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 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!
This is a basic set-up so please do make sure that you follow up with learning how to manage
your new system and to look after the fish, the plants and the bacteria.
The main frame that you are going to use will be the Antonius frame from IKEA combined with one or two wire baskets and two of the plastic containers. You will use the 50l container for the fish tank at the bottom, and the 25l container for the growbed at the top.
Assemble all Antonius parts based on the accompanying instructions.
Use the wire basket as support for the 25l plastic container for the growbed. It is not strictly necessary for the 50l plastic container fish tank at the bottom if you just put the container on the floor.
The 25 litre plastic container does not fit neatly into the wire basket so it is best to use a pair of pliers to cut out a small section of the wire mesh at each end of the wire basket, as shown here. The container will then fit snugly (with a little effort!) into the wire basket.
You can also decorate your containers by adding stickers, decals or painting them the colour of your choice. A good UV resistant paint is helpful but make sure that it is only on the outside of the container.
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 600 lph 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.
You can see here the red ball-valve which we use to control how much water flows back into the fish tank - and so equally, how much water flows into the growbed above.
In this system we are using 13mm PVC pipes and 16mm PVC pipes. Initially we will start with the growbed.
Step 2 - Preparing the Growbed
First, drill two 21mm holes (or whichever size fits your connectors) in opposite corners in the growbed as shown in the picture. The holes should be about 6 or 7cm from the edge of the container in each direction.
The bottom of the growbed is slightly ridged - we put the inflow from the fish tank in one of the grooves - and the outflow back to the fish tank is on one of the ridges. Remember to leave space for the media guard on the outflow.
You may also need to cut the wire mesh basket in order for the plumbing pieces to fit neatly - as shown here.
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 it's not strictly necessary. We then use a reducer on top of the male adapter.
This assembly 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, so you will need to cut the pipe down so that it is the right height for you. You should now let the silicone dry if you have used it.
Step 3 - Making the water In-flow pipe
Take your 13mm male and female connectors and the two rubber washers, or O-rings.
Place the first O-ring on the male adapter and thread it through the top of the growbed. Then fit the 2nd rubber O-ring onto the threads and screw the female adapter onto the male adapter until you have a nice snug (and waterproof) fit.
Into the male adapter we then add a short length of 13mm pipe and add two 90 degree elbows on top of this. (The elbows are connected by a short pice of 13mm pipe (36mm))
The height of this assembly just needs to be sufficient to clear the surface of the growbed when all the media is added.
Step 4 - Making the Ball-valve Bypass and Pump Connector
Here you can see the whole of the plumbing assembly that comes off the pump and draws water into the growbed.
We start at the bottom with the flexi-pipe that is connected to the pump - if your flexi-pipe does not fit onto the pump then use a small length of hosepipe that can fit into the flexi, and onto the pump.
We the use a T-bar that will draw some water up the straight length of 13mm pipe into the 13mm female connector and then on up to the growbed, and some water into the Ball-valve assembly to divert back into the fish tank.
From the T-bar add a small 13mm piece of pipe that fits into the Ball-valve. Out of the Ball-valve we have another piece of pipe that goes into the corner of the fish tank, and ends in a 90 degree elbow to allow the water to flow smoothly into the tank.
None of the fittings are glued - all just pushed on firmly. This allows us to take the assembly apart for cleaning if we need to.
This whole assembly 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 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 start with the 16mm male and female adapters that are connected to the growbed. We use a slightly wider width than the inflowing plumbing to reduce any chance of flooding.
We use a small length of 16mm pipe to regulate the height of the water in the growbed. However high the pipe is, will be how how the water reaches in the growbed. We usually leave the top few cms of growbed completely dry. You can use a reducer as shown here if you prefer - but it is not strictly necessary on these systems and works without it.
We then have the 50mm bell siphon in the middle. This is a 50 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 stop
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.
Finally you can see the length of 16mm pipe under the growbed that returns the water back to the fish tank.
Bell siphons can be tricky to get working so for more information please refer to our Bell Siphon Guide.
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 similar. Select media that allows the water to flow through the growbed.
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 kick-start your system. Goldfish work really well.
Further information: Setting up your system is just the beginning and so we recommend checking out more information on how to actually run your system and how aquaponics works.