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Grow Bed Construction Questions

Raft System and Shade Frame

Several people have discovered that finding the right materials for the Micro 64 to be a challenge. Here is some feedback that might be useful to others.

Q1: Did you use Borate (HiBor) treated wood for your system and if so, where did you find it?

Couldn’t find it, just used good quality outdoor plywood for the base sealed with good outdoor primer

Used good quality 1x2s on top of raft tanks and painted everything with 2-3 coats before assembling.

Q2: What type of paint to you recommend for the wood and did you prime it before painting?

I used Benjamin Moore paint from Ace Hardware. Great paint, but expensive. Bear brand of primer and out door paint from Home Depot works well too.



I used Blue and White paint. The white reflects the suns heat and the blue is just cool!

Q3: I noticed that people say treated wood needs to dry before painting.
Did you find this to be a problem, or did you just start painting right away?

If it is freshly made, the chemicals in it leach and the paint peals off. I did not use treated wood. Be sure to seal it well all over, especially on the bottom edge.

Q4: Did you use ACX plywood? I’m finding that it isn’t easy to come by.
Could I use another type of plywood or do you know where to find the right stuff?

Legs for raft tanks:
Also, I added two short upright 2×4”s on each corner, of the raft tanks, between the top 2×4 and the ground. They act like legs and also keep the 1/4 plywood edges together.



Leveling raft tanks:
Be SURE to level the tanks and place them on solid footings, like undisturbed ground, so they don’t settle and your water go over the side or be low. If you have soft ground, or you have to disturb the packed soil, you might use round concrete pave stones to support the four corners.

Make sure they are smooth with the surface of the ground so the liner won’t get damaged, perhaps put a couple layers of ground cloth over them for protection.

Ground Cloth:
I put ground cloth down under everything. It has helped control the weeds a lot!
If you cut it to bury the pipes around the tanks, which I would recommend, be sure to patch it well. I used “U” shaped metal (thick wire) to stick it to the ground.

The PVC pipes will stay connected very well, with out glue, at least most places used and most of the time. By leaving the pipes unglued at key connections, it makes it a lot easier to remove a clog and clean out the algae, etc.

I buried most of my pipes around the raft tanks. This is bad if you need to work on them and good if you want to keep from stumbling over them all the time, and keep the water in them at a more stable temperature, like winter freezing issues.

I find it immensely useful to include a faucet near the pump and over the edge of the raft tank. I made mine tall enough to get a 5 gallon bucket under it when setting on the edge of the tank. No plants are planted in this location, so the unused water from the tap can go thru the hole in the raft and back into the system. I use this water to wash off the top of the rafts and plants as needed, to pull water to first water my seedlings, etc. The upright pipe is supported with a “T” type fence post, cut off and driven into the ground next to the trough. The pipe is tiew rapped to it.





The filters Friendly Aquaponics recommends work well, if you make them correctly.
See Tim instructions on his  FAP site for details. Ex: Newsletter #77  Filter Image

Filter Construction for your Fish Tank:

To build a filter use a piece of  PVC pipe(Ex: 1&1/2″) or a Union fitting for the base, depending on where you will be trying to connect your filter to your system. For the top end of the filter use a PVC cap. Cut a piece of /2″ ridged plastic screen cloth about 10″ x 14″ in size. Using the shorter dimension, rap the 1/2″ plastic screen around the PVC pipe/union and secure it with a hose clamp.The 1/2″ stiff screen makes the filter rigid and too porous.
Add an outside second layer of finer (ex: 1/8″)  mesh screen. This is cut to about the same dimensions.

Wrap the finer screen over the 1/2″ screen and secure both using the hose clamp used previously.

Now  insert the PVC cap in the other end of the screens and attache them with another hose clamp.

this completes your filter for use in your fish tank.

Here is a shot of the filter in the fish tank, made the way Tim Recommends. The T shape would not work here as well as a straight one, as the bulkhead fitting is close to the side of the tank and the filter would be short on one side of the T.

Note: Be sure to mount your filter so it does not come loose and sink to the bottom of the fish tank!. I used a small course threaded nylon screw, screwed into a hole I made with a drill bit. It stays in place until I remove it.

