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DIY Aquaponics Review: Two Years Later

So, I almost hate to show this because it is such a hot mess, but I finally decided to make a quick walk-through of this DIY Aquaponics system we purchased a couple of years ago.

When I was first learning about hydroponics and aquaponics, I remembered seeing these type of systems on You Tube and considered building them. A few years into my growing, my husband found this read-to-go DIY system. All we had to do was break it down and move it home.

When we first put it in, it did pretty well. We got two small Koi and they seemed to produce enough waste to feed the plants we placed in there (mainly herbs). I did purchase two aloe vera plants and they surprisingly thrived in the system even when the pH was way off. These are hardy plants let me tell ya!

About a year ago, the pH just became too difficult to manage. You could see mineralization built up on the hydroton and the PVC housing. I just kept putting it off and putting it off because I knew cleaning it would be a BIG UGLY TIME-SUCKING job.

I’m an inch-away from just ditching the entire system, but we are giving it one more chance. As we work in the yard pruning and planting, we chip away at boiling hydroton for about 4 hours and then straining off into a clean bucket which we will place back into the cleaned system.

There’s a light that hangs above this system which cost a pretty penny. For the amount I bought this used plus the cost of the light, I could have purchased a Tower Garden. (Sigh) But at the time we made the decision to get this system we were learning about various hydroponic and aquaponic systems and well, we homeschool, so everything becomes a learning opportunity. 😉

The light that typically hangs over this system I’m currently using the light over my seedlings and that’s working fantastic, so I am planning to move this system outdoors. It will go in the shade to help keep the fish cool and I’m going to stick with growing herbs in it because that seems to work right now.

However, we’re going to make a few adjustments before firing it up again:

  • First off, we need to put a guard around the siphons so help keep the hydroton back and out of the way.
  • Second, we are going to see what can be done to balance each side so that it siphons properly and continuously. Right now, it siphons for awhile and then putters out. The siphon drain helps to disperse the water and it aerates the water for the fish. It is supposed to draw the fish water up from the bottom and then fill the tanks and then when the water reaches a certain point, the siphon kicks in and drains the entire tub which aerates the plant root system. (Roots need to breathe!)
  • Third, we will probably relocate these Koi to a larger pond my boys are planning to build and we will put smaller Koi into this system as replacements. Koi are great because they can tolerate warm and cold temperatures compared to other types of fish.


I wouldn’t say this is a terrible design. It’s definitely great to grow herbs in and you can see that my aloe vera plants did just fine.  But be forewarned that this system takes some serious work to clean. It’s probably best to just relocate the hydroton into another use and buy brand spankin’ new hydroton. Cleaning the hydroton is time-consuming and tedious work. We’ve been working on cleaning it for over a week and we are only half-way.

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And know that the pH can be difficult to manage. If you add pH adjustment, the hydroton absorbs the efforts you make bit by bit. Plan on cleaning out this system yearly if you go this route. And use the system outdoors if possible because a light to go over something of this size isn’t cheap. And if outside, you have to think about the seasons in your region and how the temperatures will affect your Koi, so placement matters.

Hope that helps for those who like to do DIY. My take-away is a lesson learned that just because it seems cheaper at the time, when you add everything up it isn’t always cheaper. And all systems have pros and cons. For me, cleaning needs to be manageable to make a system worthwhile and this one is just a BEAST to clean, so I won’t be building any more of these.

Happy Growing!