How To Grow Plants Without Soil Using Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The wastes from the fish are broken down by germs living in the growing medium, and converted into a form that can be utilized by the plants.

Integrated Vertical Tube System
Here’s an illustration and an image of the integrated vertical tube aquaponics system we constructed. The image shows the tubes in the planting/harvesting position; typically they are rotated 180 degrees so that the openings deal with the window.

I made the drawing using Google SketchUp , a fantastic complimentary 3-D illustration program.

To make the grow tubes, I cut slots throughout with a hack saw and then heated the plastic with a heat gun to soften it. The second picture below shows a close up of one of the openings after the tube was filled with pea gravel.

The PVC caps on the bottom of televisions have slots cut around the edges with a table saw, so that any water that might drip out around the plants can just run down the outside of the tube and through the slots. Otherwise the cap would seal against the funnel and the water might not drain pipes. Typically the water streams down through television and out the holes I drilled in the bottom of the cap.

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The picture listed below programs the top of the system, with the circulation control valves that manage the circulation of water to each tube. These were needed in order to balance the flow because without them, many of the water runs into the tube closest to the pump.

We got fish today! They have to do with 3′ long and cost us $3 apiece. Their very first meal was a little handful of earthworms, which they ate excitedly. I think the one in the bottom image is burping.

Here’s my new speculative setup to allow several fish to each develop a reproducing territory in one tank

Here’s our very first harvest of lettuce, which totaled a massive 9 grams (0.3 ounces)! The lettuce is a red variety so the color is typical for this type.: We’ve had quite a few salads now and the plants are doing great. The spinach is spindly but the basil, upland cress and lettuce are thriving.


We’ve got babies! We hadn’t looked closely for a while so we were amazed to see about 50 little tilapia in the tank today and they’re currently over 1 cm long. The water isn’t generally this cloudy but we just cleaned up the tank so it’s all stirred up.

The grownups are doing well too, and they’ve grown a fair bit

The first group of infants have actually grown to about 1′ long, and we now have a 2nd brood of children. The adults practically disregard them however the bigger children will thin out the smaller sized ones for us. It’s survival of the fittest in this tank!

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