Aquaponics System

Aquaponics produces food better than any farming system mankind has come up with so far. And best of all, it’s completely organic. You could say I am Hooked on Ponics! Ok that’s a really bad joke, but seriously – Aquaponics is really exciting. This entirely new field of farming is growing faster than weeds right now.

5 gallon bucket aquaponics

Enough farming jokes for you? No? Then you’re in luck! I’ve got more…

What’s All the Fuss?

Aquaponics produces more food per square meter than any farming system mankind has so far come up with. And the best part is that it’s completely organic.

Aquaponics is the latest evolution of Hydroponics. But instead of getting your plant nutrients from expensive bottles bought from a supplier, you get them naturally – from fish. Edible fish.

“Rooted” In the Past

Growing fish and plants in harmony isn’t a new idea either. For eons, Japanese rice paddies were some of the most productive croplands in the world, and they did it without soil degradation – a true sustainable agriculture. Only recently are scientists bothering to ask why the system works so well. The key factor is something that was often ignored until then – little orange fish the Japanese call “Koi.”

japanese koi rice paddy

These koi nibble on bugs, algae, and whatever else they find, then like magic they expunge as waste everything plants need. If Americans farmed this way, it would put certain powerful fertilizer giants out of business overnight.

The Future of Farming


That brings us full crop circle back to Aquaponics. Because now Americans ARE farming this way. So we can thank those first enterprising scientists for bringing the best farming methods in history to us. The system they developed, Aquaponics, is the most productive farming system per square foot that human agriculture has ever come up with.

peppers-aquaponicsNow building up this kind of amazing productivity requires equally amazing equipment, which is why of course so much of it’s based on 5 gallon buckets!

Like hydroponics, Aquaponics needs specific, controlled conditions. In fact, the whole system can fail if something isn’t set right, so this isn’t something to just plunge into without the right setup.

Want so see what a system actually looks like? This seems like fertile ground for an infographic!

aquaponics diagram

DIY Aquaponics With Buckets!

If your system is based on only 5 gallon buckets, you’ll be using goldfish. You won’t find quite enough meat on a gold fish to make them worth frying up, but if you’re just starting aquaponics – start with 5 gallon buckets.

This very rudimentary aquaponics system ain’t pretty, but it works. Trust me, you’ll want to make your mistakes with a system like this before investing all kinds of money in equipment.

low tech 5 gallon bucket aquaponics

Once you’ve mastered those fish in a bucket, look into this more advanced Aquaponics setup by Engineering for Change.

If you love a bit of baked fish with your potatoes, this’ll be the system you work toward.

aquaponics high tech drums fish and plants

Where to Get More Aquaponics Information

If you want to get into Aquaponics, start slow. Aquaponics is one of those hobbies that’s remarkable easy to spend way too much money on if you’re not careful! Start by studying the Aquaponic Gardening book and lurking the Backyard Aquaponics forum. Or best of all, find a friendly Aquaponics grower in your area who’s willing to show you how it’s done.


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31 thoughts on “Aquaponics System

    • Smelts… not so much. Try like they said, goldfish in a small system. But, here are some good fish. Tilapia, as long as the water temperature stays above 70s, They CAN survive lower, but they dont grow well then. 80s are good. (F).

      For cold water rainbow trout, hybrid striped bass…

      koi and goldfish and carp and catfish can be okay at any reasonable temp.

      Besides tilapia, try barramundi, they are pretty cool, grow fast, and taste great, (if you can get your hands on some.)

    • Smelt are androgonous. They spend most of their lives in the ocean and are only in fresh water to breed and die. Trout and catfish are popular fish for Coldwater systems and tilapia for warm water. Tilapia needs water temps above 70 degrees so a greenhouse is important.

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  2. I love this idea! What a perfect way to get started with aquaponics without having to make a large investment of time or money.

