Indoor Mini Aquaponics System (IKEA-hack)




UPDATED:  We have recently updated this guide to make it more efficient and safer to use.  Please see the instructions here:

Aquaponics is becoming more and more popular and many people want to build their own system. Aquaponics integrates fish, plants and microbes into a sustainable and ecologically balanced food production system.

This project from Japan Aquaponics will show you how to build your very own system using commonly available components from IKEA and your local hardware store. Anyone can set up their own system in an afternoon and start experiencing the pleasure of building their own little ecosystem!

Step 1: Setting the Frame Up

The main frame that we are going to use will be the Antonius frame combined with one or two wire baskets and two of the plastic containers.  We will use the 50l container for the fish tank at the bottom, and the 25l container for the growbed at the top.  Simply put the Antonius unit together as per the IKEA instructions.

We use the wire basket as support for the 25l plastic container for the growbed.  This is not strictly necessary for the 50l plastic container fish tank at the bottom if you just put the container on the floor.  You may want to trim the plastic lip on the top container to ensure a better fit, and we also cut the handles off the ends of the container - but again, it is not strictly necessary.  To cut the plastic we just used a small saw, but you can also use some standard wire pliers.

Step 2: The Plumbing 1 - the Standpipe

The plumbing for the aquaponics system is not too complicated but we have used a few basic principles to help make the system as efficient as possible.  We use a small 600lph electric submersible pump in one corner of the fish tank which takes the water up to the growbed.  The water then flows through the growbed and exits in the opposite corner to which it entered.  As the water then flows back to the fish tank it pushes any solid waste over towards the pump, ready to pulled up into the growbed.

We also use something called a bypass ball-valve on this system. This diverts some of the water from the pump straight back into the fish tank.  This is so that we can control the amount of water going into the growbed, and the diverted water also creates some water movement in the fish tank as well as additional aeration.

In this system we are using 13mm PVC pipes throughout.  

Initially we will start with the growbed and the siphon that we are using there.  First, we need male and female threaded adapters. (Photo 2).    Drill a hole in the right place in the growbed - you need to make sure that the female adapter will fit between the wire mesh squares.  The hole should be about 6 or 7cms from the edge of the container in each direction.  The hole should be a snug fit with the threaded male adapter.

Place the male adapter through the top of the growbed and then fit a rubber O-ring onto the threads.  Then screw the female adapter onto the male adapter until you have a nice snug (and waterproof) fit.  You can add some silicone to the bottom if you want to, but not strictly necessary.  We then use a reducer on top of the male adapter.  This is a 25mm to 13mm reducer.

This whole piece is called the standpipe and this is how the water will exit the growbed.  We want the overall height to be about 1 inch under the top of your growbed media and so you will need to cut the pipe down so that it is the right height for you.  Now let the silicone dry if you have used it.

Step 3: The Plumbing 2 - the Bell Siphon & Media Guard

The Bell Siphon is a very effective method of slowly flooding the growbed and then draining the growbed quickly.  It does this with a non-mechanical action, and with no moving parts to break.

We have the 25mm - 13mm reducer on the far left of the photo below - this is where the water will exit the growbed.

We then have the 60mm bell siphon in the middle.  This is a 60 mm piece of pipe with an airtight cap on the top.  This bell siphon has some pieces cut out of the bottom as well as some holes drilled in the side.  You want these holes to be no higher than about 1 inch from the bottom of the pipe.  The water will drain down to this level and will then stop.

Finally, the 100mm media guard on the far right, is simply to keep the growbed media out of the bell siphon.  This has holes drilled or cut out of it to allow the water to come in - and to keep the roots and the media out!  The cap is optional, but helps to keep things out of the bell siphon.

Bell siphons can be tricky to get working so for more information please refer to our guide:

Step 4: The Plumbing 3 - the Ball-valve Bypass

In the picture below you can see the small 600lph (litres per hour) pump with a small pice of 13mm pipe coming from it.  This then has a T connector attached and then the 13mm pipe continues up to the 90 degree elbow at the top which empties the water into the growbed.  Coming off the second part of the T connector is a simple ball valve that controls the flow of water that is diverted back into the fish tank.

This whole setup allows us to control how much water flows into the growbed and so is an important addition.  The ball valve bypass also allows us to divert some water back to the fish tank and this provides additional aeration and water movement into the tank.  This improves the health of the fish.

The Ball valve bypass as well as other aquaponics plumbing principles and practicalities can be seen here:

Step 5: Finishing Up

You should have all the framework, the containers, and the plumbing set up now.  Now add water into the fish tank and start the pump up.  We want to test to see if everything works properly, and if the system is watertight!

The next thing to do is to fill the top container (the growbed) with some sort of growing media.  This could be hydroton, lava rock, perlite, river stones or something like this.  Something that allows the water to flow through the growbed, and which can provide a home for the bacteria that make aquaponics work.  High surface area, and porous stones work best.

