Get Started with Aquaponics

Are you looking for new ways to incorporate science, math, engineering, environmental science and language arts in your classroom? Here is a new idea that can be easily constructed using mostly recycled materials that students can design and implement with very little planning and little space! Aquaponics is fantastic way to blend traditional aquaculture and horticulture in the classroom. We will also be attaching links to formal lesson plans and experiment ideas, in the very near future!

How can you build your own aquaponic system?

1. Start with an aquarium (any size) with any species of fish that you desire. Set up the aquarium prior to adding the grow beds. Note: be sure to use well water or other source of non- chlorinated water, not city water.


Above photo:

2. Decide on a materials and a design for your grow beds. Simple plastic storage containers, gutters (becareful metal may be sharp, or pvc pipe can easily be adapted and filled with pea gravel or clay rocks to plant in.


3. Select a submersible hydroponic pump that is capable of pushing the water up into the gravel beds, height and the size of your system are the primary factors. Pictured below is a 291 gallon per hour hydroponic pump with a mesh filter.  Hydroponic pumps come with a filter to prevent them from sucking up or harming your fish in any way, and also to allow for cleaning if biological materials, dirt or rocks become a problem.

hydroponic pump with filter

4. Be sure to purchase the correct size of clear vinyl tubing to pump the water from the aquarium into the grow bed. Most pumps come with different size attachments but it is best to verify the size first. The tubing is attached to the top of the pump and can be run directly over the side of the grow bed, or you can drill a hole to insert the tubing into the side before covering with the selected grow media.

5. Cut a 3/4″ diameter pvc pipe long enough to go from the top of the gravel to approximately 6′ down into your aquarium. Insert this pipe through the bottom surface of the grow bed by using a 1″ paddle bit to drill a hole. Silicone around the top and bottom of the hole after inserting the pipe through it to prevent leakage. Gravity will pull the water back down into the aquarium wen the pump is turned on.

5. Run the pump in at least 15 minute intervals several times per day. Ideally, a timer works well to shut the pump on and off on the hour. Establish grow light over the grow beds to illuminate any inside growing facilities if needed. Expand as you get more comfortable! Here is a publication to assist you in building your own grow lights:

Here are a few extra tips to start a successful and sustainable endeavor in aquaponics! (Note: these suggestions are applicable to any school garden application).

Getting Started Checklist

____A group of people committed to establishing an aquaponics system (or hydroponic school garden) has been identified.

____The type of system or garden and its goals have been determined (individual classrooms versus a school wide partnership? vegetables, flowers, or both? organic or not? etc.)

____Leadership has been established and committees formed such as:

Marketing/promotion (administration, PTA,  city/county government)  Sponsorship:  (individuals, organizations and/or grants that might support an aquaponic garden)           Materials and Supplies (budget, composting area, storage shed, tools, fencing, raised  beds, etc.)

____Sponsorship and/or funding has been secured (a club, church, school, business, grants, etc.) which can provide resources such as money, tools, materials, etc.)

____A site (classroom) has been selected which has:

____Enough space


____Access to water (well or non chlorinated water) that meets safe drinking water standards

____Well drained medium for plants (clay balls or pea gravel)

____Security, safety, visibility (specifically consider electrical needs and spill concerns)

____Tool storage

____Provide a release from  for students to take home for their parents to acknowledge any risks and also give permission for photo/ video release

____Get a collection of gardening resources/training have been provided to new teachers.

____Communication methods have been established (email; bulletin board)


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