Aquaponic Gardening

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Hey all,

I'm about 2 months in on my aquaponics setup and already I'm looking to upgrade.

I started with a small Back to Roots out of the box with some mint and tetras (more on that in my introduction thread). But, now I'm looking to go bigger for a few reasons:

  1. Tetras need a school to be properly social and 3Gal isn't really enough to support a decent school size.
  2. My system is in South facing windows so algae is an issue, I would like an algae eater but once again 3Gals isn't enough to support one (at least not humanely for a decent amount of time)
  3. I would like to add a mechanical filter stage and some more bio media to the system, (I've hacked this in by replacing one of the grow pods with a bag of carbon and bio pellets but it doesn't really get as much flow as it needs
  4. The tank is crowded once I added in an air stone
  5. The tank doesn't have much room for a bigger pump
  6. I would like to start looking at more of a flood and drain grow bed The current top makes tank maintenance (stocking, water testing, feeding, cleaning really hard)
  7. I'm a maker and want to build stuff...

Since I'm in a small studio apartment, I'm wanting to stick with a small display aquarium with enough grow bed to service for cocktail garnishes and the occasional salad.


Size, maintenance, and aeration have been my biggest issues with the Back to roots. So I'm starting off with this 15 Gal acrylic tank as my base aquarium. It retains most of the same width footprint while giving me 4-5" more depth to work with to add secondary filtration, equipment, and allow for some room to maintain the tank and do water tests. The greater height gives me the ability to grow my tetra school and add some bottom dwellers. The height also gives me the ability to have a proper gravel bed of 1" to allow eventual live plants and a nice home for the bacteria.


One of my biggest issues has been getting enough mechanical and biological filtration surface area. The tank kit comes with a hang over the back filter that can help increase this. I know that it's not traditional for aquaponics, but my design is to go for aquarium first and take advantage of the nitrates, not super high yeild plant growth. The grow bed can then be used as an added benefit for filtration. I will likely keep the air stone as a way to add more oxygen to the system (although now I will have a nice water flow from the grow bed and over the side filter).

Grow Bed

I'm going a bit low tech, the grow bed will likely be a 12"x8"x6" rubbermaid or the closest size I can find that fits. I hope to be using a flood and drain method with a large grow bed rather than the limited grow pods with continuous flow (more on this decision below). Eventually I would like to make this grow bed have a custom housing and hinge it so that it can cover the tank fully during normal operation but move out of the way completly (or mostly of the way) for maintenance, testing, feeding, etc.


This tank will have a custom wooden stand. The stand isn't really part of the aquaponics setup, but it does give me dedicated storage for my test kit, liquid seaweed, food, etc.

Upgrade Plan

Since this will be a bit of a hack and build I hope to do this in stages (maybe a few workshop hours and $20-50 a week) over probably 2-3 months.

  1. Build the stand - I need a place to put this new tank, since I need a place to put my new tank and still have a place to put my back to roots while things cycle.
  2. Start cycling - Part of the issue I think I had was not having a good bacteria setup before adding plants and fish, I will do some fishless cycling (don't want to risk my current fish and don't want to get feeder golds that could compete with my tetras [I don't really like goldfish at all]).
  3. Build temporary holder for Back to Roots grow bed - If my back to roots starts to turn around I will want to move my grow bed over to the new tank. But if things keep looking sick, I won't burden my new system with possible illness.
  4. Build "custom" growbed and hinging top - From there, I would build a continuous flow version of my grow bed with a hinging top. This increases the growbed surface area and gives a better flow than the current pods. Since I don't want to mess with making a acrylic box, this grow bed will probably be a food safe plastic bin with some PVC for draining.
  5. Upgrade to bell siphon for flood and drain setup - This may be easier to do from the start but I may move to a flood and drain later.


I hope to use this thread as the journal for an open source (and open discussion) about this setup and I hope to share the actual plans, equipment, and stuff on Github or something similar so that it can be repeated since I think really beautiful aquarium hydroponic setups are less documented.

If you have any reccomendations I'd love to hear your feedback! I should be starting on the stand/cabinet in the next few days so there's definitely time to change some of the future plans (the stand can't change too much since I have only a 24"x30" spot on my floor).

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