildlife you could see what it would take to get a valid permit... might not be that expensive. I think the main thing they are trying to avoid is people introducing invasive species, or endangering existing species by taking large amounts from the waterways.

Additionally, if you are developing a system like this, it is quite possible that they will give or sell you young fish... in some states people volunteer to do this to support fishing and insect control. On my aunt's farm (Louisiana) they actually came out and stocked her ponds for her... I think it was a nominal fee... but once they stabilized she has some nice fish there now.

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