Introduction: Aquaponics for Everyone!

About: Car buff, longboard builder and shop teacher. not enough time to build stuff.

A few years ago I was introduced to Aquaponics gardening and thought I might try it out at the school I teach at. The basic idea is pretty simple; Plants need all sorts of things to thrive but the biggest ones are oxygen, light and nutrients. Of course there are all sorts of other things but let's work into this bit by bit. Soil gardening is great and has worked well for... well.. a pretty long time... but there are other ways, as long as you can supply the basics to your plants. Aquaponics and Hydroponics work on a similar principal... just eliminate the soil, have something inert for the plants to root into and flow nutrient-enriched water past the roots. The big difference with Aquaponics is that, instead of adding chemicals for nutrients, we use fish poop.

I have all sorts of details coming up, but as I go along, I use links to spots where someone posted details that I thought were awesome (several from Instructables, of course), Youtube, and some commercial spots that had good info. Please know upfront that I DO NOT have any kind of affiliates, or some ridiculous link to a commercial setup that sucks you in. That really, really irritates me.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I will gladly link to someone who has described it better than me with the goal of making Aquaponics accessible to anyone. If you have more info or other 'ibles that describe it well, please add links in the comments. If I neglect to supply all the information and miss crediting someone, please let me know and I will fix it. I will always be happy to add a contributor to this 'Ible so we can all benefit. It's what Instructables is about.

'nuff said.

Step 1: A Quick Aquaponics Explanation

If you spend a bit of time on the web, you will find ALL SORTS of great details about Aquaponics. When I first started down this path, I relied on the book by Sylvia Bernstein, called "Aquaponic Gardening, a step by step guide". It was one of the few resources available but now you can find many websites devoted to growing plants with fish.

Please check out the poster my wife made up for her preschool. The kids are involved in the whole process, from planting seeds to caring for the fish. It really is great to hear about the 4 year olds heading into the aquaponics room to care for the plants.

The main idea is that it is a closed-loop system. The fish poop in water, the poop is changed by bacteria into Nitrates, the plants use the Nitrates to grow and the water goes back into the fish tank. Easy. What I will do in this 'ible is to describe the sections in the whole closed loop and how I did it, and make suggestions. The setup can be super complicated or very simple. Your choice. Here are the sections:

The Big Picture

What things to consider... size, space, budget etc...

The Fish

Options, how many, setting up the tank... etc.

The Plants

What they need to grow, lighting, how to support them and what varieties work best.

The Mechanics

The joy of plumbing! Pumps, filters, pipes and all the fun stuff.

The "Beds"

I use three types of growing beds: Media, Nutrient Film (NFT) and Dutch buckets.

Barrel Aquaponics

I will introduce the idea of barrel growing and how I did it.

Indoor System

I am fiddling around with some ideas for building a small system for indoors. I have some thoughts that might work and will document the process. I want it to be simple enough for someone with basic tools and space.

Medium Setup

This is what I would call my system. I will show what I did and offer some options. You don't have to go to the extent that I did, which was a bit excessive, to have a garden full of vegetables year round.

Step 2: The Big Picture

The first thing to think about it space. Aquaponics works in small spaces but naturally will result in less food. Small beds tend to be twitchy and more prone to balance issues. Big tanks are easier in many ways. A good start is to think about the biggest fish tank you can handle. A 50 gallon tank will support about 5-10 happy 2-5" fish. You can always increase the density but that makes things tricky because the water will be less clean. Fish poop QUITE a bit. A 50 gallon tank will allow you to have about an 8 square foot media growing bed, which is an area roughly 12" deep, 12" wide and 4' long. It is a starting point, but if you can get a 250 gallon tank, you can have 16 square feet or more of growing media beds. In the picture above, I am using a 350 gallon (ish) tank. With this tank, I have about 15 fish, from 2-8 inches. I could have many more fish, depending on the type, but this works well for me and the fish are healthy and happy. This setup supports 16 square feet of media, 5 big dutch buckets and an NFT tank with spots for 20 plants. Most websites dedicated to Aquaponics uses the final weight of the fish as a guide. I keep a close eye on plants and fish health to maintain a balance. More on that later.

