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One IBC Tote Aquaponics System Construction

You might find this blog post useful as a reference.The best system I have seen to start with is a one IBC / Tote system that has a large fish tank and one grow bed on top, all made from the one IBC container.You can buy one from these people already assembled The Aquaponic Store .

One IBC Tote System at The Aquaponic Source

Jerry Jones Builds

Jerry Jones Builds

Or you can build your own One IBC tote Aquaponics System.

One IBC tote AP System

Here are some pictures intended to be in sequential order to help you if you plan on building this type system.


The IBC as acquired from the company that took delivery of food grade (food safe) liquid product. Notice the pallet, drain, drain door, cage, jug / bottle / container, and lid.

IBC Tote ContainerThe IBC cage with the container removed.

IBC Metal Cage and Pallet

The IBC container.  I used this picture to show you the paint. I painted my container, which is difficult, but keeps the Algae to a minimum. Use plastic furniture primer and paint. The spray cans are WAY too expensive, so source a good plastic paint and primer in gallon size. I used 3 coats of paint and 2 of primer. Rough up the container with a rotary sander with a fine sanding pad, so the paint will adhere to the Polypropylene .

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The fish tank frame is made from the top 1/3rd or so of the IBC cage. You can make it different sizes based on your cut. For a shallow growbed, cut the frame off just below the 2nd horizontal rail. This makes it about 10 inches of so.

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Notice that the top of the cage has the tops of the vertical bars flattened and not sharp. You will want this side up.I 047


The bottom of  the growbed frame will have sharp edges. I recommend you sand these smooth with a grinder with a fine grit. If the are round pipes, you might elect to press fit a plastic plug into them to protect yourself from scratches. I used the thin white plastic caps designed for the end of metal chair legs. Not necessary just an idea for you.

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IBC Cage with top 1/3 cut off. Notice the metal base / pallet on the bottom. I 056

IBC 2/3rds cage with bottom  2/3rds of  container cut and replaced into the cage, on the base. I 057

Custom grow bed support frame. It is designed to set on the 2/3rds cage and support the grow bed. It has 1″x4″s on the ends of the 2″x4″s so it will stay in place left to right on the cage top bar. The small 2″x4″s are placed to give the grow bed support where it is shallower. Because it was originally the top of the IBC jug, it is shaped to help when pouring and is not flat. This support is important else the growbed bottom and sides will deform when full of water.I 060

Frame in place on top of the 2/3rds of the cage and container. You don’t need much room to get to the fish. The water is not clear, the fish stay away from large shadows over the water (you) and they think you are going to eat them! Smart fish! I have seen fish jump our of fish tanks, FYI.

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This is a picture of the grow bed in its metal frame and setting on the wooden support frame which is resting on top of the fish tank. The grow bed can slide forward and backwards a small amount, but should be positioned and left so that you don’t accidentally push it off the back of the fish tank.

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 Simple Trickle Drain with Overflow

This works well if you don’t like to use Bell Siphons, which can be temperamental from time to time. The pump is connected in series with a simple mechanical timer that cycles the water on and off. The drain drains the Grow bed after the pump turns off. It also has large holes at the desired maximum water level, and acts as an overflow if the pump overfills the growbed. This only happens if the trickle drain gets clogged or your pump is too powerful.

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Pieces of the bulkhead adapter substitute. I like to use electrical PVC fittings (on the right and gray) as they have a square vs. tapered seat that will seal a washer water tight. I like to use thin flat neoprene washers. PVC pipe is on the left, notice that it has a tapered edge between the threads and the slip fitting. It has 2 O-rings which don’t seal well and also let the stand pipe move around too much. O-rings are okay in a pinch when used with the electrical square edged fitting.

Bulkhead Adapters

Closeup of O-ring on left (on 3/4″ pipe) and Neoprene washer on the right (on a 1/2″ PVC pipe), used with electrical PVC fittings to act as a bulkhead fitting.

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I use this arrangement in my one barrel system for drain / standpipe on left and water inlet on the right. It works well in an IBC if you use larger diameter pipe.

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Here is the trickle drain arrangement with a pipe with holes around the drain to act as a filter to let the water through and keep the media (clay pebbles) away when I want to remove / replace the drain / overflow tube.

