Aquaponics 101 – The IBC Tote Build, What you Need
Building a home or hobby aquaponics system from an IBC tote is a perfect DIY project for the beginning aquaponics enthusiast. An IBC tote system offers several advantages over other designs. Tote based systems provide enough water capacity to be relatively stable and are much easier to cycle and maintain than smaller systems, yet they require about the same space requirements as systems built from blue barrels or other materials. IBC Totes are usually easy to obtain locally and are inexpensive. Due diligence does need to be done to ensure that any product that might have been in the container is non-toxic.
IBC totes come in several different sizes and configurations. For this example, we have chosen to use a 275-gallon tote. These seem to be the most available. Different manufacturers offer slightly different styles, especially in the arrangement of the metal cage that surrounds the plastic liner. For this reason, the instructions that will follow in subsequent articles are general in nature and you will need to adjust the project to fit the style of container and cage.
We suggest that you assemble all of your parts and tools before you start the build. You will be surprised at how quickly one of these systems can come together. You will need a workspace large enough to move the tote around and to turn it on its side several times. An extra person or two always makes the job easier and more fun. Extra hands can make moving the tote quicker and safer.
Get the Proper Tools.
While this job can be done with simple hand tools, some power tools will make things easier and faster. Here is a list of the suggested tools you have on hand before you start.
- A power drill with drill bits– we prefer battery power versions. Dealing with extension cords can be a hassle.
- Reciprocating saw with metal cutting blades. – Again, a battery-powered version is our choice.
- Hole saw blades – You will use these with your drill to make the opening in the growbed portion of the tank for the standpipe drain.
- Markers – We use permanent markers to draw cut lines and to mark the location for holes in the tank and growbed. They work well on both the plastic and metal.
- Tape Measure
- Framing Square – If you don’t have a framing square, anything that will let you measure and draw straight lines will work.
- Bubble Level – You will need this when you set up your completed system. The system must be level in all directions to operate properly.
- Utility knife
- PVC Cutter – These scissor-like tools make cutting the smaller diameter PVC tubing a breeze. They leave nice clean burr-free cuts.
- Jig Saw (Optional) – You can cut the plastic tank liner with the reciprocating saw but using a smaller jigsaw with a fine-toothed blade is easier.
Assemble your Materials
Once you have all of your tools assembled, check to make sure you have all of the necessary parts to build your system.
- IBC Tote
- Pond Pump – we suggest a pump of about 600
GPH. A pump this size will turn the
system water over about three times per hour.
- We use pumps from Harbor Freight Tools. These are inexpensive and we have had good luck with them. https://www.harborfreight.com/620-gph-submersible-pond-pump-63314.html
- Tubing – Black ABS ½ inch irrigation supply
line. One-half inch irrigation supply
tubing can be found at most home improvement stores or garden centers.
- Look for black poly drip irrigation feeder tubing. It will be with the irrigation parts. The problem is that the minimum amount you can buy is 50’ and you need at most 6’. The tubing is inexpensive, but it is aggravating to buy eight times as much as you need. https://www.homedepot.com/p/DIG-1-2-in-700-O-D-x-50-ft-Poly-Drip-Irrigation-Tubing-B35/100175565
- Assembled Bell Siphon – The next article in this
series deals with building your bell siphon.
We recommend that you build your bell siphon before you start the actual
construction of your aquaponics system.