  3. The diagram for the 5-gallon bucket with the single grow bed above looks like the pump runs all the time, and has no bell syphon. I am thinking of starting with this system but would like more information in the setup. Thanks

    • It looks like it would be easy to build. take a 5 gallon bucket and cut a hole in the top large enough for a pot to fit in and not fall through, cut a secondary hole for a power cord to go in and a 3rd hole for the water tubing. use a small fountain pump attatched to some tubing that goes up and waters the plant. fill the plant with a growing medium that will not fall through the holes in the pot, add fish and let it go.

      might want to find a guard to go around the pump as smaller fish might get sucked onto the pump and die.

  4. If you use tilapia fish they feed on algae so plenty of sunlight to grow the algae for them to eat is good. My tilapia eat the water plants, bread, veggie leaves, etc.
    I have only just set up my experimental aquaponics system using a 900 square foot pond full on tilapia where the water is green with algae so I don’t know yet if the algae is good or bad for the plants. If you have aquarium fish in a tank you can get janitor fish from any aquarium shop that eat almost nothing but algae.

  5. I have a small system with a bell siphon in my laundry room. I keep 4-5 goldfish in an old 20 gallon aquarium, above it I installed a shelf with a plastic underbed tote (4 inches tall?) with lava rocks and a home made bell siphon that drains into the fish tank. A grow light fixture is hung from the ceiling above the tote. I got a small pond pump at harbour freight and the fish water is pumped into my lettuce bed, feeds my wonderful salad greens and the clean water siphons back into the tank. I recently got a large tote ( 280 gal]?) and hope to set up a green house with a larger system before winter :)

  6. I don’t want to sound stupid when asking this, but honestly, what kind of life is that for the fish? They are kept in a dark five gallon bucket their whole life? It seems kind of cruel to me. Other than at I love the idea, it’s much smarter and safer than using poison chemicals as fertilizer.

    • if you put them in an aquarium and shine a grow light on them, the extra light will mean extra work cleaning algae. which means of course that it won’t be a self sustaining system. Many fish live in dark or mostly dark conditions. water is light permeable but only for a certain distance.

    • I would imagine, it would be a pretty nice life, as long as they don’t figure out their fate (if they are one whose future lies on a plate). Think about it, when you go to an aquarium and either you or a kid puts their nose up to the wall of the fish tank what do the fish in that tank do? Why they swim very fast in the opposite direction of your face, usually taking cover in the dark area behind or inside some object placed in that tank for them to go hide in. They don’t like being close to people, so I would imagine a dark tank with no interaction or little interaction with humans would seem pretty comforting to a fish.

  7. I was wondering what kind of growing medium is used for the plants? I can’t tell from the picture. And, what’s the largest type of plant that can be grown with the 5 gallon set up?

  8. As the article indicates, goldfish are too small to eat, but make excellent live bait to catch fish that are large enough to eat. Just a thought.

  9. great system we have set one up inside but have issues producing the product due to the fact the plants are not polinated

    • I have had an inside garden before , to pollinate your plants, take a trick from the orchid growers. Use a small paint brush to pollinate to get product, it really only takes a few minutes with a 3ft.x 6ft. garden and the outcome is quite delightful!

  10. With all the information you provide you don’t say one word about what kind of grow medium to use. Can you answer here or better add a sentence?

  11. I have been doing a lot of studying on these systems to setup my own. It is not quite as simple as they make it sound here. Aquaponics systems are complex, living systems and due to the bacteria required to function correctly are not as easy to start as you might think from this article.

    • Did you just post that to show of your no proof knowledge or to just have a whinge? How about posting something helpful if you are so knowledgeable!

  12. I use filters available on eBay that fit on a 5 gal. bucket. I use them on my water catchment system to catch small debris and keep it out of my water barrels. Seems they would make a way to hold the growing medium for your aquaponics. As a separate idea I also use them in my used oil filtration system to clean up used oil that I burn in my diesel truck. free fuel.

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