Aquaponics Plans

Aquaponics Designs & Aquaponics Plans

Aquaponics blends aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soilless growing of plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution). A simple aquaponics system involves using a grow bed for plants, and aquarium for raising fish.  These two components work symbiotically to create an effective aquaponics system.

Some people opt to buy aquaponics kits, while others design their own aquaponics system. If you wish to design your own, you need to:

  1. Choose the type of system you want to implement
  2. Buy the necessary components for your aquaponics plans
  3. Build it!

Before formulating your aquaponics plans, let’s review some considerations, then look at the most effective aquaponics system designs. Lastly, we will review which components you will need to purchase to build your own aquaponic system.

Benefits of using Aquaponics Kits

Aquaponics kits are a fantastic educational tool for the classroom. They also make attractive displays in the home and office, and require very little maintenance when compared to most other systems.  Besides being interesting, fun, attractive and easy to operate, did we also mention aquaponic kits grow wonderful plants?

Here are a few of the key benefits of using aquaponics kits:

  • Extremely easy to set up and maintain – no weeding, no chemicals, less water and pests
  • Space-saving, energy-efficient, sustainable, and fast plant growth
  • Fish waste provides the only nutrients needed, thus only inexpensive fish food needs to be purchased
  • Attractive addition to the home or office, and educational for the classroom

A Few Things to Consider When Purchasing an Aquaponics Kit

Aquaponics is not a good choice for growing potatoes, carrots, radish or other root vegetables. Since fish tanks use electricity to operate, there will be some cost associated with that. And don’t let any chemical touch the aquaponic ecosystem, as this will ensure your fish will die, rendering the system non-operational.

 What types of Aquaponics Kits are available?

There are various aquaponics kits to choose from. Do you already have an aquarium tank? If so, there are aquaponics kits which retrofit on top of your aquarium, instantly creating an aquaponics system. If you do not already have an aquarium, you can buy one separately, and then add an aquaponics kit once your new aquarium is in place.

Another option is to buy an aquaponics kit with an aquarium already built-in to the system. These can be elaborate or very simplistic, depending on how big or small you want your aquaponic system to be. With that said, let’s that a look at some of the most popular aquaponics kits available. Here’s a quick reference table followed by detailed descriptions.

Types of Aquaponics Systems

These are the four general components of every aquaponics system:

  • aquarium (fish tank)
  • grow bed for plants
  • a method of transporting water from the aquarium to the grow bed (a pump is often used)
  • a method to drain water from the grow bed back into the aquarium (pipes or siphons are often used)

Below are the most common designs used in planning an aquaponics system:

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

Ebb and Flow is the most popular design used aquaponics. For beginners who are creating their aquaponics plans, consider using this type of system. It’s simple to implement, and results are typically very good. Let’s see how this technique works:

  • a grow bed is placed above an aquarium, which allows for gravitational draining
  • plants grow in a media-filled bed (such as clay pebbles)
  • a submersible pump is placed in the fish tank, which pumps water into the grow beds
  • to regulate the amount of water being pumped into the grow bed, and to drain this water back into the reservoir (fish tank), either a timer w/ standpipe, or a bell siphon are used
  • a timer is used to turn on/off the pump – for interval flooding –  and a standpipe is a drain placed in the grow bed to allow water to return into the fish tank
  • a bell siphon (or auto siphon) is placed in the grow bed to automatically regulate the ebb and flow of water, and to allow draining back into the fish tank (no pump or electricity are needed to operate a siphon)
  • when making the decision to use a timer-based system vs. using a bell siphon, there are no rights or wrongs and the decision is up to you
  • when using a timer, running the pump (flood) for 15 minutes, then turning off the pump (drain) for 45 minutes is effective
  • since a siphon is self-regulating, no timer or electricity are required if you choose this method
Aquaponics Plan Ebb and Flow

Continuous Flood

A Continuous Flood (or Constant Flood) aquaponics system has essentially the same design as Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain). However, no timers or siphons are used. Instead, a pump continuously floods the grow bed with water, and then recirculates it back into the fish tank.

While this aquaponics design is certainly simple, results can be mixed. Most aquaponics enthusiasts prefer the Ebb and Flow because many plants benefit from periods of dryness. With that said, there are fewer costs involved, and Continuous Flow is extremely low-maintenance. Beginners have the option of starting with this type of system, then adding a timer or siphon when they are ready.

Benefits of a Continuous Flood system

  • easiest design for your aquaponics plans
  • self-cleaning
  • no timers or siphons are used
  • inexpensive because less parts are needed
  • simple design and less parts means low maintenance and great for beginners

Deep Flow (Raft or DWC)

Deep Flow, also referred to as the Raft System, is a Deep Water Culture (DWC) technique in which plants are floated within a foam raft, and roots are suspended in nutrient-rich water. Any solid waste is filtered before water reaches the plants. Often, the raft tank is separate from the fish tank, and water flows continuously between one tank, through filtration components, and then into the second tank. Other Deep Flow methods simply use one tank to both store fish and raft plants.

