An aquaponic system is the dream for many people these days because they allow you to keep fish in a clean and closed system while growing plants with minimal maintenance. You use a natural cycle to raise your fish and keep your hydroponic plants healthy, and you can get systems in every budget. I’m going to go over several DIY aquaponic systems that you can use in your own home or business for every skill level. No matter if you’re a weekend warrior, DIY enthusiast, or you want to try something new, I’ll have something for everyone to try to set up and maintain.
Along with these options, I’ll also link you to several DIY aquaponic systems that you can get and install in your home. They come in all sizes, and I have something for everyone. Once you get it set up, it’s a low-cost and low maintenance way to keep both your plants and fish healthy for years to come.
DIY Aquaponics System One – Simple, Inexpensive Aquarium
This simple project uses a 10-gallon aquarium that is very easy to set up and maintain. It does take a little patience, but it’s well worth it. You’ll need:
- 10-gallon aquarium
- 2 foot section of four-inch PVC pipe
- 2 four-inch PVC end caps
- Air pump
- Fountain pump
- Aquarium gravel
- Plants grown from rooted cuttings
- 1/8-inch and 1/16-inch drill bits
- Caulk gun
First, fill the aquarium with your water and set the pump up. The water will have to cycle for 24 hours without adding anything to it because this gives it enough time for the chlorine and chemicals to evaporate. After 24 hours, add the fish. Get your two-foot section of four-inch PVC pipe and the hacksaw. Cut a two-inch section out of one side of the pipe to give the plants room to sit and grow.
Turn your PVC pipe over and drill four holes in a row on one side. The final hole that is closest to the pipe’s end cap will use the 1/16-inch drill bit while the other three will use the ⅛-inch drill bit. These will be your drainage holes. Now it’s time to put the end caps on. Add a small line of caulk along each end of the PVC pipe and pop the end caps on. Let it dry overnight.
After it’s dry, it’s time to assemble your DIY aquaponics system. Set the PVC pipe on top of your aquarium and fill it ⅓ of the way with gravel. Submerge your fountain pump and run the vinyl tubing up into the PVC pipe. Use gravel to anchor the tubing inside the channel. Add your plants and it’s ready to go. It’s a good idea to start with inexpensive feeder fish in case you lose one or two.
Credit: Durso standpipe by Geek2Nurse / CC BY-NC 2.0
DIY Aquaponics System Two – AquaSprouts Garden
This comprehensive DIY aquaponics system gives you everything you need to turn your 10-gallon aquarium into a thriving environment. You can use a host of indoor plants that naturally clean toxins from the air to make it a healthier choice. You get the Aquasprouts garden with this setup in matte black, a light bar, pump and timer, and grow media with every purchase. The setup slides right over any 10-gallon aquarium to help you grow your plants and keep everything healthy.
You won’t need any additional tools with this DIY aquaponics system, and you can set the timer for 24-hours with 15-minute intervals to keep your plants with the correct amount of light. The clay-based grow media encourages healthy bacteria growth to convert the fish waste into nutrients for your plants, and there is a step-by-step guide to ensure you can set it up quickly and efficiently. The light bar attaches to a two-foot stand that allows you to move it up and down as your plants grow and thrive, and the return drain will automatically keep the water levels correct by cycling it back into the aquarium.
DIY Aquaponics System Three – Larger-Scale Setup
This is a slightly more involved DIY aquaponics system that requires welding, but it’s rather simple to accomplish in an afternoon once you gather all of the materials you need. You’ll need to get:
- Gallon milk jug
- Hot glue gun
- Knife or scissors
- Larger, deep plastic bin for the fish (can use an aquarium)
- Plastic bins that cover about the same area as the cart (cat litter boxes work well)
- Plastic colander
- Scrap plywood
- Steel cart and some steel bars
- Waterproof glue
- Water pump with a roll of tube that fits it
If you have a steel cart already, this will be the frame for your system. If you don’t but you have steel bars, you want to weld your frame. You’ll make a square bottom with four legs sticking up. It’s good to put this system on wheels as it’ll be very heavy when you try to move it. Add support bars across the top to set your two plastic bins on. The bottom area will hold your larger plastic bin. Once it’s all welded and stable, you can move onto the next step.
