Cheap and Simple Chop & Flip IBC Aquaponics System

Have you ever wanted to get started with aquaponics but maybe you thought it looked a little difficult or weren’t sure where to start? Well, I hope this post can convince you to build one and reap the benefits. Here is how to build a simple and inexpensive chop and flip aquaponics system using an IBC.

chop and flip IBC aquaponics system

What Is A Chop and Flip IBC Aquaponics System

This type of aquaponics system gets its name because of how you build it. From a single IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) you build both a fish holding tank and a grow bed. You do this by cutting around the container a few inches from the top and flipping it over to create the grow bed which sits on top of the fish holding tank.

Much Easier To Build Than I Thought

I had been planning on building one for a couple of years but just kept putting it off. I think the reason I did that was that I thought it was going to be harder than it was to build, it was surprisingly easy. The only part that I think might be a little intimidating is the bell siphon so for my first build, I just purchased one already made.

Less Expensive To Build Than I Thought

The total cost of putting this system together was just over $200 and it could have been cheaper had I gone with a smaller pump, made my bell siphon from scratch, and bought the lava rocks in bulk. Not crazy expensive for the amount of food that can be produced with a system like this.

Materials I Used

Food Grade 275-gallon IBC for the tank – $35

Tetra Pond 425 GPH Fountain Pump – $40

1/2″ Water Hose that attaches to the pump – $6

12 Bags of Red Lava Rock – 1.0 Cu. Ft. – $76

12″ Bell Siphon Kit For IBC Growbed  from Smoky Mountain Aquaponics  – $45 with shipping cost (I could have saved money here by building my own bell siphon but wanted to save time and work well for the first build)

How I Built It

Photo of IBC Tote
I started with a food-grade 275 gallon IBC. These can usually be purchased used from websites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist for a very low price. Try to find ones that have been used for food-grade items or something mild, like soap.
Photo of dismantling IBC Tote
I then measured down 14 inches from the top of the cage, marked, and cut both the cage and the tank. I used bolt cutters to cut the cage and a circular saw to cut the plastic tank.
Photo of Build Progress on Aquaponics System
This is how the tanks stack, making a holding tank for the water and fish on the bottom and a grow bed on the top. This is where we get the phrase “Chop and Flip” as we cut the top part and flip it over.

Covering Tanks With Pallet Wood

Photo of Build Progress on Aquaponics System
 I decided I wanted to wrap the aquaponics system with wood that I repurposed from pallets. This serves a few functions; First, it looks much better than a plastic tank sitting in your yard, This also helps to reduce algae build-up in the tank because it reduces the amount of sunlight exposure, it also helps to regulate water temperatures because it blocks some sunlight.
Photo of Build Progress on Aquaponics System
 You can see from this picture above that I cut off the pieces of the cage that were sticking up and made a 2×4 frame around the top of the top frame giving me something to secure the other wood to and square off the top of the grow bed.
Photo of Build Progress on Aquaponics System
I then put 3 2×4’s across the top to sit the grow bed on which gave it some stability and raised it up a little allowing me more access to the fish tank below. I also set the grow bed as far back as I could also allowing some front access to the tank below.

Installing The Bell Syphon

Photo of Bell Syphon Kit
 This was a good time to install the Bell Siphon Kit I purchased from Smokey Mountain Aquaponics. This kit came with everything I needed for an operating bell siphon and with clear instructions on how to install it.
Photo of Bell Syphon Installation
 I drilled a 1 1/4 inch hole to install the bulkhead with the standing drain pipe. You just push the threaded pipe through the hole, install an o-ring from underneath then screw on the threaded pipe from underneath.
Photo of Bell Syphon
 You can then just slide the “Bell” over the standing pipe.
Photo of guard over bell syphon
 You then just slide the guard over the Bell Siphon to keep rocks from being up against it.
Photo of Finished Aquaponics System
I finished adding the pallet wood, added 12 bags of lava rock making it about 10″ deep, put in the pump attaching the waterline, and running it up to the grow bed.

I then filled it with water and a few cheap goldfish and a couple of algae-covered stones from my backyard pond to start cycling the system with some beneficial bacteria. I then added a few plants and there it is, a running aquaponics system!

Enjoying The Benefits Of This Aquaponics System

I am really starting to see the advantages of these systems more than ever before.

No Weeding!

No Watering!

Faster Growing

Great For Propagation Of Cuttings

Fish to clean and put in the freezer at the end of the growing season.

I can see aquaponics being a huge part of my homestead in the years ahead, possibly replacing many of my raised beds. I have a lot to learn and I’m sure many trials are ahead for me but for now, it has me seeing only possibilities.

If you’re interested in doing Aquaponics year-round indoors, check out my post on the Indoor Fish Tank Aquaponics System I built.

indoor fish tank aquaponic system


  • User Avatar

    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

    View all posts