Small Aquarium Aquaponics

A neighbour was kind enough to throw out a small aquarium and as the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. This tank started out as a great tadpole nursery, however we wanted to find a way for it to produce something a bit more palatable as we’re not quite French enough to consider frog legs a delicacy.

Then spawned the idea for our Small Aquarium Aquaponics!

Small Aquarium Aquaponics

Aquaponics can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like, but for our first experiment we opted for the simplest possible setup.

In an aquaponic system, water from the fish tank is pumped to a growbed where the fish manure is broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients. The plants act as a bio-filter and purifies the water that is recirculated back into the fishtank.

And that’s pretty much the gist of it. A myriad of aquaponic designs exists and you’d be sure to say not every DIY setup would ever be alike.

Here’s a breakdown of all the different components we decided on for our Aquarium Aquaponics:



This throwaway aquarium was a great find, but you can use almost any watertight container in aquaponics as long as your fish don’t become too cramped.


Drainage Hole

A plastic self watering growbed with a few added holes did the trick. The small growbed made it possible to use the wicking bed concept in our design.

The bottom was fitted with a drainage hole to which a pvc standpipe was added to achieve our desired water level. We used washed gravel to fill the growbed to just below the water level and topped it off with some potting soil.

Medium Guards

Essentially it’s a little underground river that keeps the soil moist and the plant roots fed.


Airlift Pump

We built a simple airlift pump with a piece of garden hose and a Aqua One 2500 Air pump. This DIY water pump is by far the most economical with a mere 2.5W usage. Solids pass through this pump a treat and thus there’s no blockages or cleaning to worry about. It’s low maintenance at its best!

Join the air pipe to the bottom of the submerged hose and the bubbles will create a seal that will suck the water up the garden hose creating a little water elevator.


Lifting water with air bubbles also oxygenates it which is great for both the fish and the plants.


Pacific Blue Eye

Usually aquaponics aim to use edible fish, but for our first experiment we opted for something a bit smaller. After some consideration we decided on the native Pacific Blue Eye to stock our tank. They’re really pretty to look at and great for mosquito control.

Thanks to the Pacific Blue Eye’s voracious appetite, finding white butterfly caterpillars on our broccoli isn’t such a pain as it used to be. A quick run to the fishtank and the fish make quick work of the caterpillars and soon you’ve converted a pest into plantfood!

Pacific Blue Eyes


Growbed Plants

We’ve planted a bunch of water loving Gotu Kola which will soon provide us with an extremely healthy porridge for breakfast. A few kales and other edibles have also made an appearance in our growbed.

Aquaponic systems can be planted quite densely as the plants don’t have to compete for nutrients and water.

A thick layer of azolla and duckweed on the surface of the water helps prevent evaporation and can be fed to bigger fish or used as mulch.

This experiment was a great success and has encouraged us to further our aquaponic adventures in Ingadi.


~ by Jake on September 23, 2013.

7 Responses to “Small Aquarium Aquaponics”

  1. Man, I’ve been wanting to do aquaponics for so long, it’s just a shame I don’t really have the space for it here at my home. 😦

  2. Hi! Great little setup, but I’m curious about a few little points, if I can ask. Your airlift delivers water to the growbed. You have a standpipe that sets the max water level of the water in the growbed. How are you controlling the drainage from the growbed? Timer, or drain hole in the bottom of your standpipe? How is the system going now? thanks! Brenton

    • Hi Brenton, glad you liked it :-).You’re correct there, the top of the standpipe functions as the drainage hole. The water reaches the top of this pvc pipe then overflows/drains straight back to the fishtank. I also placed a medium guard on top of the pvc pipe to keep the gravel and soil from dropping into the fishtank.
      The system is doing great and there’s none of the usual “tinkering” involved as with larger more complex systems. It’s been running smoothly since day one and the soft gurgling noise has become a very relaxing part of my garden. I believe the key to this designs success is in the simplicity, people tend to over think and over complicate aquaponics in my opinion. The plants are overflowing by now and the fish are quite healthy too. I’ll have to post an update sometime, thanks for reminding me.

  3. With your aquaponic, how many fish can you put in it? Does the size matter?

    • I have about 12 Pacific Blue Eyes in there, but it’s quite a small fish. It all depends on the size of your fish, obviously the bigger they are the less you can keep in your tank without stressing them.

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