How To Build A Simple Aquaponics System

Have you ever wanted to get started with aquaponics but maybe you thought it looked a little difficult? Well I hope this post can convince you otherwise. Here is how to build a simple aquaponics system using an IBC.


Much Easier Than I Thought

I had been planning on building one for a couple years but just kept putting it off. I think the reason I did that was because I thought it was going to be harder than it was to build, it was surprisingly easy. The only part that I think may be a little intimidating is the bell siphon so for my first build I just purchased one already made.


Less Expensive Than I Thought

The total cost of putting this system together was just over $200 and it could have been cheaper had I went with a smaller pump, made my bell siphon from scratch and bought the lava rocks in bulk. Not crazy expensive for the amount of food that can be produced with a system like this.


Materials I Used

  • Food Grade 275 gallon IBC for the tank – $35
  • Tetra Pond 425 GPH Fountain Pump – $40
  • 1/2″ Water Hose that attaches to the pump – $6
  • 12 Bags of Red Lava Rock – 1.0 Cu. Ft. – $76
  • 12″ Bell Siphon Kit For IBC Growbed  from Smoky Mountain Aquaponics  – $45 with shipping cost (I could have saved money here by building my own bell siphon but wanted to same time and work good for first build)


I started with a food grade 275 gallon IBC


I then measured down 14 inches from the top of the cage, marked and cut both the cage and the tank. I used bolt cutters to cut the cage and a circular saw to cut the plastic tank.


This is how the tanks stack, making a holding tank for the water and fish on the bottom and a grow bed on the top.


I then decided I wanted to wrap the aquaponics system with wood that I repurposed from pallets. This serves a few functions; First it looks much better than a plastic tank sitting in your yard, This also helps to reduce algae build up in the tank because it reduces the amount of sunlight exposure, it also helps to regulate water temperatures because it blocks some sunlight.


You can see from this picture that I cut off the pieces of cage that were sticking up and made a 2×4 frame around the top of the top frame giving me something to secure the other wood to and square off the top of the grow bed.


You can see how the system is coming together from this picture. I put 3 2×4’s across the the top to sit the grow bed on which gave it some stability and raised it up a little allowing me more access to the fish tank below. I also set the grow bed as far back as I could also allowing some front access to the tank below.


This was a good time to install the Bell Siphon Kit I purchased from Smokey Mountain Aquaponics.


I drilled a 1 1/4 inch hole to install the bulkhead with the standing drain pipe. You just push the threaded pipe through the hole, install an o-ring from underneath then screw on the the threaded pipe from underneath.


You can then just slide the “Bell” over the the standing pipe.


You then just slide the guard over the Bell Siphon to keep rocks from being up against it.



I finished adding the pallet wood, added 12 bags of lava rock making it about 10″ deep, put in the pump attaching the water line and running it up to the grow bed. I then filled it with water and a few cheap goldfish and a couple algae covered stones from my backyard pond to start cycling the system. I then added a few plants and there it is, a running aquaponics system!



Now My Thoughts After Using It For 2 Weeks


I am really starting to see the advantages to these systems more than ever before.

  • No Weeding!
  • No Watering!
  • Faster Growing
  • Great For Propagation Of Cuttings
  • Fish to clean and put in the freezer at the end of the growing season.

I can see aquaponics being a huge part of my homestead in the years ahead, possibly replacing many of my raised beds. I have a lot to learn and i’m sure many trials lie ahead for me but for now it has me seeing only possibilities.







Homesteader, Blogger and Podcaster at Small Town Homestead
I am a husband to Mary and father to three daughters. My family and I are striving to become more self sufficient everyday as we grow our own food and pursue a more natural and organic lifestyle.
Posted in Articles, Gardening and tagged , , , .


I am a husband to Mary and father to three daughters. My family and I are striving to become more self sufficient everyday as we grow our own food and pursue a more natural and organic lifestyle.


  1. We live in Mid-Missouri – and the weather gets really hot and humid during the summer, and very gold in the winter, sometimes below zero, definitely below freezing for a great percentage of the winter. We’re thinking of raising tilapia in the bottom tank….. but they are a tropical fish. Have you any ideas about insulating the unit for Winter or at least Fall use? There are units that are used to keep cattle watering tanks from freezing….. How about keeping the unit indoors – with the new ‘grow lights’ for the veggies? It might be that the room gets cool enough that the water for the tilapia would need to be warmer than room temp….. Any suggestions ? Thanks.

    • I looked into doing tilapia but here in Indiana with the temperature swings I figured it would be pretty difficult. They can survive in water temperatures from 60 F to 80 F, favoring the high end of the temps. Ideally you would want to keep the water temps in the low to mid 70’s to promote the best growth for the plants.

      I suppose if you insulated the tank and had a thermostat controlled heater of some sort or had it indoors at those temperatures you could grow year round with tilapia.

      From what I researched they grow really fast and breed like rabbits so you have to harvest frequently to keep the tank limits under control but the way I see it that’s a good thing.

      If I wanted to do it indoors in a room that got below the recommended temperature I might consider a waterbed heater laid up against the bottom of the tank with a thermostat. I haven’t read that anywhere but it makes sense to me that it would work.

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