A Guide to DIY Aquaponics For Beginners

There is a growing trend nowadays called ‘diy aquaponics’. What is it about? From the word ‘aqua’, you might have an idea that it involves water. However, it also involves the raising of fish and the usage of plants for water filtering.

Since we’re talking about DIY, this means that aquaponics can be created without professional help. If you are new to aquaponics and would want to know how to develop one, you are on the right page.

What Exactly is Aquaponics?

It is a system that combines aquaculture, which is the raising of aquatic animals like fish, and hydroponics, which is the process of cultivating plants in water without any soil. In this system, the wastewater from a fish container is supplied to plants grown locally.

The plants serve as natural filters and purify the water as it passes through them. The purified water is then transported back to the fish container and the cycle continues. Basically, both the fish and the plants benefit and there will be no water wastage.


Aquaculture involves increasing the number of fish for food supply or decorative means. The more fish you have, the more waste the water can contain. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants within a water solvent or in absence of garden soil.

Hence, the plants need water that contains more nutrients than regular water since they can’t get these nutrients from the soil. With aquaponics, the problems of the 2 practices can be solved and they are being connected to form into a single working system.

Aquaponics is becoming more popular in the urban setting since it helps to produce a higher food yield even with little space. Unlike traditional gardening, it requires no soil and produces little to no space.

A Short History Of Aquaponics

Although aquaponics may seem new, the concept is rather not. This system of food production was conceptualized since ancient times in areas like America and Eurasia. We all know that fishing and gardening are among the most common activities, whether a job or a hobby, even during those times and so, invention similar to aquaponics is expected.

For centuries, aquatic plants like rice have been planted in rice paddies where fish are cultivated in water to give protein to the plants. The waste from the fish becomes direct fertilizers for rice and other aquatic plants in the paddies.

In Mexico, the Aztecs used the chinampa system where fish were raised in canals. Platforms were then established above where plants were placed to get the necessary nutrients.

Modern aquaponics systems were established in the late 70s. These systems have greatly developed over the years and feature tanks and ‘grow’ beds that can be used in the urban setting.

DIY Aquaponics Designs

Now that you are informed of the true definition of the system and its testament as a product of necessity since ancient times, it’s time to learn diy aquaponics designs. As mentioned, the modern version is a merger of 2 ideas, namely aquaculture and hydroponics.

Therefore, to start your diy aquaponics, you need to have a fish farm, a hydroponic garden, and a path where the water can run in cycles.

Step 1: Set Up the Fish Tanks

The fish containers to be used must have at least two holes: one hole to allow water to flow in (inlet) and the other hole for water to flow out (outlet). The inlet should be situated at the top of the container, way above the water where the fish are swimming. On the other hand, the outlet should be situated at the bottom of the container where the fish wastes are usually suspended.

Step 2: Create a Path for Water to Flow Through the Plants

The water flowing out from the fish container’s outlet must have a pathway that goes to the hydroponic garden. You can utilize gravity to your advantage and place the fish container on an elevated area and the hydroponic garden at a level below. The important thing is that water must constantly flow through the plants and be collected in order to be pumped back.

diy aquaponics system

Step 3: Pumping Back the Water

When the water passing through the plants is collected, it will be pumped back to the fish container. Aside from gravity, the sucking motion from the pump also stimulates one-way motion. Since the inlet of the fish container is located at the top, the water pump must be powerful enough to be delivered to that position.

If that sounds a bit demanding on your craftsmanship, you will be pleased to know that there are Diy aquaponics kits available. You can distinguish which one is legit since whatever the size of the system is, the principles or the physics remain the same. You can research more varied designs online.

Best Fish for Aquaponics

DIY aquaponics is a great system to develop for almost maintenance-free aquaculture. This is because it allows you to grow a lot of fish without worrying about cleaning the water regularly. However, since your setup is limited to a confined space, the amount of fish you can raise is dependent on its dimensions.

Most diy aquaponics in urban areas are applicable to aquariums where the fish placed are mostly pets. If you’re applying diy aquaponics in open spaces, don’t expect to grow tuna or salmon as these can only be nurtured in seawater. If you are looking to raise koi, which serves as a decorative pet, you will need a larger container and a more powerful pump.

