Aquaponic fish tanks provide an excellent opportunity to teach your children fundamental principles about hydroponics, i.e., growing plants in water and aquaculture or having fish as pets. The concept is both simple and brilliant, and you’ll find plenty of products available to provide this learning tool.
Our guide includes detailed reviews of the best setups on the market. We walk you through the features and specs that you should look for when buying a kit. We also discuss how to set up your fish tank and what you can put in it, as well as what plants you can grow with your kit. An aquaponic fish tank kit not only is educational, but it’s also useful for providing a food source.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
|Best Overall||Back to the Roots Water Garden Fish Tank||
|Best Value||Penn-Plax Aquaponic Fish Tank||
|Premium Choice||ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Tank||
|Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden Aquaponic Fish Tank||
|AquaSprouts Garden Tank||
The 6 Best Aquaponic Fish Tank Kits — Reviews 2021
1. Back to the Roots Water Garden Fish Tank — Best Overall
The Back to the Roots Water Garden Fish Tank stands out as a complete setup, where all you have to do is add water and fish. The tank is a reasonable size at 3 gallons. That’s enough to accommodate a few fish. You can also opt to get a Betta with the coupon provided with your purchase. While it doesn’t include a heater, there is a filter that the manufacturer bills as a silent device.
Overall, the tank and the included components make for an attractive product. The setup is straightforward. The size is right too, measuring 8.3” L x 12.1” W x 12.3” H. It’s big enough to get a decent amount of produce without being overly heavy for a desk or countertop. We also liked the fact that it’s U.S.A.-made. On the downside, it is pricey, though the included components offset some of the cost.
2. Penn-Plax Aquaponic Fish Tank — Best Value
The Penn-Plax Aquaponic Fish Tank is one of the best aquaponic fish tank kits for the money. It’s a small bowl, measuring just 8” L x 8” W x 10” H. The price is right if you want to get your feet wet (metaphorically) without investing too much money in something more elaborate. This does limit you to one or two plants and perhaps one Goldfish or Betta.
This kit is barebones, with only the tank and gravel included with your purchase. It’s on the small size at 0.5 gallons. While it’s easy to clean, you’ll find that you’ll need to do regular water changes to keep the environment healthy, especially if you put a Goldfish into the tank. That said, it’s a good investment if you want to give your child their first pet.
3. ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Tank — Premium Choice
The ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Indoor Tank is an elaborate setup that you can use with your existing 20-gallon tank. The price and the features are worth the investment for the serious hobbyist who wants to take their interest in aquaponics to the next level. We’ll say up front that this is a premium product with a premium price. However, it’s a well-made model.
The setup makes it convenient to adjust the growing conditions for your plants. It has four grow settings and a timer to make sure they get enough light. The top sits on your tank, which measures 24” L x 12” W x 20” H and weighs 17 lbs. It’s easy to install and provides plenty of room for several plants.
4. Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden Aquaponic Fish Tank
The Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden Aquaponic Fish Tank is another example of a smaller setup for the beginner. It holds 3 gallons of water and measures 7.7” x 2.2” W x 11” H. It uses a sponge seed sprouter tray that you place on top of the tank. This provides an excellent platform for smaller plants, like shoots and microgreens.
The kit includes a small filter, which does an adequate job of keeping the water clean. However, regular maintenance is still essential. It does not come with gravel, which you have to buy separately. It’s listed in the mid-price range for the beginner. It’s an attractive setup that will look great in any room.
5. AquaSprouts Garden Tank
The AquaSprouts Garden Tank is another product that works with an existing aquarium, like a 10-gallon tank. While it is pricey, it’s a well-made piece that will make your tank look like a piece of furniture. The package includes a removable lightbar so you can hang a UV light above your plants. The finish is matte black, which makes for a classy look.
It also comes with a pump and timer, which we appreciate. We love products that are easy to use. It also includes the grow media to get you up and running fast. On the downside, the garden tank is heavy and pricey. It weighs 24 lbs. and measures 28” L x 8” W x 17” H. The pump is louder than we’d like, but it still performs adequately.
6. VIVOSUN Aquaponic Fish Tank
The VIVOSUN Aquaponic Fish Tank also uses a sponge media to keep the tank clean, with the included pump to get the job done efficiently. It is the only product that we’ve reviewed that includes a thermostat to keep an eye on the temperature. Unfortunately, both seem cheaply made, making for more maintenance than we’d like.
On the positive side, the hydroponics component is excellent. The plants seemed to do well with the media and water flow. The tank measures 14.2” L x 9.1” W x 8.5” H and weighs just over 7 lbs. It’s small enough for a desk without taking up much room. On the other hand, it’s essential to keep the siphon cap in place to prevent clogging.
Aquaponics may sound like a new thing, but people have practiced these techniques for hundreds of years. Rice paddies and other floating vegetation are excellent examples. Humans took a few clues from nature to learn how it all works and how they could manage it for their purposes.
Fish and other aquatic wildlife produce waste, which then gets converted to nitrites and nitrates by bacteria existing in the water. Plants benefit from the nutrition source and fish from a healthier environment. It’s the quintessential win-win situation. You can install a similar setup in your home with a commercial kit.
We discuss each one in detail, with tips about how to make the most of your purchase.
