Aquaponics: Urban Gardening

After reading the aquaponics section of the Toolbox for Sustainability, I tied my TV Aquarium into an urban garden, termed aquaponics.

Say What

Aquaponics is a combined word, aquarium + hydroponics = aquaponics.  Here are three advantages of aquaponics [source]:

  • Recycles water and nutrients – environmentally friendly.
  • Uses 90% less water than ground crops.
  • Eliminates chemicals and pesticides.

By recycling water, aquaponics combines the disadvantages of aquariums and hydroponics.  Namely, aquariums need to flush fish waste, and hydroponic systems need to add nutrients for its plants.  Combining the two systems allows the fish to fertilize the plants, as well as conserves water and chemicals.


In its current version I have three cells: a fish tank, wetlands, and hydroponics.

Fish tank

I slightly modified my fish tank by placing a 1/25 hp pump into it.  The pump, at 5 feet of head, supplies 120 gph, which is plenty for this system.  This is the smallest pump at my Local Fish Store (LFS), and it was $50.

To put the pump into the undergravel filter system I connected the 3/4″ inlet adapter to a 3/4″ — 1″ connecter.  That connecter is also attached to a 1″ PVC tube that slips over the undergravel filter.

I drilled 1/16″ holes in the bottom tubing section.  This is for the Oh Shit Factor (OSF).  The OSF considered here is plugging from an above cell, preventing water flow into the fish tank.  This way the fish will still have a little bit of water to survive until I come home to see that the OSF was deployed.

Pump connected to the undergravel filter system.


The wetlands cell consists of:

  • three 12 gallon tool storage bins, $5 each.
  • six bulk-heads (how to put a pipe through a bin), $10 each.
  • two 50L bags of hydroton (clay balls), $35 each.
  • pea gravel, free.

The reason for six bulkheads instead of three is for the OSF.  There is a main bulkhead, which is dependent on gravity for flow; the additional bulkhead in the system is much like that little drain in your bathroom sink.  Here the additional bulkhead covers a plugged outlet, if the OSF is deployed.

I spent the extra money on hydroton, as opposed to using pea gravel, because it is so much lighter than pea gravel.  This is a luxury item.  If I were on a laycation or a reduced income, I would have used pea gravel.

inside the wetlands cell


Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah, hydroponics!!!  To “mod” the fish tank I found, I just had a local glass shop drill two 1.5″ inch holes in it and then connected two bulkheads to that.  Again, one for the main flow and one for the OSF.  The glass shop charged me $30 for the two holes.

Piping it together

I used a variety of pipe sizes and connectors.  I learned how to connect pipes reading two pages in the hardware store.  It’s easy and fun, and PVC pipes are cheap (~$20 to make this system).

I used $3.50 ball valves over the wetlands cell because I only care to control if the cell is on or off.  However, I used a $6.00 gate valve after the pump outlet because I want to control the amount of flow.

There’s one thing I learned about cementing pipes together: don’t do it an area without ventilation.  I got a little high off it one night and felt dumber than usual  the next day.

The missed point

I spend a lot more time appreciating and wondering about pipe installations now.  I’m sure I’ll get over this soon, but there’s something to be said about appreciating a field after you dabble in it for a bit.

Additionally, I’ve finally put a link together from my $500 beginner chemical engineering fluid transfer class and actually implementing the designs.  It actually feels pretty cool and full circle.

The next adventure

Let the experiments begin and learn how to garden!  What little I do know is plants where leaves are harvested (herbs) do better submerged in water (hydroponics), and fruits and vegetables do better is a drier environment (wetlands).

I assume that the plants will do better supplemented with potassium and phosphorous, rather than just nitrogen from the fish.  At first, I’m just going to put some worm tea in the system, and then go from there.

Who knew the Huntington Beach Public Library is stocked full of indoor gardening and hydroponics books?  So, I have that going for me!

. . . and of course, continue on with the revolution of freeing myself from the Man!


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Rooster said,

    Will you be able to quantify the cost of your inputs (fish food, seeds, etc) in order to figure out how much dough you’re saving, rather than the cost of buying the same items from a store?

    Hint: Everytime you have to spit (or sh*t), do it in the fish tank – free fish food, thus, free Pete food. YEAH.

  2. 2

    aquadump said,

    My goal isn’t to save money, but it would be nice if I did.

    I’m trying to learn to grow my own food instead of buying it from Guatemala. I’m not overly concerned about a total economic collapse and an armageddon of the first world countries, but I think it would be cool.

  3. 3

    […] in your place of temporary permanence.  For me this year, I allowed myself to watch television, grow stuff, and gain comfort wrenching on […]

  4. 4

    […] Posted by jayfactory Filed in Design & Environment Tags: aquaponics Leave a Comment […]

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