This vertical aquaponic system not only grows vegetables horizontally, but also vertically without soil in columns above a fish tank. It is a water-efficient and space-saving way to garden and raise fish. By growing vertically, you can produce about twice the amount of plants as you can with a hydroponic system of the same area. One five-foot tower can produce more than 200 heads of lettuce per year. And it uses a small fraction of the water needed to grow crops in soil.

The aquaponic system puts fish waste to work as fertilizer for crops. A small pump draws nutrient-rich water from the fish tank to the tops of the vertical columns. The water trickles down through the roots of the plants, gathering oxygen from the air as it falls back into the tank. The system is mostly enclosed, with little to no waste.

You will have to replace lost water as needed, power the pumps and feed the fish.

You can use the following materials or improvise with whatever you're able to scavenge.

15-20 ft. of 4-inch diameter PVC or ADS
Four 4-inch elbows
Four 4-inch T connectors

Two 50-gallon drums
15-20 feet of PEX tubing, or aquarium air tubing
Plastic cups
Strips of porous cloth, such as burlap
Scrap wood
Electrical tape or duct tape

The pump size depends on how much flow is required for your system as well as your power source.  Unless you're running off an inverter for AC power, you'll most likely be relegated to using a solar powered pump or a marine bilge pump that operates on 12VDC battery power.

How to Size a Hydroponic Water Pump

This system can aerate itself but it will yield more if the tank water is aerated.  An aquarium air pump and air stone in each water tank should suffice.

1-inch hole saw
3-inch hole saw


Step 1

Cut the pipe into six 1-foot sections for the sides and two 14-inch sections for the ends.
Drill two 3-inch-diameter holes in each of the 1-foot side pieces.
Drill a 1-inch-diameter hole into the side of one of the end pieces.
Tip: You can use any kind of durable plastic or pipe, not just what's pictured.



Step 2

Assemble the pieces with electrical tape.

Step 3

Cut the vertical pipes to the length that suits you.
Drill 1-inch-diameter holes in the vertical pipes, evenly spaced.
Insert the vertical pipes as shown.
(The photo on the right shows the mostly finished structure to give you an idea of how it looks.)

Step 4

Punch small holes in the bottoms of the plastic cups and place them in the holes you drilled in the side pipes.
Cut a piece of 1-inch-diameter pipe to insert into the 1-inch hole in the end pipe to make a drain.
The drain should pour into one of the 50-gallon drums.

Step 5

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

Step 6

Place the assembled garden structure on top of the drums. (Seen from two slightly different angles.)

Step 7

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.  Most systems will have vertical columns of equal height, but these are cut at different heights to show the range of options available.

Final Steps (Not pictured)

Start the seedlings in some form of growing medium in the cups and also in the holes of the vertical pipes.  Starter cubes are an excellent choice for this and they work well for both cuttings and seeds.

Cut strips of burlap or some other material, fasten them to the tops of the vertical pipes and drape them down the inside of the pipes. Lining the interior of the pipes with cloth will give the plant roots something to latch onto.

The next part is where the "handy person" in your group comes in handy.  The PEX or aquarium tubing needs to be cut and fitted to the the water pump(s) such that water can be pumped from one barrel up each of the vertical pipes.  It would also help to install a pump that circulates water from the barrel that receives drainage to the barrel that feeds the system.

Good luck.

Many thanks to Rob Goodier and Engineering for Change. 

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at a first glance  the aquaponic system setup seems to be the tricky part. Understanding the system is easy but the really tricky part is the fish food. The goal should be to grow your own larvae or worms or whatever the fish would accept eating. I suggest that before the aquaponics system is up and running,  solve how to feed the fish (assuming you´re not buing it). Bigger fish is really hungry... 

When starting up an APS  remember that two months is needed to get the nitrate bacteria in place.

@ mrkontra - good point about introducing nitrifying bacteria (lead time depends on tank volume), but worms aren't the answer for feeding fish in the Aftertime.

"Hydroponics can be grown around the clock and fish eat either this produce or water plants that feed off the community's Sewage Effluent, but the base of this food chain is the hydroponic vegetation." ZetaTalk

@ Howard- do you have any ideas about homemade nutrients in the aftertime for hydroponic (or fish food to the aquaponic system)?

All of those systems are based on sewage and maybe the one solution in the aftertime would be human "leftovers" sewage effluent. Feels like almost everything in nature will rotten post poleshift and there must be plenty of nutrients for use in our coming food systems?

I put up my first aquaponic system in mars this year so I have the solutions and not making simple mistakes in the aftertime. Very educational! Still my only concern is how to make the massive amounts of nutrients needed to get the plants in the fruit state. Seems like lack of nutrients make plants get rid of the flowers after blossoms. 

@ mrkontra - the Zetas recommend feeding fish algae that will grow in human sewage. Spirulina is particularly high in nutrients:

sorry for the late reply mrknotra, but you could also try vermicomposting.

For the nutrient solution, you can make a tea out of compost.

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