How to Make an Aquaponic System for a Small Room.





Introduction: How to Make an Aquaponic System for a Small Room.


I am a college student and while I don't live in the Dorms, my room is about that size. I wanted something to cheer up my room and make it look less like a laboratory, but this would also be perfect for a lavatory! If my bathroom was bigger, I would put it there since it would both look good and be very functional there as a natural air cleaner. But I am glad I have it in my bedroom because the air has never been fresher, I am sleeping better, and I haven't woken up with itchy eyes since I made it.

I had bought an Aquaponics system called "Aquafarm" from 'Back to the Roots' a long time ago. It broke when a fish got stuck in the tube in the middle of the tank that pushed water up until a fish got caught in the tube. It killed the fish, the airstone, the pump, and all the plants.

Since the air stone was not the standard size I see in stores, and the system doesn't work without it as it is what pushes the water to the plains, I stopped using it. This is still a great Aquaponics system for small places and I recommend it for beginners, but as with everything, there is room for improvement. The main thing they need to do is put a screen over the bottom of the tube in the middle. They could make a simple plastic cap with holes in it. You can also fix a piece of net from one of those fish scoops over it.

Note: I just checked their website. This was their original model. They have a new model now that appears to be a lot better and no longer has the tube down the middle. I recommend it for someone who doesn't want to take the time to build one:

This Instructable will show how I fixed it and what I learned along the way. But even if you do not have something like this, all you have to do is have something you can use as a tank, and put a tray in it. In this Instructable, "Step 2: Prepare the Tray", tells you how to modify a regular tray to work if you with any tank if you do not have something like this to fix and repair.

Step 1: Preparing the Tank

Step 1: If it is a used tank like mine, it needs to be cleaned out to make sure there's nothing in there that will make the fish sick. Fish can get bacterial and viral infections just like us, and these bad microbes can lay dormant inside a dry tank for years. Plus you never know what the air has carried into it since you last used it.

If it is a new tank, follow the directions that came with it. If there's no instructions on cleaning it, at least wipe down the inside. While I wiped down the inside walls, I waited to wiped down the outside until after the test run. That way you can see the difference it makes. You may not be able to tell the difference now, but you will after you add water.

Step 2: Add a pump to push the water to the plants. I got this pump at the Flea Market for next to nothing because it was inside a broken decoration for fish ponds. The outside of the water fountain was chipped, but this pump is fine.

Optional: I added an under gravel filter to aerate the water, but this is not necessary if your tank is as small as mine. I added because it does help and I already had it. I picked this up for less than a dollar at a yard-sale because the fish tank it was in was cracked. I had to cut the tube down to make it fit in this 3 gallon setup, but a minute with regular scissors took care of that.

Step 3: Add a few inches of gravel to tank. You should put in at least an inch, but the under gravel filter I am using required more to stay in place. This gravel came with the broken fish tank, but you can get it anywhere including dollar stores.

Step 2: Prepare the Tray

Step 4: For the plants, fix a tray on top of the tank. Even if you are not lucky enough to have a tray that fits into the tank without falling in like this one, this is still not hard to do. You need either a tray that can sit on top of your tank or near it. If you cannot fit the tray in or above the tank, you'll need an extra water pump to move the water back to the tank, but then you wouldn't need to put holes in the bottom of the tray.

Step 5: Run the water tube from the water pump into the plant tray. There was already a hole in this tray to run the tube up into the tray from the tank. If your tray is above or in the tank, you need at least 1 hole for the water to fall back in the tank. You can superglue a small tube, stack of washers, a nut (Not & Bolt type, not the type you eat), etc... over the hole to allow the water to puddle up in the tray before it falls back into the tank. This is so there's enough water in the tray for the roots.

Optional: My air pump has two outlets for air tubes, so I used the second one to put a second air stone in the plant tray. You do not need to do this, I only did it because the pump was too powerful to run both into a tank this small. I say this is optional because the water falling back in the tank through the holes will aerate it enough for small tanks like this.

Step 6: Put some Net Pots into the plant tray, or if you have a lid like this one you can put them into it. Making the Net Pots removable does help with transplanting. Pick the pot size based on the size of the tray, the size of the plants, and how many you want to fit into the tray. You can buy them here:

Step 3: Preparing the Plants

Step 7: Time for the plants. Most people recommend that you wait weeks to add the plants, but I've done this several times and as long as I add Beneficial Microbes (explained during next step), I've never had a problem adding the plants at the same time. I chose English Ivy because according to the "NASA Clean Air Study" and WebMD, this plant can clean up over half of the mold anfd allergens in a room, including airborne feces, in as little as 6 hours. I've been keeping these in my room, and after 6 days I am sleeping better than I have in a long time. This setup is great for bedrooms, dorms, apartments, even bathrooms as long as you keep it in a place it won't get bumped. You can find hundreds of sources for this from WebMD to Wikipedia, but here's one of the ones I used:

Step 8: Add gravel to pots.

Step 9: Add pots to the tray.

Step 10: Repeat until all pots are full.

A few extra sources for why I planted English Ivy, and lists of other air purifying plants to try in a system like this:

1, WebMD "English Ivy: A Fix for Allergies?":

2. Wikipedia "NASA Clean Air Study":

3. Mother Earth Living "Clean Air for All":

4. Rodale News "The 8 Best Plants to Boost Your Productivity":

Step 4: Test the System

Step 11: Add water, distilled is best and can be bought in gallon jugs at Walmart for less than a dollar. Make sure it says distilled or steam distilled, do not buy filtered water. I have had trouble with carbon filtered water, so regular tap water is better than that. You can also get aquarium starter kits with water conditioners for around $3-$5.

