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Project went from fishtank to small indoor pond NFT aquaponics system. New to all of this suggestions welcome.

Hi There,

I have been trying to grow vegetables (lettuce, peas) in my apartment for months with no luck and the end result is a that I am now in the final construction stages of my indoor pond NFT system.  The end goal is that I would love to grow some fresh vegetables and herbs to eat (tomatoes, peppers, baby arugula, kale, rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, green onion, chives, tyme). If I can grow ~$20 worth of produce a month this will be worth it. I am new this and I have never found anything on the internet that is similar to my setup that looked successful so I am hoping this is not all for nothing and that it will produce.  It is looking like it is starting to work though and has been running about 10 days! 

Setup - Being that I am on the 4th floor of an apartment building I knew leak proofing was my #1 priority so I built the entire system so that if it leaked it would be ok and wouldn't flood my neighbors.  First I framed out a 4 x 4 x 2.5 box and raised it up 6 inches off my floor with some 4x4's.  To keep it light I used metal studs and foam insulation board for the walls and then I lined the entire inside with black pond liner. 40 cubic feet should hold about 300 gallons of water and my system is about 55 gallons.   On top of the liner (inside the box frame ) is a platform which sits a 37 gallon round plastic pond.

In the 37 Gallon pond there is a basic airfilter, heater, and airstone and I drilled a hole 2 inches below the top and screwed in a bulkhead fitting and attached a tube which gravity feeds to a 5 gallon bucket filter.  This tube flows into gravel, charcoal and some of that white filter material used in fish tanks to collect solids.  the 5 gallon bucket has another hole drilled out at the top which gravity feeds to a 18 gallon plastic sump tank which also has a 50 gallon out of water fish filter (bio filter) essentially 3 filters.  I've read most people drain to grow-beds filled with gravel with red worms but I didn't plan for that and hope the 3 filters will collect all waste but ultimately looking for a low maintenance system so may have to modify....  

Water flow - In the sump tank I have a pump and regulator which goes up the channel system.  I used 4" pvc and have (3) 4' channels with 180 degree elbows and this pvc has (20) 3" holes.  So essentially 16' long with a max capacity of 20 3 inch net pots....

This drains into a 3 gallon dish pan where I plan to seed plants and there are rocks in the bottom of that as well to catch waste.  Right now I have the pump on a timer and it runs for 45 minutes and then stops for 15 minutes all day and night.  Its pumping at ~ one liter per minute when its pumping.  Does anyone know if that is enough or too much water to pump?

Fish I currently have one Koi and 2 Gold fish.  I don't plan on eating the fish although if there is a small edible fish that fits in a 37-55 gallon pond please let me know!!  Once koi outgrows pond my Dad has an outdoor pond I will move him/her too.  

I'd like to add more fish as I think the system will require more nutrients, maybe channel catfish (can also be moved to larger pond when matures) ...Any suggestions?

Rocks/gravel - called rocks by a company called sunleaves....   

Lighting - the setup is in front of an east facing window that gets great sun in the mornings... at Noon when sun passes a 150 watt High pressure sodium light kicks on until about 11 at night.  I also have a CFL grow light on my seedlings thats on from 9 am to 11 pm...

This has only been running for about 2 weeks so time will tell if it works but please let me know of any comments/suggestions/advice and it would be much appreciated.

I want to maximize the production and value so I guess my big question for the experts is what do you think is possible to yield from something like this if anything?? Or do certian plants do really well in setups like these?   





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Creative design!  Thanks for sharing.

Looking at your picture the limiting factors appear to be the amount of light you're supplying and the surface area for nitrosomous bacteria to live on.  Some T5 lights and a filter (either in-line or in-tank) would solve those problems.  

Another limiting factor will be air supply.  Your neighbors aren't going to like a large air pump running all the time.  Quiet ones are expensive.

Your plant spacing looks generous considering the vertical element.  I'm guessing you're going to let them grow quite large. 

I would experiment by adding a couple fish one at a time, checking to see what concentrations of plants/fish allow you to maintain a nitrate level of 300-400 ppm.  You can always do water changes if that goes high.  It all depends on plant size and how fast they grow, which depends on plant selection and light levels.  Most herbs grow slow.

I used to have a 15 gallon tank with about 18 lettuce plants and 30 goldfish.  I would get 4 salads a week.

Good luck!

Thank you so much for the feedback and I'm glad you like the design Jeremiah.  4 Salads a week would be amazing and its great to hear you had success with a 15 gallon setup as I have invested quite a bit of time and money into this .  Good to know that herbs grow slow as well.

I have thought about T5's and will most likely upgrade to T5's in the future but had the 150 W HPS grow light before starting this all so wanted to try with that first. I do have a few filters though and here is a picture of the filter bucket and sump tank..(in orange filter bucket the white pvc is an emergency leak guard in case the bulkhead fitting fails, entry is on bottom of bucket on right..) Filter bucket gravity feeds to sump and there is a 50 gallon external filter in the sump tank and one more air filter on the bottom of the pond itself.

I had not considered air supply for the room although I do have an aquarium airstone in the pond, sump, channel and seed starter container... This is in my apartment in a bedroom/office and I have an oscillating floor fan but that's about it at the moment. Any recommendations/options for air supply? 

for spacing I went 6 Inches apart just based on what i saw online and hoping to fill it up but may change spacing with new PVC in future based on how things grow.

Also need to get a testing kit so thank you for the nitrate reminder!

really appreciate the reply and I'll keep you posted but fish look happy so far!! Please keep all suggestions coming!


So its a few years later and its been taken apart more then once.  The goal is to have an effective perpetual growth system that requires minimal maintenance and space.   Its now ~20" X 48" X 6'6" Tall and on wheels for easy movement/cleaning.  Though looking back though Jeremiah still has me beat with 30 plants and 15 gallons as mine will likely max out around 40 plants and 70 -80 gallons ... Maybe I need way less water/fish and can use longer towers for more plants?  Also have a 6 tube T5 (only using 4 tubes X 52 watt 6500k =  208 Watts at the moment) on about 14 hours a day which seems to work great and doesn't throw off crazy heat or spike my electric bill noticeably.  

I have about 12 goldfish between 2-4 inches and 3 chibunkens (sp?) that are about 6-8 inches long.  The big ones may need to move to a friends outdoor pond soon as they are outgrowing this and not worth eating.   

I made some DIY towers three weeks ago pretty much all kale you see with one pea and strawberry plant.  I am moving away from 3 inch net pots w hydroton.  They fall out sometimes which can dry up anything under.  These seedlings I planted about 3 weeks ago after I made the towers and are looking and tasting nice.  Strawberries have been a little bit of a miss though still going slowly on the end there.  Any tips for strawberries and do they need a different light spectrum to fruit at some point?  

Also the big question is does anyone have experience or feedback on using pond liner over 2x4 wood framing?? Is that ok to do?

I basically created a pond within a pond and one side gravity feeds through filter media (plus one air filter in fish tank)  to a sump tank which pumps to the towers.  On the top i'm covering all the wood with Mylar.  My rationale is if they are totally covered in pond liner they will always be dry and it should not affect my system in one way or another?!?  


Any feedback is greatly appreciated!


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