This method is popular with commercial aquaponics growers, as plants can be maintained and harvested with ease. Apart from an aquarium tank, filter, and maybe an air pump or air stone, Deep Flow is a simple aquaponics system. Some DIY aquaponics enthusiasts simply punch holes into Styrofoam cups, insert a plant, and float atop a tank. However, note that Deep Flow is not recommended for fruiting plants or those with large roots systems.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

Nutrient Film Technique is another aquaponics system which is better suited for smaller, leafy green types of plants. NFT works by flowing a thin stream of nutrient-rich water down enclosed channels or gutters. Plants sit in small net pots or plastic cups, and their roots are nourished and hydrated by the nutrient-rich water as it passes by the root zone.

Much like Deep Flow, water continuously flows from the aquarium, through filtration components, then through the NFT channels where the plants are grown, and then back into the fish tank. A separate bio filter is necessary in this type of system. While NFT may work well in larger commercial operations, a Media-Filled Bed aquaponics plan – like Ebb and Flow or Continuous Flow – is more suited to the hobbyist.

Essential Parts Needed for your Aquaponics Plans

So, you are ready to make your aquaponics plans. Designing an effective system will require buying the essential components.  We have combed through some of the most popular parts for creating an aquaponics system, and listed them here to give you some ideas for implementing your aquaponics plans: 

Flood Trays / Flood Table / Grow Trays

These are used as grow beds to hold plants. The size of your fish tank – and the amount of fish you raise – will determine how many plants you can grow. The larger your aquarium, the larger your flood tray should be. Remember that a standard ratio to begin with is one fish per one plant (1:1).

Grow Trays Important Features Dimensions

10 Plant Growing Trays

by Living Whole Foods

• (10) 20" x 10" trays

• versatile trays without drain holes

• good for propagation and small plants

• best seller on Amazon

3.22 lbs. 4” x 11.25” x 21.5”
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5 BPA Free Plastic Flat Trays

by Bootstrap Farmer

• (5) 20” x 10” trays

• high-quality BPA-free plastic trays

• durable, reusable trays without drain holes

• good for propagation and small plants

2.9 lbs. 2.5 x 11 x 21.25
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2-Foot by 4-Foot Black Flood Tray Table

by HydroFarm

• large, 2’ x 4’ grow tray

• grid pattern design and multi-level channels for superior drainage

• quality, heavy-duty material

7.1 lbs. 29” x 4” x 53”
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Grow Tray

by Botanicare

• 2’ x 2’ grow tray

• no bowing or sagging

• made from high-impact, thick, durable ABS plastic

4.1 lbs. 22.4” x 6.5” x 22.2”
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Aquaponics Fish Tank

Using a traditional glass or plastic fish tank will work well, especially for smaller systems. Stock tanks, barrels, and tubs are also utilized in aquaponics. Larger systems are especially well-suited for these circular-shaped tanks. To learn more about aquaponics tanks, see our page on this subject. Here are a few options to consider.

Fish Tanks Important Features Size

Glass Aquarium Tank

by Carolina Biological Supply

• standard glass tank can be used for aquaponics

• 10-gallon and 20-gallon available

• triple glass bottom provides strength

available in 10-gallon and 20-gallon
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LED Aquarium Kit

by Marina

• all glass tanks w/ LED module

• comes with many accessories

• one of the most popular aquariums on Amazon

available in 5-gallon, 10-gallon and 20-gallon
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Oval Tub

by Tuff Stuff

• made from 100% recycled LDPE plastic

• sturdy, impact-resistant, leakproof

• wide range of different sizes and shapes from Tuff Stuff

85-gallon, and various other sizes available
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Structural Foam Stock Tank

by Rubbermaid

• seamless structural foam construction

• oversized drain plug for easy draining

• a popular option for large aquaponics plans

150-gallon, and various other sizes available
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Support

You may already have a table, concrete block, or something else to use for supporting your system. Just make sure any table or shelving is large enough and sturdy enough to hold the grow bed (and fish tank, if necessary). Some support structures will need to be altered to accommodate your unique set-up.

Supports Features Size

Heavy Duty Steel Adjustable Wire Shelving

by Sandusky

• 250 lbs capacity

• open wire design with chrome finish

• adjustable in 1-inch increments for precise of shelf heights

10.8 lbs. 30” x 24” x 14 “
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Commercial Height Adjustable Folding Utility Table

by Lifetime

• 850 lbs. capacity

• adjusts to 22-inches, 29-inches and 36-inches

• rust and stain resistant, and a 10-yr warranty

25.8 lbs. 24"x 29" x 36"
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4’x4’ Snapture Snapstand/Tray Stand

by General Hydroponics

• snap together assemble, no tools required

• designed to support 4’x4’ trays

• versatile and sturdy

10.8 lbs. 50.5” x 9” x 9”
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2' x 4' Tray Stand

by Fit Fast

• easy assembly, no tools required

• overall height is 25”

• accommodates all popular brands of trays and reservoirs

36 lbs. 52” x 9.5” x 6.8”
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Water Pumps

Most aquaponics plans involve using a water pump. These pumps ensure that water is continually flowing throughout your aquaponics system, drawing water from the aquarium up into your grow trays. Here are a few of the most popular models to guide you with your aquaponics plans

