Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Paul Lander

Second Advisor

Pete Newton

Third Advisor

Dale Miller


Aquaponic food systems have been gaining popularity over the last decade for their ability to simultaneously produce fish and vegetables within the confines of a single standalone system. Throughout the United States and Australia, organizations have implemented aquaponics on a large-scale for community food gardens. Most studies in this field focus on input requirements, productivity, and economic benefit of commercially-sized aquaponic systems. Little has been done on the opposite end of the spectrum, the personal, home-sized system and its potential to supply a family with low-cost food. This thesis investigates the feasibility of implementing a small-scale aquaponic system of <200 gallons for household consumption. Feasibility was assessed on cost, construction process including tools and materials, productivity, and maintenance requirements. It is hypothesized that small-scale aquaponics systems can be easily constructed and maintained to augment household food supply, and that the use of recycled materials can reduce the startup costs and increase the rate of return for the aquaponics implementer. Research included the construction of two common aquaponic systems, the first with plastic 55-gallon barrels using a design plan devised by Travis W. Hughey called barrel-ponics. The second, used an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) which acts as a grow bed and fish tank. Within both systems, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, shishito peppers, kale, squash, and eggplant were grown. The fish species used to stock both tanks was Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) with 20 in the IBC system and 5 in the barrel-ponic system. Over a three month grow period data was collected for productivity which included measurements of inputs, plant/fish growth and amount of produce harvested. Other factors that were analyzed included the construction process, cost to build and maintain each system, and the cost benefit of grown produce versus store bought produce. It was found that the IBC system was significantly easier to construct and maintain due it its simple design. The barrel-ponic system was cheaper and materials were somewhat more common although, there were many issues associated with its flood/drain system. At the observed level of productivity, both systems operating year-round would take several years to generate a positive return on investment. However, production trends were observed after the three-month period to continue to increase suggesting that a high output rate could be achieved and thus increase the rate of return. Small-scale aquaponic system such as these can be constructed relatively easily and maintained so long as there is access to informational documents, construction materials, reliable electrical grid, operational equipment, and adequate climate to support a yearlong grow season. Further research must be conducted on long term productivity levels for aquaponic systems at this scale as well as prices of materials to better determine the economic feasibility for household use.