You might also want to think about whether you will raise fish to eat. It is really tough to get Tilapia where I am in Canada, so I have started with plain 'ol comet goldfish. They poop quite a bit, which keeps the plants happy, but are not for eating.

Once you have an idea of the tank size, you can decide on growing beds, like I mentioned above. You must have at least one media grow bed, which supports the bacteria culture that converts Ammonia from poop into Nitrites than Nitrates, the plant food. A good rule of thumb as I mentioned above, is 50 gallons for 8 sq. feet, assuming the bed is 1 foot deep. 250 gallons will allow you to have about 16-20 sq ft, with other growing types, such as NFT and Dutch buckets as well. I have great success with my NFT bed. I go into more detail about growbeds in that section.

Climate is important, too. I live in Canada, where it gets cold in the Winter, usually as low as 0degC. I have built a greenhouse, which is insulated and heated. The tank is in-ground, so temperature is pretty consistent. If you live in a warmer climate, I am a bit jealous of you, but aside from petty thoughts... Aquaponics will be easier for sure. Otherwise, you may have to build inside a building, try a smaller system or try seasonally.

I have seen many miniature setups with 10 gallon tanks, but I don't have experience with them. I think they might be good as a proof of idea but it won't be enough to feed a person. They would probably work well for a few herbs for your kitchen. Small systems can fluctuate in ammonia/nitrite levels really quickly and need to be monitored carefully. I have included a section (A System for Everyone) detailing an Indoor system which can be adapted to any tank size, with exceptions. Check it out if you want to just have a simple start to the whole idea of aquaponics.

You also need to be realistic about your building capabilities. Most people on Instructables are good at building things, but you will need all the basic power and hand tools and have a bit of confidence working with gluing plastic pipes and basic electricity. There is quite a bit of flexibility and people can be very resourceful, so read through the whole 'ible before leaping in to decide if this will work for you. If you are unsure about whether you can build something large, try the Indoor system first. It requires very little fabrication.

Step 3: Different Setups.

The basic setup of Aquaponics is the same, with a few exceptions, regardless of the size.

Barrel Aquaponics

The first setup I did was with the blue barrels in the pic above. This is a brilliant system designed by the folks at Backyard Aquaponics. Their website is a fantastic resource and they are the pioneers of aquaponics for the people. The way the barrel system works is simple... three barrels are needed. One is for the fish, one for a sump (water reservoir) and one is cut in half, opened up and filled with growing media.

Water flows from the fish tank using gravity, fills the grow beds and eventually flows back into the sump tank, where a pump continuously pumps water back into the fish tank. The important thing to know is that the water in the grow bed is always raising to a certain point, then draining when it gets to that height. I use a really amazing system called a bell siphon. It is simple to make, cheap, doesn't use electricity and just *works*. Here is a brilliant link to explain it. I will cover how I built mine later in this 'ible.

Indoor Aquaponics

A small media bed sits on top of a basic small fish tank/aquarium. Water is pumped into the bed and allowed to drain back into the tank. I will be posting the step by step for this as a proof of concept later in this 'ible. Skip ahead to "A System for Everyone" if you'd like to try it out.

Medium Size

Like my system... the tank is big enough that I don't need a sump to prevent the water levels in the fish tank from fluctuating too much, so I just pump fish poop water through a filter, which branches into either the media bed, or into a swirl filter. From the SF, water drains (using gravity) into either a NFT (nutrient flow) or into Dutch Buckets. The advantage to the NFT and Dutch buckets is that water just keeps flowing through the roots and back into the fish tank.

Commercial system

Check out what people have built. Some systems are HUGE and most impressive. Way out of my reach for sure.

SO.... what?

I have read about many different options for draining and recirculating the water through the system but the most simple and reliable is the kind I have been describing:

Water from Fish tank is pumped into a media bed. (or NFT or Dutch Buckets)

A Bell Siphon controls the fill/drain cycle from the media bed. (NFT and Buckets just gravity drain)

Water flows back into the tank.

Keep reading... We will look at each part and learn how to put together what will work best for you.