Trough Filters

I would recommend that you use filters for the in and out pipes in both/all of the troughs. This will keep your mosquito fish from swimming up/down your pipes as well as keeping big pieces of stuff out of your pump.

I recommend that the filters be constructed as a “T”. This is basically two filters on one PVC fitting with a PVC cap in the end of each filter.  This allows for better flow and less clogging, as well as better mechanical strength when mounted. Also, the filter is parallel to the end of the trough rather than sticking out directly under the roots of the plants on the raft.

Bulk Head Installation:
When installing the bulk head pipe fittings in the raft tanks, consider drilling the hole a little lower than recommended, which is half way between the top of the water line and the bottom of the tank. My bulk head connectors and therefore my filters are centered top to bottom. They get in the way of the rafts and roots more often than I like. Also, mounting the filters lower gives better water flow low in the raft, which I surmise mixes the oxygen and water better. The flow is not fast enough to disturb the good bacteria on the liner, etc.

Liner Bulkhead

Liner Bulkhead

Shade Frame:
Link to article

Water Levels:

Q: They say to have the fish tank above the troughs. Does this mean the bottom of the fish tank needs to be higher than the trough or will it work on the ground as long as the bulk head fitting in the tank is higher than the bulk head fitting in the tough? I’m not sure if I need to build something to put the fish tank up on.

A: The water level of the fish tank needs to be higher than the water level in the troughs for it to flow though them into the pump at the end of trough #2.

As long as this is true, the water will flow. If you want the water to flow faster, keep the outflow pipe in the fish tank short and/or larger diameter. I used 2” and ran about 25 foot to my first trough. More water flow is better as it aids moving fish solids, and getting air circulated through the system.

Drisco Pipe:

Q: In the FAP instructions under miscellaneous supplies it says you need “3/4′ drisco pipe long enough to to connect back to your water source from your hose bib at the fish tank….” I’m not understanding what this is for.

A: It’s unclear. I think they are talking about hooking up a water hose to the fish tank for filling it and if you need to later, draining it.
I installed a “water faucet” on the drain pipe coming out of the bottom of my IBC fish tank. I use it when I want to drain off some of the crud on the bottom of the fish tank or let out water due to rain overfilling the system.

Thanks to Chris Miller for some of the questions. Chris is building a Micro 64 system here is Texas.


Pond Liner Supplier

Trough Liner

(Note: Trough & Pond Liner Picture from Friendly Aquaponics How-To videos)

Update: June 27 2012: The Aquaponic Source in Colorado sells pond liner the size you need!

Dura-Skrim Pond Liner picture from

Dura-Skrim R20WW Liner! Food-grade, extremely durable and organically certifiable!

DURA-SKRIM® R20WW consists of virgin outer layers of white high-strength polyethylene film laminated together with a black layer of molten applied polyethylene. Both outer layers contain UV inhibitors and thermal stabilizers to assure long outdoor life. The white layers are designed to reduce heat build-up and condensation, and to provide excellent dimensional stability. A layer of polyester scrim reinforcement placed between these plies greatly enhances tear resistance and increases service life. DURA-SKRIM’s heavy-duty diamond reinforcement responds to tears immediately by surrounding and stopping the tear.

They will sell any size quantity!

If you need just just a few feet for one grow trough, we will sell it whereas most others will only sell 100 ft or more. This is the very same Polyethylene liner recommended in the Green Acre Aquaponic Farming Course. It is food grade, extremely durable and organically certifiable!

All sizes are in 1 ft increments and are 6 ft wide

.– We now return you to the previously posted article…

Raven Industries is now selling  trough liner in small quantities directly to aquaponics end-users.

Their product 20WW is a 20-mil, LDPE, white string-reinforced, plastic sheeting containing UV inhibitors and thermal stabilizers to assure long outdoor life.  (LDPE = Low density polyethylene)

As of now, 50-foot and 100-foot rolls are available (with FREE shipping!). Go directly to their web page for 50-foot and 100-foot rolls of R20WW. It is about $.50 a square foot at these quantities.

Soon they will be selling the exact lengths needed for Micro System 64’s and 128’s, Family System 256’s and 512’s, and the small 1,024-square-foot commercial system. Micro System 64 uses two pieces of  6 ft. x 11 ft. liner and the Micro System 128 uses two pieces of  6 ft. x 19 ft. liner.

