How to Build a Desktop Aquaponics System for Indoor Gardening.

Aquaponics system: How to build a desktop aquaponics system for indoor gardening. Aquaponics guide.
As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, we can no longer deny that fall is on the way and winter is around the corner.  For me this means that hot summer days toiling around the garden will soon end. Last year, I started to experiment with hydroponics so I could continue to grow fresh food during the winter months.  I learned that with a little know-how, growing fresh fruits and vegetables is not only possible but easy to do. For the past year I have been researching alternative methods for indoor growing and really gravitated towards aquaponics.

What is aquaponics you might ask. Those of you familiar with hydroponics would recognize the system built in this video as a simple flood and drain or ebb and flow unit. In fact, you could just use this system for hydroponics, just delete the fish out of the equation. That said, what is aquaponics?

Remember when those lions were singing about the circle of life? Well aquaponics is kind of the same thing. Nature has a way of working things out for herself, take a pond for example. Fish eat bugs, fish, and plants. The fish create waste in the form of ammonia. A bacteria called Nitrosomonas comes along and convert the ammonia into nitrites. Then a different bacteria called Nitrobacter converts the nitrites into nitrates. The plants in the pond and nearby banks use the nitrates as food therefore keeping the water fresh for the fish. This is known as the nitrogen cycle and is what makes aquaponics possible (insert singing lions here).

The flood and drain or ebb and flow aquaponics system built in this video emulates what happens in nature. We feed the fish in the totes below the desk. The fish produce ammonia that gets pumped up to the totes on the desktop. These desktop totes hold the plants and thus are appropriately called the grow bed. The hydroton and plants in the grow bed act as a biological filter and breeding ground for beneficial bacteria. The bacteria converts the ammonia to nitrates and the plants chow down. Clean fresh water returns to the fish and restarts the cycle. This creates a green and sustainable way to grow food.

This video is intended to be the first of a series that will outline step by step how to setup and run an aquaponics system. I truly believe that we can all enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year round no matter how much space you have.

Tools and supplies list:

1 ½ inch hole saw
Assorted drill bits
Miter saw

2 totes 8 to 12 inch deep (Ikea $16 each)
6 ½ inch bulkheads (eBay $1 each)
2 ¾ inch PVC threaded pipe (Home Depot $6 each)
2 inch ABS pipe 3 feet long (Home Depot $7)
2 120 liter totes (Home Depot $13 each)
½ inch tubing 10 feet (Home Depot $4)
½ inch clear tubing 10 feet (Home Depot $9)
½ inch threaded ball valve (Home Depot $5)
2 ½ inch threaded to pressure fit connector (Home Depot $1)
½ inch reducer (Home Depot $1)
1400 liter per hour submersible pump (ebay $6)
½ inch pressure fit T-joint connector (Home Depot $1)
2 x 50 liters of Hydroton (Hydroponics supply $36 each)
Total = $183

For more tips and projects visit my blog

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Be the First to Share


    • Instrument Contest

      Instrument Contest
    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest
    • STEM Contest

      STEM Contest

    14 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Love it! Can't wait to start my own!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    it is probably me, but i did not see you insert a bell siphon, just an overflow, so how can this drain in an eb and flood fashion? It will just stay at a max level

    6 replies
    Get Forkeddiy_bloke

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    This system uses a self draining submersible pump so the water drains the way it comes in

    mskoglyGet Forked

    Reply 4 years ago

    Would it be possible to use soil instead of hydroton, and skip the ebb and flow, since soil is better at keeping moisture?

    onyxtacularGet Forked

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Do you happen to have the name of the pump? I googled and ebay'd 1400 liter per hour submersible pump with no luck


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    The pump is on a timer, and he said there are four or five, fill/empty, cycles a day


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    tnxs mcysr, but the answer was given already. my question was not about the number of cycles but about the emptying, which as GetForked explains is through the selfdraining pump

    nice system. i love seeing home built systems so people can be more independent with healthy foods.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    how does the system drain? does it go back out through the pump?


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! Great job.

    It has been my experience that ALL plumbing eventually leaks, somehow, for some unanticipated reason. I see you're on carpet here. Just another thing for others to consider.

    Get Forkeddiy_bloke

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, The bacteria is floating around in the air all the time. We are just making an environment that they can thrive and grow in.