In short, not all fish can be considered aquaponics fish. If you are raising pets or fish for food supply, make sure that they can survive swimming in freshwater inside a limited space. For specifics, here are some things that can help when selecting the appropriate fish for your diy aquaponics system.

  • Consider the temperature of the water. Don’t utilize cold water fish in tropical climates. The same goes for tropical fish in frequently snowed regions.
  • Any pet fish can be used as aquaponics fish as long as the climate and containers suit them. Examples are goldfish and koi.
  • For food supply, tilapia is the most suitable for warm water. Other species that are highly suggested are jade perch and channel catfish.
  • For colder environments, the suitable aquaponics fish are carp, trout, and white bass.

Best Plants for Aquaponics

Now that you have an idea of what fish are suitable for an aquaponics system, you also need to consider the aquaponics plants. As aforementioned, aquaponics involves the idea of hydroponics, which doesn’t rely on garden soil for nourishment. Needless to say that the plants suited for the aquaponics system are those that can grow without necessarily being dug into the soil.

The plants being pointed out here are not just for ornamental purposes such as orchids. These plants are meant for vegetation, meaning they can be cultivated for human consumption later on. However, unlike your regular garden, you cannot grow crops.

You know what a salad looks like, right? Almost all of the ingredients in there can be grown using hydroponics. Unknowingly, you are raising a back to the roots water garden, wherein hydroponics plants can be grown also by digging them into the soil. Great examples are tomatoes and peppers. Here are some recommendations as you build your diy aquaponics system.

  • Always consider the climate. If you are in a region with a tropical climate, it is highly recommended to choose tropical plants.
  • For warm weather, plants like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, bok choy, basil, chives, mint, and cucumbers would be ideal.
  • Lettuce, cabbages, kale, chard, parsley, and strawberries do well in cold weather.


You should note that plants can differ in terms of nutrient consumption. Those demanding more nutrients need more wastewater from the fish containers.

aquaponics system

Benefits of a DIY Aquaponics System

There are so many reasons why you may consider building your aquaponics system. They include:


Since no chemicals or fertilizers are used, an aquaponics system will produce purely organic crops. Also, the fish will not be exposed to harmful or toxic chemicals.

Eliminates Water Wastage

Unlike traditional gardening, this system uses 1/10th of water to maintain it. Water is recycled and this helps to conserve it.

It Can Grow Vegetables and Rear Fish

This system is symbiotic and both the fish and vegetables benefit from each other. Besides, crops can grow at a high rate because of the high richness of proteins from fish.

Requires Limited Space

In the aquaponics system, you can grow many crops and rear fish in just a small space.

Challenges of Aquaponics

There is no denying that diy aquaponics can be very beneficial and environmentally friendly. However, it is not easy work. You can encounter challenges along the way and probably a few trial-and-error situations. Here are some of the problems you can come across when making your diy aquaponics system.

  • Matching the aquaculture requirement to the nutrient demands of hydroponics gardens. This involves a selection of optimal fish food and suitable aquaponics plant that can fully utilize the wastewater.
  • Stabilization of the system. It can be difficult to figure out the ratio from feeds to fish to plants. The other issue is with the scheduling of tasks.
  • Checking the quality of filtered water.
  • Operational cost. For a diy aquaponics system, you will need growing lights for indoor plants in absence of sunlight. You also need to factor in the costs of electrical power demands for the water pump.


The diy aquaponics system may require a lot of planning and a bit more on the financial side, but the rewards can be more than satisfying. In the long run, you will attain sustainability. Furthermore, with constant improvements to your diy aquaponics system, you can even grow to a potentially fruitful business.

aquaponics experts

Welcome to The Aquaponics Guide

Hello! We are the Johnsons and the faces of The Aquaponics Guide. We have been avid gardeners for many years and growing our own food is one of our key priorities. We have found sustainable Aquaponics farming to be a life changer, which is the reason we have created The Aquaponics Guide. 

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