Cut and attach the gallon jug. You’ll make a cut across the handle and cut a large side opening on the handle side. Cut a small opening on the other side near the top. This will act like a funnel to direct the water out of the grow beds into the bottom bucket. Use a zip tip and attach it to your frame by running it around the steel bar and through the handle. Lay your plywood pieces on the horizontal steel bars to support the plastic boxes.
Drill a ½-inch to 1-inch hole in the lower corner of both plastic grow beds. They should be in opposite corners so they can both drain into your funnel. Cut your plastic colander into fourth sections. Caulk or glue it in place over each other the grow beds’ two holes to keep the gravel in. Use zip ties to support the drain funnel. Rinse out your pea gravel several times until the water comes clear and put it in your grow beds.
Center your larger fish bucket on the bottom of the cart and secure it. Cut three pieces of hose. One will go from the pump up to the grow beds, and two pieces will go into the beds themselves. On the two hoses that branch out, drill holes every few inches before plugging one end with hot glue. Use a t-fitting to connect the hoses and plug your pump onto the end. Secure the air pump onto the cart. Secure a rock to the end of the air hose to anchor it before dropping it into the fish tank.
Pick out the type of plants you want to grow like lettuce or raspberry plants. Clean off the roots and place them into the pea gravel in the grow tubs. Get a few feeder goldfish and put them into the bottom bucket. You can cover it with a screen if you’re worried they’ll jump out. Monitor it and watch your plants grow.
Credit: Sump by Geek2Nurse / CC BY-NC 2.0
DIY Aquaponics System Four – VIVOSUN Aquaponic Fish Tank
Vivosun’s DIY aquaponics kit comes equipped with an automatic siphon system that will keep your plant’s roots immersed in water to help them grow while keeping an appropriate level of water in the tank itself. It circulates a natural oxygen supply every two minutes, and there is a thermostat included that will help you keep a good temperature for both your fish and your plants. The mini pump will easily draw dirty water into the tray situated on the top of the tank for the plants to clean before sending clean water back into the tank to keep it clear and looking nice.
You can use over 150 hydroponic vegetables and plants in this DIY aquaponics setup like rosemary, basil, asparagus, lettuce, mint, green dill, and much more. You get a small plastic aquarium, pot clay growing medium, decorative stones, an air pump, and a growing tray with this product that makes it quick and easy to set up in your home. There is a USB charger on this product to ensure that it’s always ready to go when you are, and it has a sleek white coloring that fits into almost any decor.
DIY Aquaponics System Five – Mini Aquaponic System for a Classroom
This small DIY aquaponics system is perfect for any classroom or office as it doesn’t take up a lot of counter space once you get it set up. You’ll need:
- 3-feet air tubing to connect the air pump to the air stone (must fit the air pump outlet)
- 3-feet plastic tubing that fits the outlet on your water pump
- ¼-inch or 3/16-inch bit and ½-inch bit
- Air stone (1-inch to 3-inches)
- Aquarium air pump sized for the number of gallons in your fish tank
- Electrical tape
- Gravel: 2.5 lbs. of gravel for every 5 gallons of water
- Grow Bed: must sit on top of fish tank and be 3” – 8” deep
- Growing Medium: enough pea gravel, perlite, coconut coir, expanded clay pebbles or peat moss to fill the grow bed
- pH test kit and, depending on the pH of your water, pH down or pH up ($10- $50)
- Tank for the fish: 3-20 gallon
- Water pump: 3-4 watt pump capable of lifting 18” – 54” at 30 – 100/gal/hour
To start, wash the gravel until the water runs clear and put it into the bottom of your aquarium. Take the grow bed and drill ⅛-inch or 3/16-inch holes into the bottom with one hole every two square inches. You’ll drill a ½-inch hole in a back corner for the tubing to pass through. Put your water pump in your fish tank and set the grow bed on top. The tubing should go from the water pump up through the ½-inch hold you drilled. The tubing should extend ¾ of the height of your grow bed before looping around the inside. Cut away any excess and fold the end over before using a piece of electrical tape to seal it. Fill the grow bed with your chosen medium to up under the top of the tubing.