Step 4: The Fish

The main factors that affect fish choice are:

Temperature of the air and what you can maintain the water at. You can use a water heater... i have a 500 watt heater that keeps the water at about 65 in the winter. 65 is pretty cold for many fish, but works well for goldfish and Koi.

Size of the tank will affect the type of fish as well... Most edible fish need space because most fish need to hit a good plate size, logically. A 2" fish on a plate is a bit silly. 100 gallons is a reasonable starting point.

If you want to eat the fish. I started out wanting this but Canada has some strict import rules for fish. Tilapia are a really good eating fish option because they are tough, grow fast and are tasty. I managed to get a licence for trout, which are available locally, but need pretty cool water. Some people will change fish types for winter and summer but that sounds pretty convoluted.

The best option for starter aquaponics are goldfish, in my opinion. They tolerate a huge temperature fluctuation, are cheap, don't mind being a bit neglected and don't attack each other. They grow easily to big sizes and are quite personable. I admit that I have spent time chatting with mine.

The tank and fish combo I will cover later in Indoor Aquaponics uses a 50 gallon tank and some tropical fish, called Gourami. I am using Gourami because it just happens to be the kind I have already in a tank. They are easy to care for and are a pretty relaxed fish. Aquarium places have many options for tropical fish but you need to be careful to pick fish that will live together. They can be shockingly ruthless and violent. Really doesn't fit with the whole peaceful gardener thing.

If you want to eat fish and have the capacity, Tilapia are a good option. They are (relatively) tough, don't mind being crowded, are inexpensive and grow to plate size in 9 months. They need warmer water, however, and can be super nasty to each other. I understand that if they are very crowded they tend to be less territorial, which i get, but it seems a bit unkind to stuff 40 fish into a 200 gallon tank. There is a great deal of info on the web about Tilapia.

Step 5: Fish Care and Tank Setup.

The Big Idea

The big idea behind caring for fish is to keep the water levels balanced and healthy. Tank size, water source, food amount and type of fish all affect the balance of the water. Here is how it goes: Fish convert food into poop. The poop byproduct is Ammonia, which is toxic to fish. The Ammonia attracts a type of bacteria that converts the Ammonia into Nitrites, which are also toxic to fish. Nature has a solution, of course, so the Nitrites attract another bacteria which convert the Nitrites into NITRATES, which are less toxic and happens to be an awesome food for plants.

You also need to remove or convert Chlorine, which is in most household water. I have a pic above of one of MANY water conditioners available.

Ph, which is the acidity or alkalinity of water is also a factor but it is pretty consistent in most systems.

Oxygen level is VERY important for plants and fish. I have a bubbler I picked up online for <$20CDN. Your local aquarium supplier will have them as well.

Temperature is very important. I picked up a cheap little digital thermometer that sits in the water. I also built an Arduino based one that updates water and air temp through wifi to my phone using Blynk. You can find out the ideal temp and adjust a water heater accordingly. I keep my tank cool, about 65deg, because goldfish are happy with it. Temp also affects plant growth and seed propagation. 65 is about as cool as you want to get. Warmer seems better for most fish and plants, but keeping a tank at 75deg when it is -10deg outside can be tricky.


The great thing about Aquaponics is that the water is cleaned by the plants and substrate. Smaller systems, such as the Indoor setup, will benefit with the use of a pumped filter, which not only cleans the water, but is part of the bacterial filter, which I cover soon.

Fill tank, add heater (if needed) and, in a smaller system, a pump/filter. I don't use charcoal in mine, just a mesh that i periodically wash out (in tank water NOT in tap water... don't want to kill the good bacteria!). Add rocks to the tank bottom.

Establishing the Bacterial Filter.

I will outline the process I use, which works well, but if you spend 5 minutes online, you will find much more detail, if you like. You will need water conditioner for the chlorine, and a water test kit. Pics above. Add the chlorine converter/remover in the amounts on the container. I use about 3-5mls per 5 gallons at first.

