Minimal Vertical Aquaponics Garden DIY




Introduction: Minimal Vertical Aquaponics Garden DIY

About: Aqualogue is a non-profit focused on aquaponics research and education. We're dedicated to shifting the paradigm of the food supply chain to a more sustainable agricultural economy focused on water conservat...

Parts list:

  • 3" Bamboo (or PVC) pipes, 5' tall (2 count)
  • 10gal Aquarium (50 Qt. Storage Bin Clear Plastic)
  • 300 GPH Pump
  • 6' of food safe 3/4" Black Tubing
  • 1/2-Inch PVC Slip-fit Female Adapter Pipe Fitting - Barb
  • 1/2-Inch PVC Male Thread Adapter Pipe Fitting - Barb
  • 1/2-Inch PVC T Shape (3 count)1/2-Inch End Caps
  • Aquarium pebbles
  • Aquarium heater - 100W
  • 2 Ball valves
  • Reused plastic bottles or net pots

All of these materials can be found at local hardware stores, pet stores, or purchased online for under $60. We recommend repurposing as many materials as possible from your community (pro DIY).

Step 1: Drill the Holes

Using a drill and hole saw bit. We used a 3 inch hole saw. The reason for the 3 inch size is to later accommodate reusable materials for media holders like plastic water bottles.

1. measure the height of your fish tank/plastic container. Then from that mark on your pipe, drill the holes 8" apart, measuring from the center point of each hole.

*You'll want to drill a hole below the mark too so that the fish can swim freely through the pipe in the fish tank.

2. use a file or sandpaper to smooth off any plastic burrs.

Step 2: Cut Holes for Pipes

1. After tracing the pipe ends on the lid, use a jig saw to cut the holes for the pipes.

2. Cut inside the lines by 1mm for a snug fit.

Step 3: Add the Pump and Media

1. Add your pump to the container/fish tank and connect the 1/2" threaded barb to the pump and black tubing.

2. Add your media (aquarium pebbles, etc). This should amount to around at least10% of the total volume of your system to allow for enough space for nitrifying bacteria to live. Nitrifying bacteria are the magic that makes this system work.

3. Some pumps come with an attached filter. If it does not, you'll need to rig up a filter so that your pump doesn't clog. Here we used a 2 inch net pot, sponge, and a zip tie.

Step 4: Plumbing the Top Irrigators

1. Measure the distance between the centers of your pipes. Using a hacksaw or pipe cutter, cut two pieces of 1/2 inch PVC pipe to go between the PVC T-Shape drippers and connected everything.

2. Cap the two ends with your PVC end caps.

*If you find you need more water flow control, add 2 ball valves to the drip outlets.

Step 5: Reuse Plastic Bottles for Root Holders

Reuse plastic bottles with holes cut in them to hold your seedlings in place. Make sure to put enough holes/gaps in so that the drip stream keeps everything wet and make a bottom hole for the roots to grow through. The plastic bottles are longer and extend further to the back of the pipe (to better catch the water flow).

Step 6: Add Water and Fish and Plants!

1. Go ahead and add the water. Make sure to use dechlorination product or let the water sit 24+ hours before adding the fish to allow the chlorine in tap water to dissipate.

2. Add 1 or 2 small goldfish.

3. Add your seedlings! It is best to let them develop 3-4 true leaves in your nursery before placing them in the system.



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23 Discussions

I really like the instructs let. I'm looking to build something in my room for jalapenos and tomatoes, and I really appreciate all the Info on pvc pipe and the hazards associated with it.. thanks you to all who have commented and provided additional information.

1 reply

Awesome to hear you're going to build one! I agree the debate here on PVC is a good one. However, we have adopted Bamboo here at Aqualogue now. We highly recommend considering using bamboo poles in lieu of PVC or plastic. Here is a good source for western USA: Canes.htm

As you can see we added a little more PVC do you to give me a little more stability an just adding strength to it. i so appericate Mr. Dan for encouraging me to do this.

use a solar pump and it'd be an almost no input system :D lol

Love the idea :D will have to make for my garden

2 replies

Okay I'm actually interested in the Solar issue of it....

I did purchase pump from Harbor Freight which actually with a coupon and discount so the total cost so far is about $53.16

Also how do you cut the water bottles out there's no real instructions on that...

Agreed. Though the cost would increase quite a bit and the general goal for this project was to get the cost down to bare minimum. Let me know if you end up building on of these - would love to see it!