They will also be quoting for and cutting custom lengths for larger farms and systems.

Manufacturer: Raven Industries


Product: DuraSkrim R20WW 20-mil LDPE

Part Number: R20WWK

Contact: Courtney Mendelson at 800-635-3456

Info quoted from Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter #55, 4-Oct-11

Pond Liner

Trough Overview

The grow beds are made with 1/4″ treated plywood sides, 2″x4″ top edge rails, and 1″x2″ untreated top edge covers. The 1″x2″s cover the edges of the pond line that is stapled into the top edge of the 2″x4″ rails.

Trough with Liner

Trough with Liner

Pond Liner Nicknames

The material I’ll refer to as pond liner has several different nicknames:

  • pond liner
  • water garden liner
  • greenhouse cover material
  • Hydroponics pond liner
  • Aquaponics pond liner
  • polyethylene tarp material


  • UV resistant
  • Fiber reinforced
  • 20-23 mills thick
  • One side white is best; easier to see what’s going on.
  • Food Grade
Liner Corner

Liner Corner

Material – preferred

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) material.

Materials – acceptable

PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) pond liner is OK
PVC, PVC with internal reinforcement, and similar products

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), but this is usually expensive. I also believe it is more ridged and harder to work with.

What to avoid

  • EPDM. It out gasses toxic to system bacteria and leaches unwanted chemicals into the water
  • Vinyl liner as it is too streatch
  • Any product that doesn’t specifically identify what is made of.

The pond liner recommended FAP

  • 23-mil P2000 by Inland Plastics Company
  • 20-mil DuraSkrim R20WW by Raven Industries

Sources to obtain liners

  1. Green house suppliers, like those serving farmers or commercial nurseries, etc.
  2. Some Farm Stores
  3. Other Aquaponic businesses willing to sell pieces off of their large roll
  4. Home Depot for PVC pond liner. Don’t use the EPDM liner they sell, it’s toxic!
  5. Internet suppliers that sell fish pond supplies, EX: Koi ponds.
Liner Bulkhead

Liner Bulkhead

Notice that the liner in the picture above is tight/flat above and behind the bulkhead. When water is added the wrinkled part of the liner will lay smooth. This picture was taken on long grass which pushed the new liner up a couple inches.

The bulkhead has threads to allow removing the plumbing inside the tank. This makes it easy to change filters, run a fish tape down the plumbing if it gets clogged, etc.


I used PVC pond liner from Home Depot that was 7′ x 11′ in size and about $39 each. The pond liners I found were way too large physically as they would have covered 3-4 grow beds. Also the price, even though very good quality (German made) and discounted was much more than I wanted to spend, $150.

I found a couple places on the Internet that sell pond liner custom cut. They wanted $0.62/ square foot plus shipping costs.

Ex: “Custom cut liners available in widths of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 ,50 feet, and in any length to the nearest 5 foot up to 100 feet. Must be in 5 foot increments”

They often sell rubber liners. I have no clue if they will work favorabley with fish and plants.


Friendly Aquaponics FAQ

37. “Where can I get some net pots in large quantities (5,000 pots), and some trough liner?”

69. “I purchased the 2010 Micro System DIY plans. I am having problems finding a 20 mil LDPE liner for the troughs. Homedepot has the liners but they are PVC. Will this work? Do you recommend any places that carry this material”?”

Raft Construction

This is the information that I would like to have had when I first constructed my first rafts. Hope it helps someone else.


The rafts need to not:

  • release harmful chemicals
  • sink from the weight of the future plants
  • get “water logged”
  • fall apart
  • break when moved full of plants

The product that does this is Dow Blue Board Styrofoam insulation.

Painted Foam

Painted Foam

Styrofoam Overview

Styrofoam is a polystyrene-based insulation product that comes in two type,  expanded and extruded. Dow Product Summary

Expanded Styrofoam

The most commonly thought of is the white (expanded) Styrofoam we see in cheap ice chests and used as cushioning material in shipping. It is:

  1. composed of thousands of  “beads” which are pressed together (expanded)
  2. brittle and fragile
  3. a poor insulator
  4. absorbs and holds moisture (hygroscopic)

Extruded Styrofoam

This is Styrofoam Square Edge (extruded) often called “blueboard” due to its light blue color. Dow calls it STYROFOAM™ Brand Square Edge Insulation Extruded Polystyrene. It is:

  1. one piece with air gaps sealed inside (extruded)
  2. brittle but less fragile
  3. about 20% better as an insulator (modest as an insulator goes)
  4. is completely impervious to moisture (hydrophobic)

Types of Blue Board

STYROFOAM™ Brand Insulation Extruded Polystyrene comes with several options.