Add 3-5 drops of ammonia per 10 gallons of water everyday. You are simulating fish poop, essentially. You can use sacrificial fish instead, but that seems unkind. Some people pee into the tank. Not sure how I feel about that. Use the test kit to monitor Ammonia and Nitrites. You need to maintain about 5ppm of Ammonia. After a week or so, Nitrite levels will start to rise. Great!! this is bacteria converting the Ammonia, step one. This might take several weeks, depending on tank size. Maintain the 3-5 drops until the Nitrite and Ammonia levels start to fall. At this point, measure the Nitrates, which should start rising. Once they hit about 10ppm and the Nitrites and Ammonia are close to 0, stop adding Ammonia, and add fish!

Maintain, maintain, maintain.

Check levels everyday. You can pick up water conditioner that will protect the fish if ammonia starts to rise, but the bacterial filter should prevent this from happening. Adding plants to the system will help the system to become balanced and healthy. I picked up some herbs from a plant store, carefully washed the roots, and stuffed them into the media bed. If Ammonia and/or Nitrites start rising, try removing about 25% of the water than replacing it with dechlorinated water.

Step 6: Grow Beds... the Media Bed

The Media bed is the starting point for most Aquaponics systems. It acts as a physical water filter and a bacterial filter. It also provides a growing area for plants. I have recently added a few hundred red wriggler worms, which eat old roots and solids. The castings from worms and their waste is incredible for plant growth.

The rule of thumb is the beds need to be about 12" deep. I keep mine 12" wide. The length will vary, depending on tank size and how many fish you have. A 50 gallon tank will support a bed that is 12" deep, 12" wide and 4 feet long.

The bed is filled with media, such as lava rock, small stones, or, in my case, a combination. I filled the bottom 1/2 of the tank with lava rock and the top half with Hydroton expanded clay pellets. I did this because the lava rock is cheap, but not as good as the clay, which has lots of surface area for bacterial growth, is lighter and completely inert. It is, however, more expensive. I filled my beds for about $150-200 CDN. An excellent description for building one is here.

The bottom few inches sit in water, and the top inch stay dry. In between, the clay is constantly submerged than drained as the water ebbs and flows through the Bell siphon. Here is a brilliant explanation. I have also shot a quick video. Here is a good 'ible that explains building a bell siphon.

Step 7: Grow Beds... NFT

I have great success with my NFT beds. I have added a video describing my setup. It really is simple. I used a long growing bed from a hydroponics place. You can use anything, really, but what is important is that it is sturdy, black (ideally... to keep the roots dark), able to be drilled for a drain, and, ideally, about 2-3" deep. If you can only find really deep trays, I would suggest cutting out small pieces of wood or plastic to support the net-pot holder at about 2".

Netpots are very cheap little baskets that allow you to keep seeds and plants at a certain height from the water. I picked up a sheet of Coroplast, which is a foam covered in plastic, about 1/4"thick. I used a 2" hole saw on a drill to cut all sorts of holes in the Coroplast. I kept the holes about 5-6" away from each other, to avoid crowding the bed. The Coroplast needs to be supported so that the netpot bottoms are just barely touching the water as it flows by.

I use Rockwool to start seeds. You can buy the rockwool at garden centers and hydroponic places. Of course, the web is a good source, too. I just use a pencil to make a small hole, drop in a seed, soak it in poopy water and jam it into the netpot. I ALWAYS add a popsicle stick with the date and what seed it is. I've added a vid on how I do it.

I just use some plumbing elbows to divert the fishy water into the growbed at one end, than I gradually fiddled with bed heights until the water flowed to the other end of the bed. You are looking for a slow but steady flow. A little stick that floats was a handy way to test the speed; about 12" in 30 seconds or so. You don't want the roots being hauled to one end, but you do want a steady flow of nutrients.

The water height is set by the height of the drain spot. You can experiment with cutting plumbing tubes, which I cover in more detail later, or you can use these very cool drains. I picked up a couple to experiment with and will report when I finish my home aquaponics section.

Step 8: Grow Beds... Dutch Buckets

Dutch Buckets are very simple... they are buckets filled filled substrate, such as lava rock or Hydroton. Water flows through small holes and continuously drains at the bottom, about 2" from the bucket bottom. I use Hydroton for the top 3/4 of the bucket and lava rock for the bottom 1/4. Hydroton is the perfect material, but can be pricy.

