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Introduction to Shelfponics


A simple 3D animation to show relative size and layout of the bookshelf aquaponic vertical growing unit.


Here is the complete shelfponics system. Click the image to see full size.

A perfect space for vertical growing.

Here is a picture of the space we decided to add vertical growing. The yellow bucket is where we placed the bookshelf system.

Shelfponics, a term first coined here, is the Garden Pool team’s original invention and is available for purchase. Click Here to order a Shelfonics Kit by GardenPool.org.
Here is how we invented shelfponics:

So I was looking at an unused corner of the Garden Pool when I had an idea: vertical growing. It was a small area with about 78″ of vertical height, perfect for vertical growing. We generally used the corner to store unused buckets, aquariums, or small starter plants in soil.

The next task was to find a simple solution for vertical growing. What was found was a bookshelf that was used to store tools and miscellaneous GP stuff. I took down the bookshelf and installed a simple plywood shelf elsewhere to take its place. While examining the bookshelf I noticed that the shelves could be snapped-in upside down. This would make a perfect tray Ebb & Flow system. Over the next 9 months we would experiment with and perfect what we have coined shelfponics.


Here is a screenshot of our first YouTube video. You can see the bookshelf we used for this project.

The assembled bookshelf’s dimensions are: 34-1/2″ L x 14-3/8″ W x 57″ H. It’s a no tools required Plano brand 4 tiered bookshelf. It cost about $14 USD. For every item used in this project, we spent about $110 paying full retail for everything. The finished product has 6 square feet of vertical plant growing space, 10 gallons of water for fish, and only has a 2 square foot footprint. This project has great potential. Imagine walking in to a store or your back yard with lettuce and herbs growing fresh on the shelf!

We contacted Plano to make sure this was a safe plastic to use for aquaponics and the Plano corporate resin manager was kind enough to respond. The plastic they use is polypropylene. This resin is identifiable as plastic recycle number “5.” This type of plastic is used for food items such as yogurt containers and is 100% recyclable. Plano also makes the best tackle boxes!

Materials for project:

  1. 4 shelf Plano bookshelf
  2. 10′ black flexible 5/8″ tubing with a 1/2″ inner diameter.
  3. 3 – 1/2″ barbed “T” for tubing
  4. About 20 Liters of Hydroton
  5. 145 GPH Harbor Freight Fountain Pump set on low flow
  6. 30 min. electrical timer
  7. Drill with 5/8″ drill bit
  8. Standard 10 gallon fish tank
  9. Aquarium Air pump for 10 gallon tank
  10. 3′ 1/4″ Black Drip Irrigation Tubing
  11. 12″ Aquarium Bubble Stone
  12. 2 – Package of Stainless Steel netting
  13. 4 – 6″ Zip Ties to secure 1/2″ tubing to shelf system
  14. 6″ X 6″ piece of 1/2″ plywood
  15. gravel for bottom of fish tank

The tools used for this project. Remember to lightly tap with the mallet and don’t run with scissors.

Tools Used:

  1. Rubber Mallet
  2. Cordless Drill with 5/8″ drill bit
  3. Tin Snips
  4. Utility Scissors

How it is was made:

  1. Begin to assemble the bookshelf starting with the bottom shelf. We placed a 6″x6″x1/2″ plywood base under the first shelf to serve as extra support for the weight of the fish tank. The first shelf is placed flat side up so we can place the aquarium on it later.
  2. Snugly place the 4 poles in place and add the next shelf. This next shelf should be upside down with the flat side of the shelf facing down. Assemble the rest of the 2 shelves upside down as well. Be sure to make sure the poles are securely fastened in place. You will feel the poles snap in to place once they are positioned correctly. You can use a rubber mallet, but be careful to only tap or you will break the shelf.
  3. Position the 10 gallon tank on the bottom shelf. place pump in the bottom of the tank and run the black 1/2″ tubing to the top shelf allowing enough slack for the tube to easily rest on the top shelf. Attach the tubing to the side of the poles going up to support the weight of the tubing once it is filled with water. Do not kink the tubing to ensure good water flow.
  4. Here is a detail of the top shelf. You can see where the water enters the shelf from the tubing and where the channels are marked to be cut with tin snips. Notice how the 5/8″ hole is in the middle of the last quadrant to receive water flow.

