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Creating a Simple Vertical Aquaponic System


While many people may have heard of an aquaoponic system, they may not be aware of what it is and how easy it is to build one.   An aquaponic system is one that grows both plants and fish.   It also does not use potting soil and is automatically watered through a pumping system.  There is no need for fertilizer either since the fish waste is used as the fertilizer.

Below are the directions for a simple aquaponic system, which can be scaled down to fit an aquarium or upsized for a larger area. 


15 to 20 feet of 4-inch PVC pipe

Four 4-inch T connectors

Four 4-inch elbows

Two 50-gallon drums that are made of food-grade plastic

15-20 feet of pex or aquarium tubing

Plastic cups

Strips of cloth such as burlap and cable ties

Scrap wood

Two rolls of electrical tape

Two pumps, water and air pump

Power or hand drill

One-inch hole saw

Three-inch hole saw


  1. Cut the PVC pipe into 14 one-foot pieces and two 14-inch pieces.
  2. Drill two 3-inch holes in each of the one-foot pieces.
  3. In one of the one-foot pieces, drill a 1-inch hole in the side.
  4. Assemble the pieces as follows:  take both of the 14-inch pieces and add the elbows to each end.  Tape the elbows to these pieces.  Then, add one of the one-foot pieces to each elbow and tape.  At this point, take one end piece and build upon it.  When completed, it will be added to the other end piece.  To continue this pattern, add a T connector to the one-foot pipe and tape, add another one-foot pipe and then another T connector.  Continue with this pattern until all pieces are used.  Once that is done, add the end piece.  At this point, you will have a rectangle shape of PVC pipe.  *Please note that each seam should be taped.
  5. Cut the remaining 4-inch PVC pipe into 4 equally sized pieces.  This can range from two to four feet in height.
  6. Drill 1-inch diameter holes into the pipe from step 5.  Make sure that they are equally spaced around the pipes.
  7. Place the pipes into the four T connectors.
  8. Cut a piece of the 1-inch diameter pipe and insert it into the 1-inch hole in the end pipe.  This will make a drain.
  9. Poke holes in the bottom of 12 plastic cups and place in the holes created in the side PVC pipes.
  10. Cut off the tops of the two plastic drums.
  11. Place the PVC structure on top of the plastic drums and adjust making sure it is level and the drainage hole is over one of the barrels.
  12. Cut strips of burlap and hang them down inside the vertical pipes and secure with cable ties.  This material will give plants something to grow onto.
  13. Place water pump into one barrel and cut tubing to so that it reaches all of the vertical pipes from the top.  This will allow for the PVC pipe structure to be watered.
  14. Repeat with the air pump but do not run tubing to vertical pipes.
  15. To plant, fill the cups and vertical pipes with small pebbles.  Fill the cups and holes in the vertical pipes with soil-free plants.
  16. Turn the pumps on and allow the water to flow.  Adjust the rate as needed.
  17. Add fish to the barrel with the water and pumps.

An aquaponic system is a great alternative to those who have no land or want to have their meat and vegetables too.  Many different plants can be grown in this system and include lettuces, herbs, and even tomatoes.  Several different fish can also be grown in the barrels.  This includes bass, tilapia, and trout.  *Prior to getting your fish, check your state regulations for any permits you may need for fish production.


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