Creative Ways to Set Up Aquaponics Systems in Small Areas

While often associated with large-scale operations, aquaponics can be adapted to fit even the smallest of spaces, making it an accessible and practical solution for urban dwellers and gardening enthusiasts with limited spaces. In this blog, we will explore creative aquaponics setups specifically designed for small areas. From repurposed containers to vertical hanging gardens and furniture-integrated systems, the possibilities are diverse and exciting, so let's get started!

The Importance of Aquaponics in Small Spaces

The significance of aquaponics in small spaces lies in its ability to efficiently maximize an utilize space. Traditional farming methods often face challenges in urban or limited areas, making it difficult for individuals with smaller living spaces to engage in agriculture. Aquaponics on the other hand provides a solution by offering a compact and resource-efficient alternative. Its minimal footprint, reduced water usage, and cultivation of both fish and plants make it an ideal choice for those looking for sustainable food production in confined environments.

Types of Aquaponics Systems

The three main types of aquaponics systems, based on how the water flows and how the plants are supported are:

1. Media Based Aquaponics Systems

The media based system is the most common and simple type of system, where the plants are grown in grow media such as gravel or clay pebbles. The water is pumped from the fish tank to the plant bed, where it trickles through the media and drains back to the fish tank. The media acts as a filter and a biofilter, as it traps the solid waste and hosts the beneficial bacteria.

Media Based Aquaponics System

2.Raft Aquaponics Systems

Also called Deep Water Culture or DWC, this is a type of system where the plants are grown on floating rafts, such as styrofoam or plastic, that are suspended on the water surface. The water is pumped from the fish tank to a large tank or pond, where the plants float and their roots dangle in the water. The water is then returned to the fish tank by gravity or a pump. The plants act as a filter and a biofilter, as they absorb the nutrients and oxygenate the water.

Raft Aquaponics System

3.Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The nutrient film technique is a type of system where the plants are grown in narrow tubes or channels, where a thin film of water flows continuously. The water is pumped from the fish tank to the tubes, where it runs along the bottom and moistens the roots of the plants. The water is then collected and returned to the fish tank. The plants act as a filter and a biofilter, as they absorb the nutrients and oxygenate the water.

NFT Aquaponics System

The beauty of aquaponics is that it is not just limited the these three main types of systems as growers can combine two or three of these systems to create hybrid systems that suit their specifications or needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Aquaponics System

1. Space

Media-based systems require more space than raft-based or NFT systems, as they need a large and deep plant bed to hold the media. Raft-based systems require a large and shallow tank or pond to float the plants. NFT systems require less space than the other two types, as they can be arranged in vertical or horizontal rows.

2. Cost

Media-based systems are usually cheaper than raft-based or NFT systems, as they use simple and readily available materials, such as buckets, barrels, or containers. Raft-based systems are more expensive than media-based systems, as they need a large and sturdy tank or pond to support the weight of the water and the plants. NFT systems are the most expensive of the three types, as they need specialized and high-quality materials, such as PVC pipes, fittings, and pumps.

3. Maintenance

Media-based systems are easy to maintain, as they only need occasional cleaning and topping up of the water. Raft-based systems are also easy to maintain, as they only need periodic checking of the water quality and level. NFT systems are the most difficult to maintain, as they need regular cleaning and monitoring of the water flow and pH.

Creative Ways to Set Up Aquaponics Systems in Small Areas

Now that you know the different types of aquaponics systems, let’s look at some creative ways to set them up in small areas. You can use various materials and methods to create your own customized and unique system, depending on your space, budget, and needs. Here are some examples of each type of system


IBC Tote Aquaponics System

1. Container Aquaponics

Container aquaponics offers several advantages, including flexibility, scalability, and adaptability to various environments. The use of recycled containers minimizes the environmental impact and reduces costs, making it a budget-friendly option for urban gardeners. 

However considerations should be taken into account when implementing container aquaponics. Several factors such as container material, size, and stability must be carefully considered to ensure the well-being of both fish and plants. Adequate insulation, proper water circulation, and appropriate filtration systems are also crucial for maintaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem.  Addressing these considerations can help aquaponics growers provide a practical and innovative solution for cultivating fresh produce and fish in confined spaces.

Using Recycled Containers:

One popular approach to container aquaponics in small spaces is repurposing recycled containers as fish tanks and grow beds. These containers can range from old bathtubs and barrels to plastic bins or wooden crates. This method not only reduces waste by giving new life to discarded items but also makes aquaponics more cost-effective and accessible. Using repurposed containers allows aquaponics growers to customize the size and shape of their system based on the available space and personal preferences.


Hanging Aquaponics System
                                           Photo from Pinterest

2. Hanging Aquaponics Gardens

Below are the factors to consider in creating and maintaining a thriving hanging aquaponics garden that not only optimizes space but also enhances the visual appeal of their living or working environment.