Once this has been done, then you are ready to add your fish and to start putting plants into your system!  Initially you should add only a couple of small fish just to start producing the ammonia needed to kickstart your system - goldfish are ideal.  For more information on how to actually run your system and how aquaponics works properly, the please feel free to take a look at our website for more details:




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    33 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This is definitelly the best beginner setup I have seen on the whole internet. Started building my versio of it.

    1 reply

    That is very kind of you to say so! We spent a long time trying to find something that anybody could build almost anywhere in the world.... and IKEA-hacking seems to be ideal for such a purpose! If you look at the Japan Aquaponics website you can see that we also built a few systems using PAX wardrobes as the basis... worked like a charm and looked really great!


    3 years ago

    Can anyone give insight as to where i would obtain the containers or if they have a particular name that I might look for?

    3 replies
    Aquaponics GuruGooeyjello

    Reply 3 years ago

    These are the Antonius containers from IKEA. I think that perhaps they are only available in some locations these days - others have reported that their stores no longer stock these bins. HOWEVER... we will have a new Mini Aquaponics system coming out shortly - easier to make and better (in our opinion!).... watch this space!

    GooeyjelloAquaponics Guru

    Reply 3 years ago

    I found the rack system, but yes, it seems the containers are no longer included. I'm not very good at DIY, but this has been on my radar consistently for quite some time & i really want to do it and do it well. I'll keep watch!


    5 years ago on Step 3

    By implementing such a simple plumbing technique, this siphon can actually help the aquaphonics system to be more efficient, which in turn enables the growth of healthier plants for better harvesting. Sometimes, the expensive tools and mechanism do not necessarily mean the best. Other times, a simple and cheap technique can produce similar results, if not better.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Do you have an idea as to what kind of vegetables (or fruits) might be suitable for this particular system?

    1 reply

    For these small systems there are not huge amounts of nutrients available and so we would recommend baby leaf lettuce, basil, smaller houseplants (like Lucky Bamboo or a small fern for example) - things like this.

    In Japan, herbs are really expensive and so I know that many people grow basil in theirs as it is far too expensive in the shops, and they get better quality from their little systems!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I just finished my setup! You can find my pictures on twitter @leesayao. I'm wondering how long your drain/fill cycle is with your mini setup. How much water should be in the system? I bought a pump that I think is too strong for this small setup, as my drain/fill is about 20s/3min20sec, even with the by pass it fills quickly. Also, I found out the hard way that you need an air stone for the fish, I thought the recirculated water via supply line bypass would be sufficient...poor fish! My containers are 57L (14 gal) and 27L (7 gal). Thanks for the great guide! My family and I love to sit and watch this thing work automatically!

    3 replies

    Hi there,

    Your system is looking great... a very nice, tidy set up! With regards to drain and fill times... what you have now is not a problem, but if you can slow it down a little more tha might be better - aim to be closer to 8-10 mins for the fill and the drain is just whatever it takes. You will need to balance the siphon when you slow the water flow into the growbed.

    Aeration should be enough from the splashing of the water into the tank, unless the temperature of the water is quite high? Check that there isn't another issue as we only ever use additional aeration in the summer. Additional aeration is never a bad thing though and costs next to nothing in terms of electricity so no reason not to add it!

    Watching these things in action is very peaceful... I love listening to the siphons going on and off!


    Thanks! When I adjust the ball valve bypass lower (1/2"), the siphon doesn't start since the fill is just a trickle. The pump is on minimum, maybe I can make it flow more. I have a 1" to 3/4" reducer, should I change the standpipe piping?


    Can I recommend taking a look at our Bell Siphon guide as this has a section for when problems arise... adding a 90 degree elbow to the bottom of the outflow might be all you need to do.... but take a look and see if it helps.

    If not... don't worry too much as a quick rate is not going to be much of a problem to be honest. But try and slow it down just a little if you can.

    How is the system doing.
    Are the fish alive and healthy ?
    Are the Plants growing well ?
    Which fish is in the system now ?
    Which plants are you growing now ?
    Any problem you faced with the system or any disadvantage of the system ?
    Like this i am looking for update on the status on how the system is doing....
    Also i want to ask can i use Affnan's Simphon for this setup ?
    I am truly interested in doing this !

    No worries,

    So, the system has been running for nearly 2 years now with no problems. The fish (goldfish) are growing (we took a couple out as they got bigger - just so that they were not crowded) and the plants are happy. We use our system mainly for some small houseplants (ferns and lucky bamboo) and some herbs (basil and chives) and all are well.

    Every 6 months or so we check over the lava rocks and sometimes will have to give the rocks a little bit of a rinse. The fish waste can build up and so we need to clear it out sometimes so that it doesn't become anaerobic. We have also added a small mesh bag to the inflow pipe to catch the biggest parts of the fish waste.

    We can also easily add small filters to this system if there is too much solid waste - a simple sponge, aquarium filters, a mesh bag, even a sock! Just something to catch most of the solid waste before it goes into the growbed. All not strictly necessary, but nice to play around with and experiment!

    You can certainly add an Affnan siphon to the system - although we have not found it necessary to do so - the bell siphon has always worked very easily for this small system just with a straight piece of pipe.

    Hope this helps.