Our Aquaponics System

Originally posted on Experiments In Aquaponics:

Triple grow bed aquaponics system, with pak choi, cabbage and lettuce seedlings, and 17 tilapia fish Triple grow bed aquaponics system, with pak choi, cabbage and lettuce seedlings, and 17 tilapia fish

Following on from our last post detailing HOW TO BUILD A SIMPLE AQUAPONICS SYSTEM we thought we would share our current set-up, which offers some variations on the simple build. The main difference is the expansion into 3 grow beds, and a large cylindrical tank which is currently home to 17 tilapia. Cylindrical tanks are a great choice as they have fewer ‘dead spots’ than rectangular ones, so the water flows around the full surface of the tank.

Pak choi seedlings, planted in bottomless pots for easy transferal and greater stability. White mineral deposits on pebbles (have recently appeared but do no harm). Pak choi seedlings, planted in bottomless pots for easy transferal and greater stability. There are white mineral deposits on the pebbles which have recently appeared but do no harm.

We are planning on adding some new beds (possibly in tower shapes, with the water trickling from top to bottom) in the next few weeks, as we have adequate…

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How To Build A Simple Aquaponics System

Full Diagram

A Basic Guide To Building Your Own Aquaponics System (Click To Enlarge Image)

Aquaponics is a technique enabling the sustainable production of edible fish and plants in a re-circulating system. Fish waste acts as a natural fertiliser, the plants absorb these nutrients, and the water remains clean and stable for fish. The only input is food for the fish.

Water from the fish tank is pumped into the grow beds and solid waste is removed by the addition of filter media at the water exit points. The water then travels through the plant grow beds where plants uptake the nutrients, and the water returns, purified, to the fish tank. The grow beds become a natural biofilter for bacteria to convert fish waste into accessible nutrients for plants.

The Biological Components of Aquaponics: The Nitrification Process (See Top Diagram)

The process of nitrification prevents the water from becoming toxic with harmful forms of nitrogen (ammonia and nitrite), and allows the fish, plants, and bacteria to thrive symbiotically. In a properly balanced system, all the organisms work together to create a healthy growing environment for one another, and form this cycle:

Food is eaten by fish > Fish produce ammonia in waste > Bacteria breaks down ammonia into nitrite > Bacteria breaks down ammonia into nitrate > Nitrate is taken up by plants for growth > Water is left clean for fish

What You Need To Build Your System

Basic Structure

Tank for fish (made of strong inert plastic)
Tubs for Grow Beds (at least 25cm depth)
Modified Table / Frame to support Grow Beds
Inert growing media (we recommended expanded clay pebbles 8 – 20mm in diameter)

Plumbing Components

¾ inch PVC piping
Large PVC pipe for gravel guards (3 – 4 inch diameter)
¾ inch hosepipe
Hose cap
Tank connector
Female tap connector
¾ inch rubber O rings
¾ L bends


Submersible water pump (flow rate depends on size of your tank)
Tank heater (dependant on fish)
Air pump, air stones and air line
Grow lights (if growing without natural light)
Plugs Timers (to regulate pump and lights)


¾ inch hole saw attachment
3 – 5mm drill attachment (for water exit points in hose)

Master water test kit
Solid Waste Filter Media (this is too remove any solid fish waste so it does not clog the system)
Ammonia Source
Water de-chlorinator
Seeds (leaf salad, lettuce, spinach, pak choi, cabbage and herbs are good plants to start out with)


The Build (Click To Enlarge Image)

All aquaponic systems share several common and essential components. These include: a fish tank, a grow bed, plumbing, and electronics, all of which need to be in a structurally sound before any growing begins. There are many ways to build an aquaponic set up depending on the materials you have available. This is one suggestion and can be adapted to suit your needs. (N.B. In this set-up, the tank connector is situated directly over the fish tank, so you may not need the female connector and extra PVC pipe. Use these elements if the grow bed is much higher than the tank, or you have multiple grow beds and are using extra piping to redirect water back to the tank.)