As I said earlier I cleaned the inside of the tank but not the outside so you can see how dirty it looks with water in it. This is with the inside clean, and both sides looked clean before I added the water, so imagine how dirty it would have been if I hadn't cleaned the inside! With this demonstration on why you should clean the entire tank before use done, I cleaned the outside too.

Step 12: Time for a test run to get everything primed, make sure the pumps work, and run them for long enough to make sure the water has cycled through the system. Since there are no fish yet, I used Moon Dust - All In One Hydroponics & Soil Plant Nutrients because it was what I had with me at the time and has, but this is my favorite Plant Probiotics:

One Ounce Packet:

One Pound Bottle:

Similar Products:

This feeds the plants while you are testing the system and makes sure the Beneficial Spores attach to the roots where they can grow. Give it a few days to make sure the plants are getting enough water. While the Mycorrhizae / Microrrhizal Fungi is not vital, it does help the transplanted plants to establish themselves and the wide array of Beneficial Organisms will establish themselves in the roots and gravel providing additional support to your plants for an indefinite period of time. That's why I love the entire MycoGrow™ line and I try to also buy the Endo/Ecto Seed Mix, Gel, and all their other products when I can.

Here's my sources:


Step 5: Final Touches

Step 13: Replace most of the water with distilled water to get rid of the color of any fertilizer you used. If you use tap water, make sure you don't have a carbon filter on the tap and water conditioners can be found near fish food. I drained mine down to the gravel line before adding clean water. You can then add your fish, snails, and anything else that you want.

Optional: You can buy cheap starter kits almost anywhere with pet supplies to prepare the water and add more Beneficial Organisms for the fish. This will help mimic their natural environment that is full of Beneficial Organisms not found in our water.

This is what mine looks like after it was done. The last photo was taken a few days latter, and look at all the growth. Please leave comments, feedback, and constructive criticism in the replies below. I would really appreciate that so I can make this system even better, and it gives me help for helping anyone who reads this. Thank you.

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    15 Discussions

    Please vote for my project in the Aquarium, Fix and Repair, and University DIY contests; and it would really help me if you also share this Instructable on Social Media. This is my first Instructable and this means a lot to me, so please help me. To vote, click on the orange "Vote!" button on the right of where it says "How to make an Aquaponic system for a small room. by JR Tyner" and above the other buttons. Once you click on it a menu with 3 other buttons appears, you would be doing me an epic favor if you click on all three of them.

    Awesome. Wish I was ambitious! haha. I just emptied a 40gal tall fish tank a few days ago and have been sitting here wondering what to do with it....

    3 replies

    Haha, this is only a 3 gallon tank, but I'm going to build a 10 gallon one once I collect all the parts. I bet I could grow tomatoes year round with a 40 gallon tank. I mean the regular sized ones! I already grow the small cherry tomatoes in my room. Last winter, I could pick a salad without getting out of bed...

    I've always wondered about lighting. I have the hood still, but the regular bulb is dead. What type of light does it have to be for it to be benifitial for plants to grow? Thats one of my first things to research.

    It is @24" tall and 28" wide and 12" deep. I was thinking half of it for herbs and half for experimentation once I figure out lighting. Toms for sure. Or strawberries....

    It depends on the plants. For the ivy in the photo, it's fine with the ceiling light. A lot of plants just need to be near a window. My rubber trees need so much light they have to be in a reptile tank instead of an aquarium. For my tomatoes I use 6500k light bulbs from Lowes since they have the LED ones that last a long time. Walmart has the cheaper CFL ones in the 6500k range. Those are the bulbs with the winding tubes, and they still last for quite a while.

    Great Instructable! Though I have read it is better to let the system cycle for a few weeks without plants (the fish are still fine to have in at that point) Also great info on the ivy.

    1 reply

    Thank you. Personally the plants seem to root faster for me when the water is still fresh. This may be because I am adding the Beneficial Microbes. If I had to guess, the reason to let it cycle would be so that microbes can establish themselves. In that case I'm just speeding up the process and keeping unwanted microbes out. It's the same with taking Probiotics, you are trying to get the good bacteria to outnumber the bad so the unwanted bacteria doesn't get established.

    Yes, it was a Back to the Roots "Aquafarm" that had broken. You see that tube in the middle of the tank? That's where the airstone was that pushed water up until a fish got caught in the tube. It killed the fish, the airstone, the pump, and all the plants. As I said in an earlier comment, they should at least put a cap on it with small holes to act as a screen. But even if you do not have something like this, all you have to do is have something you can use as a tank, and put a tray in it. In this Instructable, "Step 2: Prepare the Tray", tells you how to modify a regular tray to work if you don;t have something like this to fix and repair.

    I helped fund those two boys in I think kickstarter website when they were making that aquaponic system. there was a problem with the water circulating and fish dying. I'm glad you fixed it!

    1 reply

    Yes, you are right. This is from Kickstarter. The main thing they need to do is put a screen over the bottom of the tube in the middle. They could make a simple plastic cap with holes in it. You can also fix a piece of net from one of those fish scoops over it. The second thing would be to use a stronger pump so that it increases circulation. That would be cheaper than using both an air pump and water pump as I have, but not as effective. I used what I had in my room, and it's stronger than it needs to be, but it works better. The third improvement they could make would be to switch to the larger airstones you can buy at Walmart. The reason for that is airstones can break, and it's too important of a part to have to order online. BTW, speaking of Kickstarter, I am pretty experienced with it since I have backed over 250 projects:

    Thank you very much. This is my first Instructable, so I've been very nervous. If I had a larger bathroom, that's where I would put this since I already have all the other plants on those lists in my room. I sleep so much better and feel so much better now.