Affnan's Aquaponics

SUBHEAD: A simple plumbing system to begin growing edible plants and fish in your yard or greenhouse.  

By Affnan 30 June 2009 for Affnan's Aquaponics -  

Image above: Photo of Affnan in his yard in Malaysia. From original article.

 [Editor's note: Affnan has an extensive website ( and blog ( It's a rich resource for detailed explanation of the systems he has built and improvements he has made to them over time. There are photos, diagrams and videos of how to set up a variety of do-it-yourself systems. We discovered his site on looking for a clear and precise instruction on making a bell valve flush system. His was the best I found, even though English is not his first language. We recommend that you explore his site if you are a beginner looking for instruction on aquaponics and aquaculture. We have tried to clear up some of the difficulties Affnan had with English.]  

How to Begin
I have gotten a lot of queries on how to setup an Aquaponics System asking where, what and how to start. In this post I will try to briefly explain a very simple setup. It's important to start simple so that you learn and progress as time goes by. It is not advisable to start with complex or large system. It is also ridiculous to start with a tiny system, that is only meant for demonstration or a school project. The size of the Fish tank and Grow beds are the two determining factor in aquaponics. In theory the size of grow-bed is directly proportional to the size of fish-tank used. A 1:1 ratio is a rule of thumb, however smaller grow-bed to fish-tank is acceptable but not the other way round because there will be insufficient water available for fish.  

What Tank and Grow Bed size to use?

Image above: Simple 100 gallon Aquaponics diagram from Affnan's article with some extra labeling. Click to enlarge. 

 In the illustration above I have recommended a 100 gallon tank and a 2’ x 3’ grow bed. It is best to start with a simple water management system. Shown here the raised grow bed using Bell Valve Flush (see separate post on building Bell Valve This is the easiest system to build with the least risk of things going wrong. This system can be easily adapted to use a Timed Flood & Drained systemBell Valve Flush method of water management if you don't want to build a Bell Valve.  

Simplicity to Start
I do not recommend any system with lots of moving parts, or those with a Sump Drain; the reason being the extra pump and parts is just an additional item to fail or need maintenance. It is too much for beginners to worry about. In above diagram, water is fed to the grow bed by using a single pump, estimate about 800 ~ 1200 Liter (200-300 gallons)/hr 14 ~ 20 watt power rating. Note, with a Timed Flood and Drain you can use smaller pump. The water returned to fish tank are by gravity through a pipe with aeration holes to provide oxygen for Fish Tank (see post on Bell Valve). A tiny drip hole is needed in the stand pipe on both these methods to ensure during pump “OFF” operation water are drained slowly, to promote the Aquaponics process.  

Plant Growth Media
Growth medium use normally gravel, roughly 10 ~ 20 mm (3/8"-3/4") in size, not too small and not too big. Small gravel can cause water logging and bigger medium can be difficult to handle while planting small plants. Gravel height should be about 1” above water level, or the stand pipe height initially, with time as the plant grow this water level can be adjusted lower by using a shorter stand pipe.

 Pump Timing
With the Bell Flush system, the recycling pump is switched ON continuously during the day and switched OFF at night (however it can also be run continuously 24/7). Timed Flood and Drain, uses a timer that is readily available. Most people set it at 15 minutes ON and 45 minutes OFF continuously 24/7 (with some changes to cycle during night time). I switch my system OFF at night for power saving and minimize noise, however with the pump OFF its advisable to have an separate small aeration pump running to ensure sufficient oxygen to the Fish Tank.

 What Fish to use? 


Image above: Tilapia being harvested from Fish Tank on 11/12/11. From (

For those that like ornamental fish, koi is a good choice, common gold fish also another option. These fishes are hardy and able to tolerate varies water condition. For those that want fish for the dinner table (like me), its depend on your area, over here in the hot humid rainy equatorial climate of Malaysia I recommend;
  • Barb families
  • Perch
  • Mansheer
  • Gourami
  • Tilapia (Red Variety is best)
I don’t recommend Catfish and Snakehead, they are predator fish and also they are air breathers. The air breather like Catfish, Snakehead and Climbing Perch (Puyu) will tolerate extreme water condition, and consequently you will not learn much on how to manage water of an Aquaponics setup. However they are the easiest to get you started. Fish like tilapia are quite hardy, but they still need dissolved oxygen in the water, so using these types of fish will make you conscious of water quality and oxygen content.

 What Plants to use?

Image above: Yams planted in grow-bed have outgrown system in three months. From (

 Again depending on your region and whether you are using a Green house or not. Most leafy vegetable are easily grown. There are cases where carrots, beet sand radishes were grown. Tomatoes are a common vegetable for Aquaponics. On plant I leave it to your imagination.

 See also:
Affnan's Aquaponics: Constant Height One Pump System 5/4/10
Affnan's Aquaponics: Single Barrel Aquaponics 11/14/10



Unknown said...

Hi mr.Affnan, thank you for sharing...

What happen if the grow bed is bigger than the fish tank? using continous flow.

thank you

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Briand Iiong,

I believe you can ask this question of Affnan at

Island Breath Publisher

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