  1. Situate the fish tank underneath the grow bed(s). The easiest way to do this is by modifying a table, constructing a frame or using breeze blocks or bricks for supports.
  2. Once you have decided where the grow beds will be in relation to the fish tank it is time to fit the plumbing. Using a ¾ inch hole saw, drill a hole in the centre of the bottom of the grow bed.
  3. Position an O Ring on either side of hole and place the tank connector through the grow bed. Adding some marine safe sealant at the join can help in achieving a watertight seal.
  4. To create the stand pipe, cut a piece of PVC pipe, so the length is 2 – 3 inches below the top of the grow bed, and drill a drainage hole near one end, making sure it is not blocked by the base of the tank connector when inserted.
  5. Screw the female connector to the thread of the tank connector underneath the grow bed and arrange pipes using relevant connectors so the water will drop directly into the fish tank. (N.B. Repeat steps 2 – 5 if using more than one grow bed.)
  6. Cut the wider PVC pipe taller than the grow bed to act as a gravel guard, and drill three rows of evenly spaced holes around the bottom of the guard to allow water but not grow media in. Place guard over stand pipe and use sealant to secure.
  7. Fit the hose to the water pump and place it in the fish tank. Cut the hose to size so it reaches the grow bed, if constructing a system with more than one grow bed, the hose must be long enough to pass through all of the beds.
  8. Before fixing the hose to the grow bed check the system for any leaks. Partially fill the bottom tank and switch the water pump on. As water fills the grow bed it should drain back into the tank through the standpipe. Once the pump is switched off, water should drain slowly away through the small drainage hole in the stand pipe. If there are leaks drain the system and seal with marine safe sealant. Allow it to dry and check the system again.
  9. Fix the hose to the grow bed by drilling another two ¾” holes in a way that allows the hose to run along one side of the grow bed just beneath the top. Drill 3 – 5 evenly spaced 3mm holes in the hose to allow the water to enter the grow bed, and secure hose in place. Fit and seal a hose cap to the open end of the hose. Check the system plumbing again.
  10. Once the mechanics are working and everything is properly sealed, thoroughly rinse your grow media to wash away any excess sediment. Fill grow beds to just underneath your hose with grow media. Put some solid waste filter media underneath the water exit holes in the hose to filter out any solid fish waste, so that it does not enter the grow bed. (This can be rinsed with water every few weeks when waste starts to build up.)
  11. Connect the air stone, air line and air pump. Drop the air stone into the tank, keeping the air pump above the water level. The air pump can be attached to the frame.
  12. Fill the tank with de-chlorinated water. It may be easier to fill the tank through the grow beds if access to the tank is awkward or limited. Switch on the air pump and heater.
  13. The system is now ready for fishless cycling and water testing.
  14. Run the water pump continuously through the cycling period, it can then be regulated using a plug timer as required depending on your plants. Having the pump on for 15 minutes every hour is usually sufficient and gives enough time for the water to drain completely from the grow bed allowing oxygen to the plants roots. When the roots develop, the stand pipe can be cut down so the bed does not flood as high.

Notes On Water

Water is the life-blood of an aquaponic system and is important to get right. It is fine to use tap water although it is treated with chlorine and chloramines among other chemicals to make it safe to drink. These chemicals are toxic to fish and the water needs to be dechlorinated either by storing the water and allowing the chlorine to evaporate naturally (24 hours) or adding a water dechlorinator (immediate).

Hope these instructions are useful! We are currently producing a quick-guide publication on Aquaponics, so any feedback is very helpful. Happy Building!

Fishless Cycling For Aquaponics


Hi all,

I am in the beginning stages of a collaborative project looking at aquaponics systems as a departure point for artistic interventions. Head over to the new blog to stay updated with forthcoming events and publications.


Originally posted on Experiments In Aquaponics:

Photo 23-09-2014 12 51 11 pm

Getting started with your aquaponics system is pretty straightforward once you have the know-how. We will be doing a step-by-step guide to setting up a small system soon, but first I thought it would be useful to talk about the science behind getting your system ready for fish and plants.

There are two options for cycling your system, with fish or without. Getting your system ready so that the right bacteria have established to convert the fish waste into plant food is essential before you start any growing, and to make the water safe for the fish. We think fishless cycling is much more straight forward as your are not panicking about levels of ammonia and nitrite shooting up and potentially poisoning the fish in the initial stages. The cycling process usually takes about 3 weeks.

What you are trying to establish is a natural cycle whereby all harmful substances are eradicated:


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The Yes Men Fix The World

For your alternative festive viewing pleasure:

The Yes Men Fix The World  is a screwball true story about two culture jamming gonzo political activists who, posing as top executives of giant corporations, lie their way into big business conferences to highlight the injustice of the modern political landscape. 

BeeTheFirst 3D Printer: Review & User Experience

‘Private Deck’ – case produced using the BeeTheFirst 3D Printer

For the last few months I have been using a BeeTheFirst 3D Printer to produce cases for publications (above) that accompanied my last exhibition Dead Cat Bounce. I have been using the machine fairly intensively during this time and wanted to share some user feedback on the printer and the merits of 3D printing as a whole.

The home 3D printing movement is taking a while to get going, but after having one in the house I can safely say that it is very useful tool to replace things that break and design custom items like brackets, hoover nozzles, containers and stands for electronics. I think at the moment the main factors halting the exponential rise of consumer grade 3D printers are  the cost of the initial unit (which will almost undoubtedly come down dramatically over the next few years), the fact that the user needs to be competent in 3D Design software (otherwise you are pretty much limited to other people’s designs) and thirdly filament limitations. In terms of 3D design skills, there are some great apps in development which make designing in 3D more intuitive and natural, so hopefully they will help to address this issue if learning to 3D model using software like Rhino, Sketchup or Solidworks isn’t your thing, and filament wise there is now food safe filament from ColorFabb which will make producing safe kitchen items possible. In the future I am hoping for filaments that are completely water tight without the need for any extra treatments or processes as at the moment everything I have tried has been slightly porous, making it OK for objects that just interact with liquids but not suitable for actual water containers such as vases or cups.