    On the upside down shelves, you will notice a big cross molded in the middle of the shelf dividing the shelf in to four parts or quadrants. The water should flow in to one quadrant and you will have to cut a channel for the water to flow in to the next quadrant. Continue to cut a path until the water will fill all 4 quadrants. In the last quadrant to receive water flow, drill a 5/8″ hole for the water to fall to the shelf below it.

  5. Here is a “T” with the stainless steel mesh covering the top two openings to prevent hydroton from clogging the lines.

    Cover a 1/2″ “T” with a stainless steel cover as indicated in the picture and video. Place covered “T” in the hole and connect the 1/2″ black flexible tubing through the bottom. cut tubing to easily reach the bottom of the shelf below (about 15″.) The water will fall through this tubing to the next level.

  6. With tin snips, cut the channels out of the quadrants as you did with the previous shelf.
  7. Insert the covered “T”s in the same fashion as the previous shelf. On the last upside down shelf, use a covered “T” but do not use tubing to connect it to the aquarium. The water will fall in to the tank with out it.
  8. Here is a view with the “T”s installed and the channels cut in the quadrants. The water will flow from the aquarium, filling each quadrant until draining to the shelf below.

    Run fountain pump from water source to the third shelf for the water to enter the system and let the system run to expose any weaknesses. We found that running the 145 gph pump works best on low flow for us. We tried a 190 gph pump and found it was way too powerful for this project. We also tried a 66 gph pump but it did not have the lift required. The 145 on low flow was perfect.

  9. Place the fountain pump on a the schedule appropriate for your plants. We have the fountain pump on a 30-minute on and off cycle. Every 30 minutes the pump starts and it turns of 30 minutes later.
  10. Fill with well-rinsed Hydroton so that it is fairly level with the tray.
  11. Turn on the system to make sure that it flows properly and that there are no leaks. The aquarium waterline should be about 3″ from the top. To care for the fish, you slide the aquarium out a few inches so you don’t want the aquarium full.
  12. Turn on the water flow once the unit is assembled to check for leaks. Notice how the water flows from one quadrant to the next until it finally drains. This creates movement in the water flow and ensures all parts of the tray receive fresh flowing water.

    Complete the aquarium with a bubble stone, gravel, and and air pump. You can also add a 50W aquarium heater. We prefer Marineland Stealth Submersible thermometers from our experiences.

  13. Run for several hours to make sure no leaks appear. Stock with your fish and plants.
  14. Enjoy!

Instructional Video


Recorded LIVE
When: February 12th, 2011
Where: The Garden Pool in Mesa, AZ
Who: Dennis and Danielle
Length: 42 minutes
Introduction to Shelfponics was recorded live in a classroom setting. To be a part of our classes in person, join our meetup group.

Suit this project for your needs. Here are a few images of our variations of this project:

We have grown some tasty Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce with great success.

Here is the bookshelf aquaponic system modified for the Garden Pool close loop system 4 weeks after construction with basil growing.


A shelfponics setup with two bookshelves. There is 12 square feet of vertical grow area, a shelf for storage, and a 1o gallon tank to raise fish in an area that takes up just 4 square feet. The same 145 gpf pump is also used in this variation. Click to view picture full size.

Shelfponics at the Garden Pool

Conditions of Use Statement

This document, in part or in its entirety, may be copied, reproduced or adapted to meet local needs without permission from the author or publishers, provided credit is given to Dennis McClung of GardenPool.org. These provisions apply only provided the parts reproduced are distributed free or at cost – not for profit. If you are using these materials, the Garden Pool team would appreciate being sent a copy of any materials in which text or illustrations have been adapted. For reproduction on commercial basis, permission must be first obtained from Dennis McClung of GardenPool.org. Any commercial or for sale application of this design is strictly forbidden without prior approval in writing from Dennis McClung of GardenPool.org. To reach Dennis, email him: dennis [at] gardenpool.org or via the contact page at https://gardenpool.org/?page_id=197.