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The drain tube is connected to the bottom of the Trickle drain overflow stand pipe, under the growbed. Basically, it drains the water into the Fish Tank. Use what ever configuration you like. I’d recommend a 3/4″ pipe or larger for the drain as it clogs less. Use a cap on the end with a small hole if you wish to regulate flow. This is Dave Pennington’s design he is my local UVI trained Aquaponic’s Guru. Everybody should have a friend like Dave!

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Bell Siphon

If you like bell siphons you can use this instead of the trickle / overflow drain arrangement. I have had good luck with Bell Siphons, some of my friends consider them a curse word:-)

Bell Siphon Affnan Ex

Annon’s Bell Siphon drawing.

Afnan 7 Filter

Here is the stand pipe (inside the) Bell Siphon I use. It is a design copied from Murray Hallum’s DVD.

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Here are the pieces before assembling into the grow bed. Notice the expensive black bulkhead fitting. There are cheaper options.


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Here are the pieces laid out to be assembled all 1″ PVC. The top fitting is 1&1/2″ slip to 1″ threaded used as a Bernoulli accelerator.

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I did not capture a picture of the bell. It is a 2″ PVC pipe with a cap on top and holes drilled around the base to let the water into the siphon. It is about 2″ taller than the top of the Bell Siphon stand pipe when assembled.


This is the cover to cover the Bell and keep the rock/ media away. That way I can unscrew the lid and pull out the bell and inspect the standpipe, or unscrew it, and the media stays out of my way.

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Splashing water will put micro bubbles into your fish tank water, but likely will not be enough oxygen for them in hot weather. I use a nice air pump with a air stone and O-rings to protect it and surfaces it touches. It is abrasive and vibrates as it flows air.

Air Pump for Fish

Air stone and O-rings



This is a fountain pump from Harbor Freight for $10-$15 or so. It is the smallest pump they sell but works well enough. If you have a few more dollars in your budget, get the next larger size. I 067 Pumps are measured in gallon per hour (GPH) which is important but only applies if they can lift the water zero (0) inches. If you want the water higher look at the table to see the GPH they can deliver at your desired height. Picture of table on back of a pump box. Some pump boxes don’t provide this info. Bogus move, but common.I 071

Here is a close up of the table from a larger pump box I had that I could use for an example. Notice at 0″ it pumps 360 GPH. At 7″ it pumps zero GPH!I 072

Here is a cleaver trick to fit a 1/2″ PVC pipe to a common fountain pump connector the manufacture provides. Use a piece of vinyl tubing that will press fit over the 1/2″ PVC pipe and cut a smaller piece into a C shape to insert into the other end of the tubing to press fit adapt it to the pump fitting. Not high quality, but the price is right and it works pretty well.

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Here is another way to connect the 1/2′ PVC to the pump. Notice that the 1/2″ clear tubing will press fit into the end of a 1/2″ PVC pipe. For more info on this Flow reducer click here.

flow limiter


The timer is from Harbor Freight (low cost and unpredictable life span)

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Set the timer. I used 15 minutes on and 45 minutes off, until hot weather, then I use 15 on and 30 minutes off.

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The timer has a switch on the side. When moved toward the socket, the power is constantly applied, I assume for testing. Other position is the normal operational position. If you leave it towards the socket, your pump will run constantly! Ask me how I know.Timer a 005


Clay Pebbles. This is Plant !t clay pebbles in my one barrel Aquaponics system. Works very well but is expensive.

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River rocks work well after you get them washed and sorted. Make sure you have no limestone in them as it will effect the pH.


Growbed startingExpanded Shale works good, is light but is small sized and hard to find, especially if you are looking for small quantities.


These little guys are the fuel for my Aquaponics system. I feed them and they feed the microbes (bacteria) who feed the plants.

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Gold fish or feeder fish work well and are hardy and inexpensive. I had one live 18 months until I traded him off because he got too big. Tilapia work well and grow fast but swim upside down when the water reaches 54 degrees. Bummer!

My Fish 2


Here is my friend Dave Pennington teaching Aquaponics in Colleyville, Texas last year. He is an inventor and top notch Aquaponics consultant. Contact him at AquaponicDave on Facebook

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There is a lot of interest in our area for good information and training.

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Best book on Aquaponics for the beginner and a good reference for the rest of us.

You can order it by clicking on the link on the right top side of the page.

Aquaponic Gardening Book

Aquaponic Gardening Book

Parts List for The One IBC Aquaponics System Construction

For more tricks for constructing your system you might enjoy this link.

I hope you found this article helpful.

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