  • Proper Weight Distribution: Ensure that the wall-mounted structures can support the weight of both the grow beds and the water-filled containers.
  • Water Circulation: Implement an efficient water circulation system to maintain uniform nutrient distribution among the hanging plants.
  • Fish Selection: Choose fish species that are well-suited for hanging aquaponics. Smaller fish varieties, such as tilapia or goldfish, are often more suitable, as they produce sufficient waste without overwhelming the system.
  • Lighting Considerations: Evaluate the available sunlight in the chosen location for hanging aquaponics. Supplemental lighting may be necessary, especially if the area lacks sufficient natural light for plant growth.
  • Monitoring and Adjusting: Regularly monitor water parameters, including pH levels, ammonia, and nitrate concentrations. Adjustments may be needed to maintain an optimal environment for both fish and plants.

Utilizing wall-mounted structures for grow beds:

Hanging aquaponics gardens present a unique and space-efficient solution by utilizing wall-mounted structures for grow beds. By attaching plant containers directly to vertical surfaces, such as walls or fences, growers can transform unused spaces into flourishing green areas. This method is particularly advantageous for those with limited floor space, as it allows for the integration of aquaponics systems in areas where traditional setups may be impractical. The vertical orientation not only maximizes space but also adds an aesthetic dimension to the overall design.

Types of plants suitable for hanging aquaponics:

Choosing the right plants is crucial for the success of hanging aquaponics gardens. Herbs, leafy greens, and certain fruiting plants are well-suited for this setup. Examples include basil, mint, lettuce, strawberries, and small varieties of tomatoes. These plants not only thrive in hanging containers but also benefit from the nutrient-rich water circulated from the fish tank. 


Desktop Aquaponics Aquaponics Systems

3. Desktop Aquaponics

Desktop aquaponics introduces the concept of miniature aquaponics systems designed specifically for office desks or small living spaces. These compact setups offer a unique solution for individuals who want to experience the benefits of aquaponics in confined environments. The reduced scale of these systems makes them ideal for urban dwellers, students, or anyone with limited space, providing an opportunity to cultivate both fish and plants in a visually appealing and manageable way.

To enhance the appeal of desktop aquaponics, the integration of decorative elements plays a crucial role in merging functionality with aesthetics.

  • Aquascaping: Incorporate visually appealing aquascaping elements, such as decorative rocks, pebbles, or driftwood, to create an attractive underwater landscape within the fish tank. This not only enhances the overall aesthetic but also provides hiding spaces for fish.
  • Stylish Containers: Opt for stylish and transparent containers for the fish tank and grow bed. This allows users to enjoy the beauty of the aquatic environment and observe the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants.
  • LED Lighting: Integrate energy-efficient LED lighting to illuminate the system, promoting plant growth and creating an eye-catching display. Colored LEDs can be used to enhance the overall ambiance.
  • Minimalist Designs: Embrace minimalist designs that blend seamlessly with office or living space decor. Sleek and modern aesthetics can turn desktop aquaponics into a functional and visually pleasing centerpiece.

Desktop Aquaponics Innovative Designs

1. Tiered Systems

Utilize tiered designs to maximize vertical space on a desktop. Stacking fish tanks and grow beds vertically allows for more efficient use of space while maintaining a compact footprint.

2. Modular Components

Design desktop aquaponics systems with modular components that can be easily assembled and disassembled. This not only facilitates maintenance but also provides flexibility in adjusting the system according to available space or personal preferences.

3. Self-Contained Ecosystems

Create self-contained ecosystems with built-in filtration and recirculation systems. Innovative designs can incorporate compact pumps, filters, and aeration systems to ensure water quality and a balanced environment for both fish and plants.


Ikea Shelf Aquaponics System
Photo from Pinterest


4. Aquaponics in Furniture

The concept of aquaponics in furniture merges sustainable agriculture with functional design, creating a harmonious integration of form and function. By incorporating aquaponics into furniture pieces, individuals can seamlessly introduce a self-sustaining ecosystem into their living spaces while enjoying the practicality and aesthetics of functional furniture.

Benefits and challenges of furniture-based aquaponics:


  1. Space Optimization: Furniture-based aquaponics maximizes space efficiency, especially in smaller living areas, by integrating the system into everyday functional items.
  2. Aesthetic Appeal: The visual appeal of living fish and thriving plants within furniture adds a decorative and natural element to living spaces, creating a unique and calming ambiance.
  3. Dual Functionality: Furniture with built-in aquaponics serves a dual purpose, providing practical utility as well as contributing to sustainable food production.