  1. Square edge
  2. Tongue and Groove edge
  3. Scoreboard

The Scoreboard has grooves formed in the surface lengthwise to make breaking the board easier during installation. Avoid this as it  encourages you to make smaller pieces of your raft, impromptu.

Square Edge Blue Board

Square Edge Blue Board

Score Board Blue Board

Score Board Blue Board

Tongue and Groove Blue Board

Tongue and Groove Blue Board

Images from Dow website


Dow “Blue Board” is available in many R values, thicknesses and two sheet sizes. Rafts are usually constructed from the 2″ thick, 4 foot by 8 foot sheet.


The UV from the sun eventually cooks everything. To delay that and to reflect heat you should paint the top of the foam with several coats of  a good quality exterior latex white paint. Scrimp here and likely you will get pealing paint mess to deal with later.

Raft Size

Over all raft size:  When floating foam on top of the water in a trough constructed using a pond liner (PVC), care should be give to allow extra space around the edges. As the water level drops the trough size becomes somewhat smaller. Also, the material is thicker on the corners where it is folded to fit the trough box.

I’d recommend you cut the raft smaller than the inside dimensions of  the wooden trough, by 1 and 1/2″ on all sides. That would be 3″ off the width and 3″ off the length as compared to the inside dimensions of the trough box without liner.

Modified Trough Width

Four feet is a long way to reach, so you tend to work from both long sides. More than once I have reached too far and nearly taken a dive onto my rafts! (But hey! my dogs did it on purpose, ONCE!) You might consider building your troughs 36″ wide, with the rafts 33″ wide. That way you  can almost reach all the way across, and if you can’t, then it is likely you will catch your fall on the opposite side wall. This also helps when handling the rafts full of plants.

Raft with Holes

Raft with Holes

Raft Sub-Sizing

Notice my horizontal cuts in the 4’x8′ raft image above.

When you plant in the raft you can take it out and set on a table or sawhorses. When you harvest you can do the same, to avoid stooping and bending a lot. Friendly Aquaponics (FAP) recommends cutting the raft into sub sections, example – “4 foot” across by 2 foot wide, or so.

You might want to consider cutting your raft into equally spaced widths. If you cut them 2′ wide then the last one is usually less than 2′. If your trough length is 96″ ID, your raft might be 3″, say 93″. Four pieces about 23″ wide each would look nice.

Measure / locate your holes for your net pots, before cutting, to make sure you can space them appropriately.

Hole size & spacing

I chose to use all 2″ net pots and therefore 2″ holes in my raft. It made it easier to make spacing look nice, and I figured most of what I grow to start will be smaller plants, IE no Taro, or “Jack in the Beanstalk” type plants.

Net Pot

Net Pot

To space these evenly I made a template to locate each hole. I just used a piece of 1/4″ plywood, drew lines every 3″ horizontally and vertically, then drilled a 1/4″ hole thru the intersections of the line.

Raft Template

Raft Template

Next I laid the template on the Styrofoam and drilled holes. That left location where I would drill holes with my new, sharp 2″ hole saw.

Hole Saw

Hole Saw

My hole saw, and most others, would not drill all the way through the 2″ foam. I just drilled all the holes from the top, then flipped the foam over and drilled into the same 1/4″ holes to complete the plugging operation.



Notice how rough the hole saw saws the Styrofoam edges.

Remember to drill straight down or your holes will have taper or ridges.
Also, save the plugs to fill the holes when you have no plants in them. This keeps out the sunlight and lessens the algae growth.



Here are some examples of the layout patters I came up with. 7 variations for locating the center of your hole. Using a larger hole and net pot give larger plants more support, like Taro. Putting the holes closer together like pattern #6 makes it easier to work with seedlings that require less space until well established. Note: blocks are 1 foot squares, with #3 being 2 foot wide. The overall dimensions assumed were 4′ x 8′.