For the inlet, I use 1/2 poly drip irrigation tubing, found at most garden supply places. I run one line from the water source, then "T" it at each bucket. One end of the T runs to the next bucket and the remaining end pokes into the bucket, just above the rocks. I used a 1/16" drill to poke about 7 holes into this short piece, roughly 6" long. Be sure to plug the end so water will flow through the holes. Heres an excellent video on building a Dutch bucket.

I used the 1/2 PVC pipe, as in the video I linked to, and joined them all at the back of the buckets, all running to a common drain point, where the water flows back to the fish tank.

To start the plants, I used netpots, a bit of rockwool and a seed. I also tried a few seeds dropped into the hydroton close to the water outlet. In a very short time, I had seedlings and in 8 weeks had some alarmingly big plants. Worked really well.

Step 9: Lighting

Lighting is simple. Use the sun if you can. Supplement it with lights if you must. I started with strips of LEDs I found online, they were blue and red and quite bright. I had to buy a small plug in transformer that put out 12 volts and could run the LEDs. What I discovered, however, was that blue and red spectrum is for flowering and fruiting. NOT what you want for lettuce and basil, you want the leaves to grow for that. Leaves need full spectrum, which is white light to us. I picked up something like these. Here are some pointers:

  • Go LED. The power consumption is 8 watts compared to 50. They also last a long time and don't get hot. You can buy the expensive Sunblaster type if you want, but I found 4' long strips, water proofed AND with a reflector for $40CDN. They even have handy connectors that allow you to string them together.
  • Use full spectrum (white) lights for fast growth and green leaves.
  • Use Blue/Red lights for flowering and fruiting.
  • I used simple bailing wire and hung the lights from the ceiling. I started about 12" over the plants, then raised the lights as the plants grew. Keep it simple, I say.
  • Put the lights on a timer. I kept them on from 6am to 7pm, which allowed for 13 hours of light. Our sunny days in South Western Canada in the winter are pretty short, so the lights were important until summer came. I turned them off a few weeks ago.

I folded up some aluminum to reflect the LED strips I bought, which had a double sided tape as well. I just stuck them onto the aluminum and soldered the LED sections together. If you are not confident soldering, buy pre-made lighting.

Step 10: Filtration

The system should be kept clear of solid floating around. Roots exposed in the NFT system, especially hate being clogged up with solids. I have added a filter to the intake of the pump with a replaceable mesh. Once every couple of weeks, I will turn off the pump, pull out the filter and give it a good wash. I have also added a swirl filter at the very top point as well. Water flows from the swirl filter into the NFT and Dutch buckets. Here is a great description and build guide for a swirl filter. You may notice in the pic that the swirl filter bucket has an outlet at the very bottom... it is where all the solids collect. I open the valve once in a while and use the water in plants that are in soil. All sorts of great nutrients!

Step 11: A System for Everyone, Step 1

Not everyone is able or willing to commit the space and time for a huge setup, or even a smaller setup like the Barrel Aquaponics. I thought that a smaller system would be worth a try. I had a couple of goals in mind:

  1. Make it small enough that it could fit in any small room.
  2. Be made of simple to find, inexpensive parts.
  3. Be easy to build, without any major tools or skills.
  4. Be able to grow a modest amount of greens or herbs for the kitchen, year round.

The first, and most expensive part of the setup, is the tank and fish stuff. I would suggest trying Craigslist, or keep an eye out as you are out driving. I got my whole 50 Gallon setup with filter, pumps and heaters on the side of the road. Even had gravel in bags. Some fish in a bag would have been over the top, but; alas, earwax. (Thats a Harry Potter reference, BTW)

I stocked my 50 Gallon tank with about 10 tropical fish. I like Gourami's because they are super chill. No random attacks on other fish, and they look interesting. Follow my basic guideline to setting up a tank, a few steps back. Add some gravel, get a good filter working, and bring the tank to the correct temps.. about 75-80 deg. Be sure to fully cycle the tank, so that the Nitrates are climbing and the Ammonia and Nitrites are near zero. I would suggest having the tank run with fish for a few weeks before adding the aquaponics stuff.

