How to build an indoor Aquaponics system

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). It is a natural and eco-friendly way of producing food, as the fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish. In this article, I will show you how to build your own aquaponics system at home, using some common components from IKEA and a few extras from your local hardware store. This system is ideal for small spaces, such as apartments or balconies, and can grow a variety of plants, such as herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, or strawberries.

In this article, we will show you how to make indoor aquaponics system using simple and inexpensive materials. You'll learn the basic principles of aquaponics, the components you'll need, and the steps to get your system up and running. By the end of this article, you will be able to enjoy fresh and organic produce and fish from your own aquaponics system.

Aquaponics System vector
Aquaponics System Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    What is Aquaponics?

    Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). In an aquaponics system, the fish and the plants are connected by a water pump and a drainage system. The water from the fish tank is pumped to the plant bed, where the plants absorb the nutrients from the fish waste. The water then drains back to the fish tank, where it is clean and oxygenated by the plants. This creates a natural cycle that benefits both the fish and the plants.

    Aquaponics has many advantages over conventional farming methods. Some of them are:

    • It uses up to 90% less water than soil-based gardening, as the water is recycled and reused in the system.
    • It does not require any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, as the fish and the plants provide natural nutrients and pest control for each other.
    • It can be done in any climate and location, as long as there is a source of electricity and water.
    • It can be scaled up or down according to your needs and preferences, from a small desktop system to a large commercial operation.

    Aquaponics System
    Photo Credit: Shutterstock

    What Do You Need to Build Aquaponics System?

    To build indoor aquaponics system, you will need the following components:

    Fish tank: This is where you will keep your fish. You can use any size and shape of tank, as long as it is sturdy and leak-proof. The size of the tank will determine how many fish you can raise and how much water you will need. A general rule of thumb is to have one gallon of water per one inch of fish. For example, if you have 10 fish that are 4 inches long each, you will need a 40-gallon tank. You can use an existing aquarium, a plastic container, a barrel, or even a bathtub as your fish tank.

    Plant bed: This is where you will grow your plants. You can use any type of container that can hold water and a growing medium. The size of the plant bed should be about the same as or slightly larger than the fish tank, to ensure a balanced system. You can use a wooden box, a plastic tub, a metal tray, or even a wire basket as your plant bed.

    Growing medium: This is the material that will support the roots of your plants and allow the water to flow through. You can use any inert and porous medium that will not affect the pH or the chemistry of the water. Some examples are gravel, clay pebbles, perlite, vermiculite, or coconut coir. You will need enough medium to fill your plant bed to a depth of 6 to 12 inches.

    Water pump: This is the device that will move the water from the fish tank to the plant bed. You can use any submersible pump that is suitable for your system size and power source. You will need to check the flow rate and the head height of the pump to make sure it can deliver enough water to your plant bed. A general rule of thumb is to have a pump that can circulate the entire volume of water in your system at least once per hour. For example, if you have a 40-gallon system, you will need a pump that can pump 40 gallons per hour.

    Drainage system: This is the mechanism that will return the water from the plant bed to the fish tank. You can use either a continuous flow or a flood and drain system. A continuous flow system is simpler and cheaper, but it requires more aeration and filtration to keep the water quality high. A flood and drain system is more complex and expensive, but it provides better oxygenation and solid removal for the system. A flood and drain system works by using a siphon or a timer to periodically fill and empty the plant bed. You can use PVC pipes, hoses, or tubes to connect your drainage system.

    Aeration devices: These are the devices that will provide oxygen to the water for the fish and the plants. You can use an air pump, an air stone, a venturi, or a fountain to create bubbles and water movement in your system. You will need to check the oxygen level and the temperature of the water regularly to make sure they are optimal for your fish and plants. A general rule of thumb is to have at least 6 ppm of dissolved oxygen and a temperature range of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in your system.

    Fish: These are the animals that will produce the waste that will fertilize your plants. You can choose any type of fish that is suitable for your climate, your system size, and your personal preference. Some of the most popular fish for aquaponics are tilapia, catfish, trout, carp, goldfish, and koi. You will need to consider the stocking density, the feeding rate, the growth rate, and the harvest size of your fish. A general rule of thumb is to have one pound of fish per 5 to 10 gallons of water in your system.

    Plants: These are the organisms that will absorb the nutrients from the fish waste and purify the water for the fish. You can grow any type of plant that can thrive in a hydroponic environment, such as leafy greens, herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. You will need to consider the light, the pH, the temperature, and the nutrient requirements of your plants. A general rule of thumb is to have a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, a light intensity of 2000 to 3000 lux, and a temperature range of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in your system.

    How to Assemble the System

    To assemble your own aquaponics system at home, follow these steps:


    1. Assemble the Antonius frame according to the IKEA instructions. Place the 50 liter plastic container on the bottom shelf of the frame, and the wire basket on the top shelf. Cut off the handles of the 25 liter plastic container, and place it inside the wire basket. This will be your grow bed.

    2. Drill a hole in the bottom of the grow bed, and insert the standpipe. The standpipe should be slightly higher than the desired water level in the grow bed. Attach the bell siphon to the top of the standpipe, and cover it with the media guard. The bell siphon will create a vacuum that will drain the water from the grow bed when it reaches a certain level, and break the vacuum when the water level drops, allowing the grow bed to flood again. The media guard will prevent the growing media from clogging the siphon.

    3. Drill another hole in the side of the grow bed, and insert a PVC elbow. This will be the inlet for the water from the pump. Connect a PVC pipe from the elbow to the pump, and place the pump in one corner of the fish tank. Connect another PVC pipe from the pump to the bypass ball-valve, and from the valve to the fish tank. The valve will allow you to adjust the amount of water going into the grow bed, and the excess water will return to the fish tank, creating a loop.