The BeeTheFirst 3D Printer 

The printer has a slick compact look and fits on a desk without being intrusive. It is very easy to unbox (included is  a free BEE t-shirt) and set-up, possibly my favourite feature of the machine is the magnetic spool holder and magnetic print bed design. The means removing the print bed to access your prints and changing spools is no hassle and very swift. The prints are great quality even on the low quality setting, which is probably the one I use the most for general day-to-day prints. It also stays calibrated for a surprisingly long time, so you don’t need to faff on with levelling the bed very often, I regularly go 15-20 prints with no problems. Below are some images of items I have printed out of need rather than novelty. From left to right, there is a vacuum cleaner nozzle (as my flat came with a vacuum but no nozzles), a gravel guard with a fish motif for my aquaponics system, an pad stand and various desk tidies. All these items were printed at 300 microns as I was looking was mainly for functionality and speed, but as you can see they still came out with a nice finish. The header photo (above) features a custom box created for Private Deck and was printed at 100 microns and provides a smoother edge.



The printer’s accompanying software ‘BEESOFT’ which can be downloaded from their website (I am currently using the 3.12.0 BETA version) is pretty straightforward to use. You can now print autonomously and can disconnect the printer after the initial ‘transfer’ time, which is a major plus as previously my printer nozzle would slow down if I had lots of programs running on my computer at once causing the filament to blob. Luckily this is no longer an issue and you can print with the knowledge that if you computer decides to give up, you will still get your 3D print.

There are plenty of print adjustment options to experiment with, you can select from a few different layer heights between 50 – 300 microns and the density of the print is fully adjustable from 0 – 100. I tend to stick on the low quality micron setting if I am making functional objects as the printing time in much reduced, however if I want to achieve a more polished look I tend to plump for 100 microns. At present I find the very fine setting (50 microns) is just too slow to make it practical for larger prints or multiples.


One thing to note is that the BeeTheFirst only takes the 1.75mm BEEVERYCREATIVE PLA filament. Spool size is smaller than average but also a bit cheaper. You get 330 grams of the filament, which as it’s PLA based is biodegradable, a plus point compared to ABS. At the moment you can get yellow, turquoise, white, orange, black, transparent, neon green, red, silver, blue, fuchsia and olive green which should cover most printing needs. If like me you are printing lots of multiples, you might find yourself changing the spools quite regularly, this is very easy and quick (you can also change spools mid print) due to the magnetic design and easy loading. It would be nice however in the future if BEEVERYCREATIVE decided to sell bigger spools perhaps on future models (especially if the print bed was larger).

Custom modifications for ‘Sally The Watcher': a neck brace attachment, and adjustment knob (printed at 100 microns and 100% density)

Commons Problems I Have Experienced  

Tangled Filament: A number of times my print has stalled due to the filament being tangled. As it is coming off the spool, overlapping winds mean the filament can no longer load. I can see on the BEEVERYCREATIVE website that they have released lots of new filaments so perhaps this was a problem of the original filaments which I am mostly using.

Snapping Filament: In a few rare cases the filament has snapped whilst coming off the spool and entering the body of the printer, I am not sure why as the filament has not been under excessive tension when this has occurred. When this happens you just have to manually thread the filament in until it rejoins the heated nozzle.

It is worth saying that I have had VERY FEW nozzle blockages during day-to-day usage. If you do get a blockage (mostly caused by not unloading the filament straightaway after you’ve finished printing) you have to unscrew the top section of the printer and free the filament using the ‘Unblock’ function in the maintenance menu on BEESOFT. This is not a big deal, and only made slightly laborious by the fact that unscrewing everything takes a little time.

BeeThe First Key Tech Specs

Max. Printing Volume:
190mm x 135mm x 125mm

Layer Resolution:
50 – 300 microns

Filament Diameter:

AC Input:
100 – 120 VAC 3.0A 50 – 60 Hz
200 – 240 VAC 2.0A 50 – 60 Hz


File Type:

All in all, the BeeTheFirst is a straightforward and easy-to-use 3D printer that produces great prints without much hassle. It is great for a casual user who wants to print household items and experiment with what this medium has to offer. I am looking forward to seeing the evolution of the company and what the future holds in terms of software and hardware improvements and other machines that they release. If you want to see some time lapse footage of the printer in action please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glcqiFI3nLM

BeeTheFirst 3D Printers can be purchased in the UK from Hawk 3D Proto


Light Eye Mind: Exhibition Photos / Dead Cat Bounce


Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke


Keep Me Warm At Night / 3D Printed Parts / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Private Deck / Playing Cards, 3D Printed Case / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke


The Euro: A Pocket Guide / Booklets, 3D Printed Case / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke


Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Keep Me Warm At Night (Detail) / 3D Printed Parts / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce / PVC, Vinyl / Alice Woods 2014 / Photo Credit: Paul Clarke

Dead Cat Bounce* is at Light Eye Mind gallery from Friday 14th – Saturday 29th November 2014.

*In finance, a dead cat bounce is a small, temporary recovery in the price of a declining stock.

Mead logo_blk copy     UAL logo     HAWK 3D LOGO with Strapline B&W

This project is supported through a MEAD Scholarship awarded by University of the Arts London. With thanks to Hawk 3D Proto for their loan of a BEETHEFIRST 3D Printer.