Size is an essential consideration because it will dictate what fish and plants that you can add. Think about where you want to place the tank and the available space. It needs to be sturdy enough to handle the weight of the water and the other elements. A tank will weigh at least 8 lbs. per gallon, not including the gravel or substrate for the plants.
Ideally, you’ll have room close to the water access so you can easily do any required maintenance. Also, your plants will need several hours of sunlight or a UV light to thrive. Kits with a heater or filter will require an available outlet or two. You’ll see products starting at 0.5-3 gallons for beginner kits, which is a manageable size for most hobbyists.
You’ll find a wide range of tank styles, with rectangular and round being the most popular. There are also tabletop models and others that you can hang on a wall. Some kits work with existing fish tanks and provide the plant component to your aquaponics setup. Most limit the plant space by the size of the top surface. It’s something to keep in mind when you choose your plants.
You may find that tanks with rounded corners are easier to clean than rectangular ones. They also have a pleasing appearance with their curved lines.
Most of the products in our roundup are made of some type of plastic. It’s an excellent compromise between durability and weight. This material also makes these products more affordable. While there are glass items available, they are considerably heavier, especially after filling the tank. The essential thing is that the construction should be able to handle the water pressure without leaking.
Several types exist and differ in how they handle the nutrient generation for the plants. Vertical setups provide a free flow of water from the top, which then filters through the medium to the tank that sits below it. This saves space, which is one of a vertical setup’s main benefits. Another popular type is the media-based tank. The material acts on the business end to filter and convert wastes.
The deep-water culture resembles floating plant rafts that you may see in a lake or pond. Their roots hang down into the tank to give it a natural look. Nutrient film technique setups direct the water through a PVC pipe, where it is filtered before going back into the tank. The essential factor is that the type can keep up with the waste generation of the fish.
You’ll find a broad spectrum of kits with varying numbers and types of components. What you get often depends on the size of the kit. Many products will include at least the substrate for the bottom of the tank. Others may contain essential accessories such as a pump, plant media, or lights. Interestingly, few have a heater as part of the package. It’s a surprising omission, given that a small amount of water is more likely to fluctuate in temperature than a larger aquarium.
We don’t necessarily consider a lack of extras to be a deal-breaker. After all, it gives you the freedom to choose what you want in the tank, which we feel is a convincing selling point. Our advice is to check the quality of anything that comes with your kit.
Several models include filters in the package. Remember that keeping them clean is also a part of your regular maintenance. We suggest adding an artificial plant or two if there is adequate space. Many fish prefer environments where they can find available cover.
Usability covers several fronts, including how easy the tank is to maintain and how durable it is. There are aquaponic fish tank kits that only include the top that you’d place on an existing tank. They offer a viable alternative — as long as you can clean your aquarium easily. Many products are smaller, closer to the size of a fishbowl.
Fish for Your Aquaponic Kit
There are several things to bear in mind when choosing fish for your aquaponic tank. First, there is the size. You can roughly figure on 1” of fish per gallon, not including its tail. This creates the proper balance with water quality. Second, fish that can handle low-light conditions will do best in these setups because the plants overhead may obscure the light.
Finally, there is the question of heat. Without a heater, the water in the tank will stay at the ambient temperature of the room in which you place it. Some fish are more tolerant than others of cooler or fluctuating temps. Ideally, they can also tolerate overcrowding conditions.
If you choose Goldfish or Koi, only add one or two fish. Of course, you can only have one Betta to a tank. Guppies and Mollies offer additional teaching opportunities because they are live-bearing fish. They do best in small groups. If you want to raise fish for food, you can also consider Catfish, Tilapia, or Bluegills. You’ll need a larger tank if you decide to go this route, though, because of their bigger sizes.
Plants for Your Aquaponic Kit
The number and kinds of plants that you get are based on the fish that you put in your tank. After all, they are providing the nutrients, so balance comes into play. For safety, stick with species that have lower nutritional needs, to give them the best shot at thriving in your aquaponic tank.
You can also opt for greens like spinach, microgreens, and lettuces. More elaborate and extensive setups can accommodate other vegetables, such as tomatoes or cucumbers. Of course, space becomes an issue at that point. Kits for existing tanks can accommodate larger gardens for growing these plants.
Kits that include a filter are a godsend when it comes to maintenance. However, it also depends on the number and kinds of fish that you get, as wells as how much you feed them. You’ll likely find that you still need to do partial water changes. Bear in mind that the plants and filter only clean the water. You must still clean the inside of the tank.
We suggest that you check the pH of your tank occasionally. A build-up of waste often leads to acidic water conditions that are unhealthy for your fish. It’s also essential to allow the filled tank to sit for a few days without fish when you first install it. Then, add the fish slowly to the tank, allowing the water in the bag to get to the same temperature as what’s inside your aquarium.
The Back to the Roots Water Garden Fish Tank has scored high marks for being a complete kit, which is always appreciated. You can set it up right away with seeds and the included fish coupon. It’s a decent size to get practical use out of the product too.
The Penn-Plax Aquaponic Fish Tank delivers on what it promises with a smaller 0.5-gallon tank and room for one fish and one or two plants. It’s affordably priced for someone just getting started in the hobby. While it’s easy to clean, it does require regular maintenance. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent way to teach your child about the responsibility of owning a pet.
Featured image credit: AquaSprouts Garden, Amazon