Punch small holes every two inches along the tubing in the grow bed and anchor it in place with one or two inches of growing medium. Fill your aquarium with water and plug in the pump to ensure it’s strong enough to pump water into your grow bed before it trickles back into the tank. Connect your air stone or pump to the air tubing and put it in the tank. Plug it into the air pump to give you a steady bubble stream. Test the pH, aiming for 7.0. A pH of 6.8 is too low and a pH of 7.2 is too high. Let the DIY aquaponics system sit for 24 hours to cycle and get rid of the chlorine. After 24 hours, add the fish to a rate of ½-inch of fish per gallon and wait a month before adding your plants.
Credit: Progress Update by Geek2Nurse / CC BY-NC 2.0
DIY Aquaponics System Six – VegeBox Hydroponics Growing System
VegeBox’s DIY aquaponics kit is very quick and easy to set up. All you have to do is fill the tank with water and put the sponge in place. There is an LED grow light with this kit to encourage healthy growth. It comes with an automatic on/off feature that helps save you time because you don’t have to monitor it, and you’ll only add water once every week. This system creates an eco-friendly recyclable hydroponic system with no chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides to give you organic herbs or vegetables. The plant’s roots suspend in the air and water to ensure you get very fast and healthy growth, and the fish live below in a small aquarium.
You can choose from white or black coloring to help it blend seamlessly with any decor. This DIY aquaponics system allows you to grow three plants at once, and it comes with five planting baskets, 10 sponges, 3 caps, a non-woven bag, tweezers, a measuring cup, and 60ml of nutrition. Customer service is very responsive to questions or concerns, and it has a very solid base to make it a very stable option.
DIY Aquaponics System Seven – Glass Jar
This tiny DIY aquaponic system is perfect for a tiny house or if you want to grow a single plant. It uses one beta fish to keep the plant full of nutrients, and you’ll need:
- Plant, clone, or starter cube with seed
- Large glass jar with lid ring
- Grow medium, I will be using hydroton clay pebbles
- Decorative rock (optional)
- Betta fish
- Aquarium water conditioner
- Three-inch net pot
The first thing to do is decide which type of plant or herb you want to grow like basil. Get your mason jar and carefully place your decorative rocks inside it. Once you get the rocks, add the water to fill the mason jar to the top. You want to leave an inch of air on the top of the jar to let the fish and the plant’s roots to take in oxygen. You want to submerge the plant’s roots into the water. Add enough aquarium water conditioner for a half-gallon. Let it sit for 24 hours to give the chlorine time to evaporate.
Once you add your fish to the jar, give it a week to let the waste products build up before you move to the next step. Put your plant in your net pot. Get the grow medium and spread it evenly around your plant’s roots. Carefully put the net pot into your glass jar and screw the lid ring on the pot, over the net pot to hold it in place. Put the jar where it’ll get a decent amount of sunlight and watch it grow. Monitor the water levels and add more in as you need.
DIY Aquaponics System Eight – Back to the Roots Water Garden
This is a self-cleaning tank that forms a mini ecosystem and will grow organic microgreens on the top. It’s a scaled-down version, and you can use the plants in salads, smoothies, or as garnish for cheap lunch options. You’ll get everything you need but the fish in this system, and it’ll allow you to harvest your microgreens in as little as 10 days after you initially set it up. This is a sleek setup that will blend well with a broad range of decors without taking up a lot of counter space.