Ok a friend of mine and myself took this on.

It takes about 1 day to make this and aside from the pump We have only spent 21.23 centsthus far. I am asking around if someone has a pump they are not using and looking @ thrift stores. I also agree that using reusable items is best. I did hhowever purchase the long 10’ ft. & 4 " PVC pipe and a few ½” fittings that way I know they were not used for anything else, already had sand paper to soften the edges of the holes that were made for the bottles and any cuttings that were done. I am also reusing river rocks which I already had thus, this has been a very cost effective project. epically since I had a clear container that I had in the garage. and I had the hose already from a water line to the fridge left over, so most expense was the½” fittings and the 10' / 4" PCV; we’ll see about the pump, so far, I’ve priced a new one at 41.09 because the container was bigger then what you had stated to use. I have hopes I can get this at a better price

1 reply

So good to hear you made one yourself! Are you saying you've only spent around $21 total for parts? I would love to hear your final pricing total.

One tip for river rocks: you might want to test the for a neutral ph to make sure they don't cause you problems down the road.

Please send me an email of your progress sometime and feel free to reach out if you need any troubleshooting tips:

This is s grest project for hydro, but thrre is one major issue. Resesrch shows that using pvc pipe, over time the chemicals that make up pvc pipe will leach into the water, and then be absorbed by the plants. This is ok if what you are growing isn't for human consumption. Just something to think about. This idea is solid otherwise snd works very well

4 replies

"A third of all the 83 plastic products and synthetic chemicals that were tested released substances that were acutely toxic to the water fleas, despite the leaching being mild."

"Examples of plastic polymers made from the most hazardous chemicals are certain polyurethanes, polyacrylonitriles, PVC, epoxy and certain styrene copolymers."

I used PVC in mine too, but will not be using it in the future, or any other plastic.

Admittedly, PVC isn't a perfect solution. However, I do believe this usage of PVC is not a health hazard.

A few things I've found in my own research:

  1. PVC pipe is NSF (National Sanitation Foundation Testing Laboratory) approved for human drinking water use.
  2. The higher level of thickness (we're are using SCH 40) decreases penetration depth
  3. PVC piping is rated food safe, including piping used extensively for the dairy, canning and beverage industries

Additionally, 95% UV exposure is on the exterior face of the pipe where no water or plant share contact.

I would be interested in reading the research you're referring to - can you post it here?

PVC pipe is widely used in the US, but primarily for DWV (drain/waste/vent) purposes, not supply of potable water. The main health problems with PVC are the use of Phthalates like Bisphenol-A (BPA) as plasticizers, and the propensity of PVC to form dioxin (toxic at the picogram level) when it degrades, particularly when burned. A good reference for this is: a site maintained by the National Library of Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. A more in depth article on the health and environmental effects of BPA is:

Germany and Sweden have curtailed the use of PVC over the years, but few places have banned it (although BPA has been banned in certain products, like toys, in the US).

An alternative for the 4” PVC pipe is ABS pipe. It’s a similar plastic but doesn’t contain phthalates or large amounts of chlorine (the main driver for the formation of dioxin). ABS is more susceptible to UV damage, but this could be mitigated by painting (make sure the paint is non-toxic to the plants, fish and humans!) or by just avoiding the direct exposure to sunlight. Glass reflects much (but not all!) the UV. If you need artificial light, choosing LEDs of the spectrum that the plants use for photosynthesis can greatly reduce the energy requirement and address the UV impact.

For the supply pipes, copper would look beautiful (polish it and finish it with spray lacquer!), but it is more expensive (but the small lengths might be picked up at a scrapyard) and requires a little skill to solder.

I have been concerned about PVC for many years, but I'm more concerned about its manufacture and incineration and the impact of BPA in beverage bottles and toys. In any case, this is a great project to modify to fit the materials at hand! I'm going to look for some 4" pipe! If I'm really lucky, I'll find some old 3" copper drain pipe and mod the project accordingly :~)

It would be worth thinking about if you would site a source.

PVC is used in every modern home for drinking water plumbing.

This link has lots of great info on using and testing PVC for chemicals:

1 reply

On the other hand, these folks advise against using PVC:

Quite welcome - please let us know if you end up making one of these yourself!

You suggest using plastic bottles for the seedlings, but looks like you used some 4" baskets in the first few images. Were you able to compare how the baskets worked? Did you need to add some media/substrate to the baskets to help stabilize the roots?