Water Pumps Features Recommended Tank Size

120 GPH Submersible Pump

by PonicsPump

• 120 GPH, 6W

• durable, efficient, safe

• easy to use

5-gallon to 15-gallon
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Active Aqua Submersible Water Pump

by HydroFarm

• 160 gallons per hour

• Oil free / environmentally safe

• 1-year warranty

10-gallon to 20-gallon
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291 GPH Submersible Pump with 5' Cord - 16W

by PonicsPump

• durable, safe, efficient, easy

• 291 GPH, 16W pump w/ 5 ft. waterproof cord

• 1-year warranty

30-gallon
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Eco 396 Submersible Pump

by EcoPlus

• 396 GPH; 36W motor

• pre-wired 69” 120v power cord

40-gallon
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Active Aqua Submersible 550 GPH Water Pump

HydroFarm

• 550 GPH, 45W

• oil-free and environmentally safe

• 1-year warranty

55-gallon
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Active Aqua Submersible Water Pump, 800 GPH

by HydroFarm

• 800 GPH, 58W

• oil-free, environmentally safe

• 1-year warranty

80-gallon
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Active Aqua 1000 GPH Submersible Water Pump

by HydroFarm

• 1000 GPH, 92W

• recommended for 100+ gallon reservoirs

• Oil free / environmentally safe

• 1 Year Warranty

100+-gallon
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Air Pumps

Air pumps and air stones are used for providing oxygen to your fish tank. It’s better to have too much oxygen than too little, so size-up when in doubt. Here are some of the best-selling air pumps.

Air Pumps Features Recommended Tank Size

77846 Wisper Air Pump

by Tetra

• great for small tank sizes

• reliable and low cost

• easy to use

10-gallon
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77847 Whisper Air Pump

by Tetra

• reliable, powerful, quiet

• good for tanks in the 20-gallon range

• easy to use and inexpensive

20-gallon
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77848 Whisper Air Pump

by Tetra

• durable and reliable

• sound damping chambers to flatten sound waves

• easy to use, inexpensive

40-gallon
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77849 Whisper Air Pump

by Tetra

• powerful and reliable

• sound damping chambers for operating quietly

• good for larger tanks

60-gallon
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Whisper Air Pump for Deep Water Applications

by Tetra

• Tetra's most powerful pumps

• designed for large, deep tanks

• capable of pumping air down to 8 ft.

Up to 150-gallon (also avl. for 300-gallon)
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Airline tubing

Tubing is frequently purchased in conjunction with pumps. This helps to facilitate aeration and circulation within your aquaponics system.

Air Tubing Features Length

Standard Airline Tubing Air Pump Accessories

by Penn Plax

• best seller on Amazon

• good for all aquarium airline needs

• safe, flexible, kin-resistant, and clear tubing

25-feet (also avl. in 75 ft.)
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Airline Tubing for Aquarium

by Python

• 3/16" inside diameter

• non-toxic and ozone safe

• doesn’t crack or turn yellow

• flexible and durable

25-feet
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Siphon and piping drains

An essential component of your aquaponics plans if using a system like Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain), bell siphons and piping drains allow for water to drain back to the aquarium. Here are a few examples of these items.

Siphons Features Size

Bell Siphon Kit

Smokey Mountain Aquaponics

• hand made from PVC pipe and pipe fittings

• simple design and high quality parts

• over 2500 siphons sold

For 12” media grow beds, plus various other sizes avl
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AquaParts Aquaponics Bell Siphon with Media Guard

by The Aquaponics Source

• effective in draining your grow bed in a flood and drain aquaponics system

• no timer needed to turn your pump on and off

• complete installation and tuning instructions included

For 12” media grow beds
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Timers

Timers may or may not be required for your aquaponics plans. If you are using a standpipe in your Flood and Drain design, you may need a timer. Some timers are very basic, while others are highly programmable. We recommend a good, programmable timer if you plan on frequent flooding.

Siphons Features Size

Dual Outlet 7-Day Grounded Digital Programmable Timer

by HydroFarm

• 8 on/off times per day, a one (1) minute minimum "on" time

• allows for different settings for different days

• lots of features to keep your pumps on a schedule

7.7” x 3” x 2” 7.2 oz.
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Grow Media

Your grow medium provides support, aeration, and drainage of your Ebb and Flow and Continuous Flow aquaponic system. If your aquaponics plans include utilizing either of these systems, grow media will be required. Clay pebbles and growstones are some of the most popular mediums used in aquaponics. For more choices and information about grow media, please see our related page.

Siphons Features Size/Dimensions

Clay Pebbles

by Grow!T

• 100% natural clay, extremely stable in both pH and EC

• pre-washed

• provides oxygen and drainage

40L bag (also avl. in 10L and 25L)
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Super Soil Aerator

by Growstone

• made from 98% recycled glass

• highly porous, aids in aeration and drainage

• sustainable engineered alternative to other soil amendments

1 cubic ft or 9L
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Our Plans

Here’s a quick infographic we created, outlining a great DIY barrel aquaponics system that’s great for beginners.

Aquaponics Plan Ebb and Flow