- Parts List for the Bell Siphon
- One, one-inch Bulkhead fitting – This fitting makes the opening in the base of the grow bed watertight and allows attachment of the bell siphon standpipe and the drain tube. https://www.grainger.com/product/1MKH9?gclid=CjwKCAjwzdLrBRBiEiwAEHrAYrP9_O_NV1S0mMSakXqcogZxHvxDPBKhZxZW4BUQcfPPHE_ve_5MlRoCIJEQAvD_BwE&cm_mmc=PPC:+Google+PLA&ef_id=CjwKCAjwzdLrBRBiEiwAEHrAYrP9_O_NV1S0mMSakXqcogZxHvxDPBKhZxZW4BUQcfPPHE_ve_5MlRoCIJEQAvD_BwE:G:s&s_kwcid=AL!2966!3!50916759717!!!g!82128167517!?cm_mmc=PPC:+Google+PLA?campaignid=175663197
- two 1” PVC male NPT thread by one-inch female slip fitting – These fittings are used to connect the PVC pipe that forms the standpipe and the drainpipe to the bulkhead fitting https://www.dripdepot.com/item/schedule-40-pvc-mpt-by-slip-adapter-mpt-size-1-inch-slip-size-1-inch?gdffi=cf83ccffd3ab412e9fd6fb117dbb26c9&gdfms=5336BF8A80C84C7292961E165C0536A2&gclid=CjwKCAjwzdLrBRBiEiwAEHrAYiZThA0_VkthcdvTWkA_eQEF34exc-Jxt9qlJ2pOCvdZ11018qiYqhoCP6kQAvD_BwE
- Two feet of 1” PVC pipe https://www.homedepot.com/p/1-in-x-10-ft-PVC-Schedule-40-Plain-End-Pipe-531194/202280936
- One 90 degrees 1” PVC elbow – This fitting makes a 90-degree turn in the drainpipe to make the siphon break more easily. https://www.pvcfittingsonline.com/1-sch-40-pvc-90-elbow-soc-406-010.html?matchtype=&network=u&device=c&adposition=&keyword=&gclid=CjwKCAjwzdLrBRBiEiwAEHrAYoF6wk1G3opt8mvTUzJX8DUhbRe_84_8YqugRdB1Zt5a3KEgQfP36BoCnZcQAvD_BwE
- One foot 6” PVC Pipe – This is used to build the media guard that keeps the grow media from clogging your bell siphon. https://www.homedepot.com/p/VPC-6-in-x-24-in-PVC-SDR-35-Riser-Pipe-6006-2/202564459
- One foot 3” PVC Pipe – This is used to build the bell of the siphon. https://www.homedepot.com/p/VPC-3-in-x-24-in-PVC-Sch-40-Pipe-2203/205706641
- One 3” PVC Cap – This is the top part of the bell for the siphon. https://www.homedepot.com/p/VPC-3-in-x-24-in-PVC-Sch-40-Pipe-2203/205706641
- One 1” by one and one quarter inch reducer – This is used on the top of the standpipe to increase the surface area of the siphon tube. https://www.homedepot.com/p/DURA-1-1-4-in-x-1-in-Schedule-40-PVC-Reducer-Bushing-C437-168/100347284
- Parts List for the Bell Siphon
- Pipe Fittings – These are used to assemble the
supply line that moves water from the fish tank to the grow bed.
- ¾” male NPT x ½ inch female slip fitting – This fitting is part of the connection for the water supply feed tubing to the pump outlet. https://www.homedepot.com/p/DURA-3-4-in-Schedule-40-PVC-Male-Adapter-C436-007/100348150
- 8 inches of ½ inch PVC pipe – The PVC pipe is used to connect the ball valve to the outlet on the water supply tubing so that you can control and adjust the flow of water into the grow bed. https://www.homedepot.com/p/VPC-3-4-in-x-24-in-PVC-Sch-40-Pipe-22075/202300505
- ½ inch slip fit PVC to abs ½ inch irrigation slip compression fitting (2) – these are usually found with the irrigation fittings where you purchase the ABS irrigation tubing. These fittings are used to make the connections between the PVC pipe and fittings and the black poly tubing that supplies water from the pump to the grow bed. https://www.homedepot.com/p/DIG-1-2-in-PVC-x-0-700-Compression-Coupling-D48/100182495
- ½” PVC Ball Valve – Used to control the flow rate into the grow bed. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Homewerks-Worldwide-1-2-in-x-1-2-in-CPVC-Slip-x-Slip-Ball-Valve-VBVCPVE3B/202370055
- Media – It isn’t necessary to have the grow media on hand when you start your build, but you will need it soon after. You should have the grow media in the bed before you start cycling your system.
We don’t necessarily recommend or encourage you to shop at the retailers above. We have offered the links as suggestions only and as examples of what to buy. The parts are easily found at any number of sources.
On to the next step
Once you have all the necessary tools and parts, the next step is to build the bell siphon assembly. The next article is a step by step set of instructions for cutting and assembling your bell siphon. Forward to Aquaponics 101 – The Bell Siphon