Why Use Aquaponics on an Apartment Patio?

Why Use Aquaponics on an Apartment Patio?

Pepper and Eggplant

Eggplant and peppers showed extremely anemic growth.

Growing vegetables on a patio in dirt-filled pots seems like an easy endeavor, but theory does not always translate to practice. Why use aquaponics as an alternative? Let us explain.

Aquaponics vs Pots for Growing Vegetables

Following are challenges with growing in dirt pots: 1. you needed to carry dirt which is heavy — especially tough when you’re on the fourth floor; 2. the soil is devoid of nutrient content or it was mystery to the amount of nutrient content it contained; and 3. you don’t necessarily get enough sunlight for the plants to grow healthy since patios are usually covered. Sunlight, if you are lucky, comes in at angles, either in the morning or late afternoon. We discovered why so many patio gardeners try and fail — and probably never try it again.

Aquaponics using LED Lighting is the Solution

However, we didn’t give up and turned to what worked for us before, aquaponics using artificial lighting. Yes, water is heavy too but it can be poured with a hose and drained! And in regards to the nutrients, aquaponics is a mutually beneficial system where fish waste supplies nutrients (nitrogen) for plants, which in turn would remove these elements that would be toxic to the fish. More on the benefits of aquaponics here.

LED lighting is the ideal solution for dimly lit patios (or deck surrounded by lots of trees). Although expensive to purchase, they are low power consumers, could potential provide the right, if not perfect wavelength of light and be turned on and off using a timer so you have complete control of the growth using this lighting.

Growing Vegetables Using Two Organic Practices

During the last six years in Virginia, we grew our vegetables in 8 raised beds, filled with rich compost sourced from foliage, yard waste and surplus vegetables; and in two custom-built aquaponic systems. Read about benefits of using aquaponics here.

Our primary aquaponic system was a large installation outside which grew mostly stem plants such as peppers, tomatoes and basil using bluegill as the livestock living in a 600 gallon pond. We also had an indoor system which we grew mostly leafy vegetables such as bok choy, lettuce and arugula using tilapia as livestock in a 70 gallon tank.

Pot Gardening on Patio

Vegetables grown in post yielded no real success. We used bagged dirt in pots.

Have A Fish Tank? You Have a Potential Aquaponics System

For our small patio, we needed to scale an aquaponics system even smaller. We decided to build an aquaponic system around an old 55-gallon tank we used as a saltwater aquarium. Like our larger systems in Virginia, we will build a flood and drain system, just on a smaller scale.

As we do our build, we’ll provide updates on progress on this page.


  1. Small-Scale Aquaponics Patio System Build
Aquaponic Grow Bed Setup for Patio System

Aquaponic Grow Bed Setup for Patio System

We’ve completed the basic structure of our Patio Aquaponics System. Our next step is to prepare and complete the aquaponic grow bed setup to properly test the water pump, plumbing, irrigation system and bell siphon to ensure a reliable flood and drain action.

Lining, Bell Siphon and Containers

As you may have read in our post detailing construction of the system, we’ve already lined the grow bed with 6 mil thick vizqueen — we also installed a custom-made bell siphon. For containers, we purchased Hydrofarm’s half gallon Vega Square Pots which measure 5.5×5.5x6in. This size allowed us to put 16 pots snugly in our grow bed.

Why Square Hydropnic Pots?

We went for a square-shaped pot to maximize the amount of hydroton we could load into the grow bed which provides more surface area for beneficial bacteria to reside to process the fish waste into nitrates and nitrite (plant food). So to fill about 8 gallons of net pot, we needed to purchase a 50 L bag of hydroton which provided more than needed.

Aquaponic Grow Bed Irrigation

After placing our hydroton filled pots, we installed the irrigation system made using 3/4 schedule 40 PVC piping in which we drilled 1/8 sized holes so water would be deposited into each of the pots. We wanted to spread water distribution equally to all the 16 pots in an attempt to equally spread solid waste since water was directly being pumped from the fish tank. The intent is for the hydroton-filled pots to also serve as solids filters, especially since we are going add red wiggler worms to the setup later to process the solids trapped in the hydroton.

Aquaponic Grow Bed Plumbing Test

We filled our 55-gallon fish tank with water and started up the 400 GPH hydroponic pump we purchased at Amazon. As expected, there were several leaks at the joints where we installed either elbows or t-joints so we sealed using plumbing tape. We chose to use tape vs PVC teflon sealant since we may want to disassemble the plumbing as we improve the system. Great news, it all worked! The 400 GPH provides a heavy flow so it took about two-three minutes for the grow bed to fill. The bell-siphon then took about a minute and half to drain the grow bed empty. Our next step is to purchase and introduce fish to the system to begin cycling the water.