Each DIY aquaponics system comes with a 100% guarantee to grow or they’ll refund you or replace it at no additional cost to you. There is a solid bottom that lends a lot of stability to this kit, and the grow trays sit securely on the top. You can add a feeder fish or a beta to the tank to fertilize the plants, and the plant’s roots will help clean the water to keep it clear and looking nice. The tank is quick to set up and easy to reach all of the areas if you need to change it or clean it.
All About DIY Aquaponics Systems
A large or small-scale DIY aquaponics system will help you create a more efficient garden while giving your plants a host of nutrients and organic fertilizer they need to grow. But, what are the important components of your DIY aquaponics system that you have to consider? What are the benefits, and which plants or fish work best for these systems? Find out below.
Important Components for Your DIY Aquaponics System
There are three main components in your system that you want to keep in mind as you set it up and get it running. Doing so will help you keep both your plants and your fish healthy and thriving for years at a time. You should focus on:
- pH – Maintaining the proper pH levels can be difficult with some setups, and having your pH too high or too low will result in dead fish and struggling plants. You should test your pH when you first set up the DIY aquaponics system and shoot for a 7.0 rating. Get pH increaser and decreaser to have on hand so you can manually adjust it as needed.
- Aeration – Aeration refers to ensuring the fish tank water moves to get oxygen down to the fish. When the water circulates back into the aquarium from the plants, it is aerated. You want to ensure that your water continuously circulates from the growing bins into the aquarium and back up into the growing bins. This will keep the plants and fish healthy.
- Nitrification – This refers to the fish waste and how it feeds the plants. Fish excrete ammonia from their gills and waste products, and plants need ammonia to survive. Make sure your fish are alive and healthy and that your pump is strong enough to circulate the dirty water up to the grow beds.
Credit: Bedroom Aquaponics, Baby! By Geek2Nurse / CC BY-NC 2.0
Best Plants for DIY Aquaponics
What are the best plants and herbs for your aquaponics system? You want to get full results, and picking easy plants when you first start is key. Generally speaking, many types of vegetables do very well in this type of system. Some of the most popular include but are not limited too:
Ideally, you’ll start out with quick-growing and propagating plants so you can see results right away. Some can take up to two months to show good results, and this may be too long for novice DIY aquaponics users. What you grow also depends on the space you have since some vine vegetables need room to trail down the sides of the tank. Take your space into consideration before you go out to purchase your plants.
Best Fish for DIY Aquaponics
Your fish will determine how well they feed your plants, and you want to start out small while you get the hang of it. You want to consider the water temperature requirements, hardiness, growth rate, and the feed consumption of any fish you purchase. If you don’t pick out the correct ones, they can easily die if the environment changes. Also, some fish create more fertilizer than others. A few popular options are:
If you’re going to try and keep fish you can pull from the local lakes, check your state’s laws and regulations. Some prohibit the use of these fish, and you could get fined for it. Generally speaking, cheap feeder fish are a cost-effective choice, and fan-tailed goldfish are too fat to jump out of most aquariums.
Tips and Tricks of Setting up a DIY Aquaponics System
Although setting up this system is relatively straightforward, there are several tips and tricks around that you can use to ensure you’re successful on your first try. You don’t want it to fail, so read through the following before you start working with it.
- Copper is toxic to fish, so avoid using copper plumbing or tubing in your system.
- Before you add any new fish to an existing setup, quarantine them for three to five days in another tank to make sure they don’t have a disease they can transmit to your other fish.
- Keep the water temperature as consistent as possible to prevent shocking the plants and killing the fish.
- Provide cover and shade to prevent algae from taking hold in the tank.
- Let your system cycle for 24 hours after you set it up before you introduce the fish. This will give it time for the chlorine to evaporate.
A DIY aquaponics system doesn’t have to be extremely expensive. I’ve given you eight examples you can buy or make on your own and use them both inside and outside. I invite you to try it for yourself and see how successful you are at growing organic vegetables and herbs. You can have them all year-round once you learn how to keep it going.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.