The key to this system, and what makes it unlike a typical, larger Aquaponics system, is that the media is not the home for the ever-so-vital bacterial filter. The bacteria are in the small pump filter living inside the tank. We are simply plumbing fish water into an NFT bed and draining it back into the tank. The water may benefit by the roots of the plants, as they pick up nutrients, but the balancing of the tank is just like a typical aquarium. This means that you may have to do water changes occasionally, and keep an eye on your levels. Ammonia may rise and become toxic to the fish, just like a usual aquarium.

So, assuming you've managed to get an aquarium running, either a tropical one, or a goldfish setup, it's up to you. I kinda like the googly-eyed goldfish. Send me a pic in the comments if you do a setup with one, or six.

Find a good spot that is accessible. Don't forget that 10 gallons of water weighs about 80lbs. That means your modest 50 gallon tank is pushing 400 lbs.

Step 12: A System for Everyone, Step 2

Gather up your goodies:

A grow tray This one is CRAZY expensive, but it looks like the one I picked up from a local Hydroponics Supply place for $8

I used a heat gun to flatten the bottom where I wanted to cut the hole for the drain. If you can find a tray with a flat bottom, it will be less likely to leak. Mine does leak a bit, but it is draining right back into the tank. I just traced out the drain pipe and cut it out with snips.

Heres an excellent drain. I love this thing because it has a very tight seal and can be adjusted for drain height. How cool is that.

Vinyl tubing. Buy whatever fits the outlet for the pump and the outlet for the drain, which I used a 3/8 tube for the drain. It was a bit small, but I stretched it out by warming it up with my trusty heat gun.

A small submersible pump. I wanted one to plug into my house mains, but 12v would be good for a solar outdoor system. Heres a link to the one I picked up. The main features I was looking for was for head height, which is how far it will pump vertically, and GPH, which is how much it can move in an hour. I only needed about 600GPH, which is a pretty small pump. Another nice thing to have is a pump that can have the flow adjusted. The tiny pump I bought still had to be dialed way down.

Step 13: A System for Everyone Step 3

After you have gathered everything up, attach a couple of feet of vinyl to the pump and stick it in the water. Plug it in and spray poop water all over. If you spray your kid by accident, maybe wait till later before you tell them it is FULL of fish poop. This is what I did, and the reaction was really excellent.

I built a rack out of steel, which I had sitting in the shop. I'm lucky this way, but you can build a simple support out of wood, or just sit the grow tray on a shelf. Be sure to prop up one end about 1/2" higher so it drains. You will need to ensure the tube coming from the drain is not holding weight. A couple of pieces of wood would be fine. Be sure to provide room above for a light. Buy enough tubing to run lines from the tank pump to the bed and enough for the drain to reach the tank, too.

Turn on the pump and watch the water fill the grow bed. You are looking for about a 1/2" deep water flow. It should move a little floating stick about 6 inches in 30 seconds or so and drain easily out the other end, ending up back into the tank.

Step 14: A System for Everyone Step 4

Now that you have your system running and flowing water, you need to add your cover with holes cut out for the netpots. I used 2" pots, and a 2" hole saw worked well. They are cheap to buy and work on any hand drill. You could always use a hand scroll saw if you cant get a drill and hole saw. Be careful with this tool, it can be dangerous!

First, I cut a piece of 1/4" plywood the size of the grow tray. A square is a handy tool for layout so I used it to layout the drill centers... about 6" apart and 3" from the edges of the cover. A 2" drill hole saw is a great tool for cutting the holes. Please be VERY careful about this job. I used a clamp to attach the wood to the drill press base and kept one hand in my pocket while the other pulled the drill press handle down. You can also use a hand drill, but keep the speed down and clamp the wood well. Never hold the wood with your hand while drilling. Please do not cut off your fingers.

Once the holes are drilled, give them a quick sanding and try out the netpots. They should hang through the holes and, ultimately, hang about 1/2" over the water when everything is in place.

If you have used the awesome drains that adjust for depth that I detailed before, dial them up or down until the water is at the right height.

Step 15: A System for Everyone Step 5

You will need to add lights if the system is inside. Please check out the section on lighting, it is pretty universal.