    4. Fill the grow bed with the growing media of your choice, and rinse it well to remove any dust or debris. Plant your seeds or seedlings in the grow bed, and make sure they are well covered by the media.

    5. Fill the fish tank with water, and plug in the pump. The water should start flowing from the fish tank to the grow bed, and from the grow bed back to the fish tank. Adjust the valve to achieve a balance between the flooding and draining cycles of the grow bed. Ideally, the grow bed should flood and drain every 15 minutes.

    6. Add some fish to the fish tank, and feed them regularly. The fish will produce waste that will be converted by beneficial bacteria into nitrates, which are essential nutrients for the plants. The plants will absorb the nitrates and other minerals from the water, and return clean water to the fish tank. This way, you will have a natural and self-sustaining system that will produce both fish and plants for your consumption.

    How to Maintain Aquaponics System?

    Once you have set up your own aquaponics system at home, you will need to maintain it regularly to ensure its optimal performance and longevity. Maintaining your aquaponics system involves monitoring and adjusting the water quality, feeding and caring for your fish, pruning and harvesting your plants, and cleaning and repairing your system components. Here are some of the essential maintenance tasks that you should perform on your aquaponics system:

    Check the water levels: You should check the water levels in your fish tank and your plant bed daily, and add more water if needed. The water level in your fish tank should be high enough to cover the fish and the pump intake. The water level in your plant bed should be low enough to expose the top layer of the growing medium, where the plant roots are. This will prevent algae growth and root rot. You should also check the water source and make sure it is clean and free of contaminants. You can use rainwater, well water, or tap water, as long as you dechlorinate it before adding it to your system.

    Test the water quality: You should test the water quality in your system at least once a week, using a water test kit. You should measure the pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, and make sure they are within the ideal ranges for your fish and plants. The pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5, the ammonia should be below 0.5 ppm, the nitrite should be below 1 ppm, and the nitrate should be below 50 ppm. If any of these parameters are out of balance, you should adjust them accordingly, using natural methods such as adding vinegar or baking soda to lower or raise the pH, adding more plants or reducing the fish feed to lower the ammonia and nitrate, or adding more aeration or filtration to lower the nitrite.

    Feed and care for your fish: You should feed your fish once or twice a day, depending on their size and appetite. You should give them the right amount and type of fish food, according to their species and nutritional needs. You should avoid overfeeding your fish, as this can cause excess waste and ammonia in your system. You should also monitor your fish for any signs of stress, disease, or predation, and take the necessary actions to keep them healthy and happy. You should provide them with adequate oxygen, temperature, and shelter in your fish tank, and remove any dead or sick fish as soon as possible.

    Prune and harvest your plants: You should prune your plants regularly, to remove any dead or diseased leaves, stems, or roots, and to promote healthy and bushy growth. You should also harvest your plants when they are ready, to enjoy the fresh and organic produce from your system. You should avoid overcrowding your plants in your plant bed, as this can reduce the nutrient and light availability for each plant. You should also rotate your crops, to prevent nutrient depletion and pest infestation in your system.

    Clean and repair your system components: You should clean your system components periodically, to remove any dirt, debris, or algae that may clog or damage them. You should clean your fish tank, your plant bed, your growing medium, your pipes, your pump, and your filter, using a brush, a hose, or a cloth. You should also check your system components for any leaks, cracks, or malfunctions, and repair or replace them as needed. You should also check your electrical connections and your power source, and make sure they are safe and reliable.

    By following these maintenance tasks, you can keep your indoor aquaponics system running smoothly and efficiently, and enjoy the benefits of sustainable and eco-friendly food production.

    What vegetables you can grow in aquaponics?

    Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) with aquaculture (raising fish). In this symbiotic setup, fish provide nutrients to plants, and in return, the plants purify the water for the fish. It’s like a mini ecosystem where everyone plays a vital role.

    Vegetables You Can Grow in Aquaponics

    • Lettuce: Leafy greens like lettuce are perfect for aquaponics. They grow quickly and don’t require heavy nutrient input.
    • Kale: Another leafy green, kale, thrives in aquaponics. It’s packed with vitamins and minerals.
    • Watercress: This peppery green loves the nutrient-rich water in aquaponics systems.
    • Arugula: Known for its spicy flavor, arugula grows well and adds a zing to your salads.
    • Swiss Chard: With its colorful stems and nutritious leaves, Swiss chard is a great choice.
    • Herbs: Mint, basil, and cilantro flourish in aquaponics. Fresh herbs at your fingertips!
    • Okra: These heat-loving pods do well in aquaponics, especially in warmer climates.
    • Spring Onions and Leeks: These onion relatives thrive in the nutrient-rich water.
    • Radishes: Quick-growing radishes add a peppery crunch to your meals.
    • Spinach: Nutrient-packed spinach leaves are a must-have.
    Remember, aquaponics provides a sustainable way to grow both protein (fish) and vegetables year-round. Plus, it uses only 10% of the water needed for traditional soil-based gardening. So, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, aquaponics offers a fascinating and rewarding experience!


    Aquaponics is a fun and rewarding way of growing your own food at home, while saving water, space, and money. By following this guide, you can build your own aquaponics system at home, using some simple and affordable materials. You can customize your system to suit your preferences, and grow a variety of fish and plants. You can also enjoy the benefits of having a natural and eco-friendly system that will provide you with fresh and organic produce all year round. 

    Reference & Resources

    3. How to Build an Aquaponics System - a Beginners Guide

    4. How to Make an Indoor Aquaponics System

    5. 25 Top Vegetables To Grow in  Aquaponics

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