  1. Maintenance Considerations: Incorporating aquaponics into furniture requires careful consideration of maintenance needs. Accessibility for cleaning, monitoring water parameters, and addressing potential issues must be factored into the design.
  2. Weight and Stability: The weight of water-filled fish tanks and grow beds needs to be considered to ensure the stability and structural integrity of the furniture. Reinforcements may be required.
  3. Cost: While furniture-based aquaponics offers unique benefits, the initial cost of acquiring or customizing such pieces may be higher compared to traditional aquaponics setups.

Examples of furniture with built-in aquaponics systems:

1. Aquaponics Coffee Tables

Coffee tables with built-in aquaponics systems often feature a transparent top surface, revealing the underwater world of fish swimming beneath. The water from the fish tank circulates through embedded grow beds, allowing for the cultivation of herbs or small vegetables.

2. Aquaponics Dining Tables

Dining tables equipped with aquaponics systems provide a unique dining experience. The central or side compartments of the table serve as fish tanks while surrounding areas house the grow beds. This not only adds a visually appealing element to the dining area but also facilitates conversations around sustainable living.

3. Aquaponics Bookshelves

Bookshelves designed with integrated aquaponics systems utilize vertical space efficiently. Fish tanks are incorporated into the lower sections, and the upper shelves feature cascading plants. This multi-functional furniture piece combines storage with a mini aquaponics garden.

Rooftop Aquaponics Garden
Photo from Pinterest

5. Balcony and Rooftop Aquaponics

Urban dwellers often face space constraints, but balconies and rooftops present untapped potential for transforming unused areas into thriving aquaponics spaces. Balcony and rooftop aquaponics allow individuals to cultivate fish and plants in the outdoor environment, bringing sustainable agriculture to urban settings. These spaces offer unique opportunities for creative setups that not only enhance aesthetics but also contribute to local food production.

Considerations for weather and sunlight exposure in Balcony or Rooftop Aquaponics.

1. Sunlight Requirements: Assess the sunlight exposure on balconies and rooftops to determine the best placement for the aquaponics system. Most plants require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, so choosing the right location is crucial for optimal growth.

2.  Weather Protection: Install shading or protective covers to shield the aquaponics system from extreme weather conditions such as intense sunlight, heavy rain, or strong winds. This ensures the stability and longevity of the setup.

3.  Temperature Regulation: Balconies and rooftops may experience temperature variations. Consider insulating fish tanks and protecting plants from temperature extremes to maintain a stable and suitable environment for both aquatic life and plants.

4. Wind Considerations: Secure aquaponics components to prevent damage from strong winds. Additionally, choose plant varieties and grow bed structures that can withstand moderate wind exposure.

5. Water Evaporation: Balconies and rooftops may experience higher rates of water evaporation, especially in sunny and windy conditions. Regularly monitor water levels and top up as needed to maintain the proper balance within the aquaponics system.

Container gardening on balconies with aquaponics ideas:

1. Vertical Container Stacking

Utilize vertical space on balconies by stacking aquaponics containers. This can include vertically aligned fish tanksand tiered grow beds, optimizing the available space while creating an eye-catching display.

2. Hanging Gardens

Install hanging aquaponics systems on balcony railings or overhead structures. This approach maximizes vertical space while allowing for the cultivation of a variety of plants without occupying precious floor space.

Vertical Aquaponics System
Photo from Pinterest

6.  Aquaponics with Plant Towers

Aquatic plant towers are vertical, self-contained structures designed to house both aquatic plants and fish in a single system. These towers create a visually striking and space-efficient way to integrate aquaponics, which allows for the simultaneous cultivation of ornamental or edible aquatic plants and fish. 

Combining fish tanks with plant towers for compact setups

  1. Vertical Design: Aquatic plant towers are characterized by their vertical structure, which incorporates both fish tanks and grow beds in a stacked arrangement. This design maximizes the use of vertical space, making it suitable for compact setups, such as balconies or smaller outdoor areas.
  1. Tiered System: The towers are often designed in a tiered fashion, with fish tanks at the lower levels and plant beds situated above. Water circulates through the system, allowing the fish waste to nourish the plants, and the plants, in turn, filter the water for the fish. This closed-loop system is efficient and space-saving.
  1. Flexible Configuration: The modular nature of aquatic plant towers allows for flexibility in configuration. Growers can customize the number of tiers and the types of plants and fish they wish to cultivate, making it adaptable to different preferences and available space.


Aquaponics is an innovative way of growing food, and the creative setups explored in this blog showcase the limitless possibilities for cultivating fish and plants even in the smallest of spaces. From container aquaponics and hanging gardens to desktop systems, these inventive designs offer practical solutions for urban dwellers and gardening enthusiasts with limited spaces.

So whether you have a small balcony, a corner of your office, or a desktop to spare, there's a creative aquaponics solution waiting for you. By embracing these inventive designs, you can embark on a journey of sustainable living and cultivate fresh produce no matter how limited the space may be.

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