Easy to build, gravity-based, PVC aquaponic system

PVC Aquaponic System

Want to grow your own vegetables or even some fish for food? You don’t need to have an enormous space to make it happen with this PVC aquaponic system!

Aquaponics literally puts fish to work producing fertilizer for growing plants.

One of the coolest things about aquaponics is that it mimics a natural ecosystem. Aquaponics encourages the natural relationship between water, aquatic life, bacteria, nutrient dynamics, and plants that grow together in waterways.

This aquaponic system is very efficient and makes producing your own food possible and even easier. By growing vertically, you can produce twice as much produce as you can grow using a standard single-level hydroponic system of the same area.

This system makes use of fish waste as fertilizer. Using a small pump, water from the fish tank is drawn up to water the crops through the tops of the columns. You don’t need any other fertilizer or pesticides with this system.

Less water is also consumed as compared to a soil garden. If you build this aquaponic system right, you won’t even have to clean the fish tank too often. All you have to think about regularly is replacing lost water and of course, feeding the fish.

Gravity-Based Aquaponic System

Do you want to grow your own produce? Follow this tutorial by Engineering for Change to see how easy it is to build one!

Click on any image to start the lightbox display. Use your Esc key to close the lightbox. 8-)

You’ll need these materials:

  • Pipes
  • 15-20 ft. of 4-in. diameter PVC or ADS
  • 4 pcs 4-inch Elbows
  • 4 pcs 4-inch T Connectors
  • 2 pcs 50-gallon Drums
  • 15-20 ft Pex Tubing or Aquarium Tubing
  • Plastic Cups
  • Strips of Cloth (Burlap Sack, Cable Ties or Another Fastener)
  • Scrap Wood
  • 2 rolls of Electrical Tape
  • Pumps
  • 1 pc Water Pump – the size depends on how much flow it would need. An aquarium pump is enough to keep the flow going
  • 1 PC Air Pump (optional). The system can aerate itself but it can produce more if it has an air pump.

And these tools:

  • Power Drill
  • 1″ Hole Saw
  • 3″ Hole Saw

Recommended Plants and Fish:

  • Leafy Vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Tomatoes
  • Tilapia
  • Trout


PVC Aquaponic System

Cut the pipe into six 1ft. sections for the sides and two 14in. sections for the ends. Drill two 3in-diameter holes in each of the 1ft side pieces. Drill a 1in-diameter hole into the side of one of the end pieces.

PVC Aquaponic System

Then assemble the pieces with electrical tape

Tip: You can use any kind of durable plastic or pipe, not just what’s pictured.

PVC Aquaponic System

Cut the vertical pipes to whatever length you like. The ones pictured are cut at different lengths, from 2ft to 4ft, to show what they each look like. But you would usually cut all four to the same length.

Drill 1-inch-diameter holes in the vertical pipes, evenly spaced. Insert the vertical pipes as shown.

The photo on the right shows the finished system to give an idea of what you’re building.

PVC Aquaponic System

Perforate the bottoms of the plastic cups and place them in the holes you drilled in the side pipes.

Cut a piece of 1in-diameter pipe to insert into the 1-in hole in the end pipe to make a drain.
The drain should pour into one of the 50-gallon drums.

PVC Aquaponic System

You can use two 50-gallon drums like these or any other kind of container that holds water for fish. You could even scale this down and put it on top of an indoor aquarium.

PVC Aquaponic System

Cut the tops off below the rims.

PVC Aquaponic System

This is the assembled garden structure on top of the drums, seen from two slightly different angles.

Adjust the structure’s balance and support its joints with wooden boards. You could tilt the structure slightly toward the drainpipe to improve the water flow.

PVC Aquaponic System

Cut strips of burlap (or another material), fasten them to the tops of the vertical pipes and drape them down the inside of the pipes. This gives the plant roots something to latch onto.

Next, cut and assemble the tubing so that you can pump water from one barrel up to each of the four vertical pipes. You could also pump water from the barrel that receives drainage to the barrel that feeds the system.

Scaling up for bigger, fancier systems:

PVC Aquaponic System

These systems can scale up to commercial sizes, like this greenhouse at the Center for Sustainable Aquaponics.

PVC Aquaponic System
PVC Aquaponic System

This arrangement shows some of the creativity and beauty possible with an aquaponic system.

PVC Aquaponic System

There is a rocky waterfall into the fish tank and a drip-irrigation system watering soil-free plants in a rock bed.

PVC Aquaponic Systems

Sean Brady shows what these systems can produce. He’s holding a trout here.

Thanks to Engineering for Change for this great project!



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