Add the seeds to the netpots. I like using rockwool, although I have read of other materials, such as small stones or coco coir. I like the rockwool because it holds water well and can be broken apart easily for transplanting. It is also clean, unlike some other substrates.

I would suggest buying some very small seedlings if you can find them, or buying a bigger plant and breaking it into smaller parts for the netpots. I have also seen a few vids on people propagating plants using cuttings. Spend some time on the web and you will find a great deal of information.

Keep a very close eye on the Ammonia and Nitrite levels in the tank. You really don't want a crazy spike which will kill your fish.

Have fun growing! I would love to see pics in the comments below.

Step 16: Going Big (ish)

After trying out barrel Aquaponics, I knew that the next step was to go bigger. I wanted to have something big enough to feed my family of four. After research, i learned that a 1000 liter tank with about 15 fish would be a good starting point. This was to be matched with two media beds, each with about 6 sqft of media, 6 Dutch Buckets, each with a 20 liter capacity, and an NFT bed holding at least 25 spots for plants.

I started by clearing a space under my porch and building a greenhouse. Smack in the middle of the greenhouse was a concrete slab-sided tank for the fish. Media beds surround the tank, with a water inlet and outlet pipe heading under the gravel to the Buckets and NFT, after flowing through a swirl filter for solids.

turns out, you need deep trenches to pour concrete under the frost line.

I have never in my life done more digging.

I found used double glazed glass and a used sliding porch door to keep the temperature in control. Our winters get chilly... about -2degC, so I setup a couple of heaters to keep the temps up. I didn't want it hot, just enough for things to grow; about 65degF, 18degC.

The windows poke out from under the porch by about 3', and it is a southerly exposure. We get quite a bit of sunshine in the summer and on a sunny day, it will easily reach 10degF over the outside, without heaters on.

Step 17: Going Big(ish) Layout

I've added a rough diagram above to show what I'm going to try and write out... check the diagram to see what I mean...

The tank is roughly 4 feet square and about 3 feet deep. I have a submersible pump that sits on the bottom with a "T" junction. One side heads to the media bed, the other to the swirl filter at the highest point, about 7' from the ground. I have to stand on a bench to look in. I did a quick bit on filters earlier on, so check it out. I have valves on both outlets to ensure the flow is consistent and even between the two points. I was really surprised to find that my fairly small (1500 GPH) pump had to be throttled back so much with the valves. The outlet from the swirl filter goes into a tray, roughly 2x3 feet, 6" deep. I have cut out a lid and holes for netpots and added an airpump with a few stones to help with oxygen levels in the system.

The drain from the aerated water from the bucket is divided as well... 1/2 goes through a valve to the NFT and the other goes through a valve to the Dutch Buckets.

The drains from the NFT and DB "T" at one point and flow back to the tank. I used 1/2 PVC pipe throughout although in retrospect I would have used 3/4 for the drains. I used valves at several major points to control pressure and get everything balanced.

The process for getting this system up and running is the same for all sizes:

Add water and de-chorinate. Balance the system... I used ammonia.

Add fish

Add some small seedlings, or if not available, some cuttings or seeds in rockwool and netpots.

Step 18: Some Last Thoughts

Try to buy local. I have given out examples of websites and provided links to Amazon, and I have purchased online as well, but I try to buy local, especially when I have received so much great advice from the corner hardware store clerk.

You might have to supplement the aquaponics system with iron. Check out this website for some great details on supplements. The same website is also a great resource for all sorts of super techie questions. Most local aquarium supply places have supplements for water plants which work for aquaponics.

Finding Tilapia is tricky in Canada. If you know where to get some, let me know!

During this 'ible, I have tried to give an overall picture of how aquaponics works, and the different parts of the setup. I have not given much in the way of first, do "A", than do "B" because the topic is so huge and the amount of information is vast. Please check out the available books on the topic, and the websites I recommended but most of all, I would suggest that you just give it a shot. It has been very rewarding and the system is very forgiving of mistakes.

Thanks for reading, and please be sure to post pics of what you have done!

Gardening Challenge

Second Prize in the
Gardening Challenge