Plant Spacing Raft

Plant Spacing Raft

Locating Blue Board

I had difficulty locating the Dow Blue Board, in any type. I contacted all the expected sources I could think of, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Lumber yards, 84 Lumber, insulation companies, even one custom safe installer who used it in the past – no luck. And I’m in Dallas, you’d expect I’d at least stumble over it in my hunt!

Note: Avoid the temptation to use other products. They will break easy, get soggy, come apart, or leach bad chemicals, etc.

I emailed the Dow company representative who gave me 3 suspects, non carried the product, at least in stock.

Eventually, I found a vendor that did not stock it anymore and only took orders for truckload quantities. He did call me back when he asked one of his customers where they buy theirs. Amazing! A salesman that is customer focused! Rare indeed. You can bet I’ll shop his store in the future.

In Dallas you can get the scoreboard type at  SSI on Highway 35E near Walnut Hill Lane. Silicon Specialist Inc. It was $50 a sheet, and they were in crisp, clean, new shape. The guy even hand deliver them to me so as to not damage them with the forklift.

I still have no idea how to find Dow 2″ Blue Board Styrofoam Square Edge insulation, without the scores.

The two 4′ x 8′ x 2″ pieces I bought fit in the rear of my Honda minivan, once I remove two rows of seats.

I hope this info expedites your Aquaponics adventure.


To give credit were credit is due, the basis for my trough building experience and research came from the Friendly Aquaponics (FAP) Micro System 64 (/128) plans that I purchased. They are very educational and useful. I’d suggest you purchase them and build the FAP system!

Grow Bed

I am using the grow beds from the Friendly Aquaponics Micro System 64 and 128.

The FAP Micro System 64 and 128 plans cost $99 and come with great info about aquaponics and system DIY.

Here are some pictures of the grow beds.

FAP Raft and Trough

FAP Raft and Trough

I put a faucet on the pump return line that goes to the fish tank. I use it to but system water on the seedlings in the raft or to get system water into a bucket when I mix nutrients or supplements to add to the system.



Here is my daughter and grand son planting our first seedlings July 10, 2011.

First Plants

First Plants



You can see some of the 1 & 1/2″ plumbing I ran between the two troughs and buried.


Friendly AP Micro System

The Micro System 64 and 128 Aquaponics system. Friendly Aquaponics, Hawaii sells plans to use to build and operate a deep-water raft Aquaponics system. It is what I decided to follow to build my first system

While I was shopping for media, I discovered Friendly Aquaponics (FAP) and really liked their grow beds and some of the short cuts they are using to save money. They have about 5500 gallons of grow beds and sell Organic Lettuce to Costco in Hawaii.

Their systems and growing processes are the only ones that are certified organic, which will bring you 50% to 100% more for the same produce on the wholesale market. This got me excited!

The FAP Micro System 64 and 128 plans cost $99 and come with great info about Aquaponics and system DIY.

So for my first system I am using 2 each of the FAP 4′x8′x 8″, deep water raft grow beds and the CHOP2 IBC 240 gallon fish tank for my system. All my construction and system design follows FAP Micro System 64 and 128 plans.

Here is one of the two FAP 4′x8′x 8″ grow beds

FAP Raft and Trough

FAP Raft and Trough

Each grow bed has a 2″ Dow blue board Styrofoam raft that I have drilled 128, 2″ diameter holes to hold 128 each of the 2″ net pots with plants.

Notice the lip on the pot on the left. The other one has no lip and falls through the holes in the Styrofoam! I accidentally bought pots without the lip, because they are less cost – they were wasted!

Net Pot

Slit pot and Net Pot

Note: Apparently there are several styles of these “cups” for planting in AP or Hydroponic systems. I see Net pots, Net cups, and Split cups. What I see most often in Net Pots describing those that have a matrix of similar square spaces, like a fish net, called Net pots.

Here is the fish tank I am using.

Fish Tank IBC

Fish Tank IBC

The system has one 3 gallon per minute water pump, and two aquarium air pumps each with two ports.

There are two air stones in the fish tank and one each at the water’s entrance in each grow bed.

The water and air run 24/7.


The Micro System 64 and 128 Aquaponics system:



Parts  List