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Make A (Nearly) Self-Sufficient Indoor Garden

Updated on April 19, 2014

Spring Project: Make A (Nearly) Self-Sufficient Indoor Garden

Spring is here, and it's time to start planting!!! Want a quick afternoon project that's both fun and productive? This little indoor garden uses stuff you probably already have lying around, and it's a fantastic, green way to make sure you always have fresh herbs or salad greens around for cooking. Or you can do what I did, and just use it to grow ornamental ivy for a classy (and slightly nerdy) conversation starter.

And if you're the kind of person who gets nervous about keeping a thirsty plant alive, don't worry. This is about as close as you can get to a self-sufficient garden for less than ten bucks. Without getting into it too much (there's plenty of starter information about stuff like this online), it's basically a closed loop between a small fish tank and a living plant. That means this project is also a perfect way to teach your kids about ecosystems---without the mosquitoes!

One more quick note about this project before we get started: My supplies were basically what I had lying around the house or what I picked up at a thrift store (for example, the water pump came from a $3 fountain at Goodwill). Nearly everything can be switched out with something else, so get creative! Isn't that what makes it fun?

Gardening Guides On Amazon - Guides For Getting Started


  1. Flower pot (about 6 1/4'' tall)
  2. Coffee pot
  3. Small water pump
  4. Aquarium tubing
  5. Wooden box (for the base)
  6. 14'' knitting needle
  7. 7'' length of ½'' PCV
  8. 2 ½'' length of ½'' PVC
  9. ½'' PVC elbow attachment
  10. Block of wood
  11. Bits and pieces


  • Hacksaw
  • Drill
  • Superglue
  • PVC cement (optional)

Step 1

Take the handle off the coffee pot by looking for a screw near the base. Unscrewing that should loosen the metal ring that goes around the pot, allowing you to slide the whole assembly off. Keep the metal ring.

Now take a pair of plyers and jimmy off the end cap on the knitting needle. Once it's off, squeeze the wide end of the knitting needle flat with the plyers.

Step 2

We're going to use the metal ring from the coffee pot as a brace for the flower pot. Depending on the size of the flower pot, it should sit just a little bit under the rim of the pot when you slide it up from the bottom.

With the flattened end up, slide the knitting needle between the flower pot and the metal brace. Tighten the screw just enough to see where it sits on the needle. Using either an electric drill or a hammer and nail, put a small hole in the knitting needle. It should be large enough for the tip of the screw to go in, but not big enough that the screw slides freely in and out. When you tighten the screw, it should press the knitting needle to the flower pot and give you a relatively secure "handle" for the pot.

Step 3

Drill a hole in the wooden box that's large enough for the knitting needle to easily slide through. I messed up the first one, which is why there are two holes in the picture, but you only need one. The box I'm using is one of those old file card storage things with the drawers removed ($1 at Goodwill). You can use anything similar, and something that's a bit smaller might actually look nicer.

Now slide the bottom of the knitting needle into the hole, and place the coffee pot underneath the flower pot, which should be held in the air by the knitting needle. Look at the picture above for a better reference. This is how the main parts are going to fit together, so make sure everything's where you want it to be.

The knitting needle should be pretty much straight up and down, which is going to give the flower pot a slight forward lean. That's what we want. Make sure the hole in the bottom of the flower pot is completely above the coffee pot---that's where water will drip down. Also, the flower pot should touch the rim of the coffee pot, but it shouldn't rest too heavily on it.

Step 4

Once everything's stabilized and looking pretty, put a mark where the knitting needle hits the inner floor of the wooden box.

We need something here to keep the needle from sliding around, and an old washer will work perfectly. You can use anything for this, maybe a sliver of PVC pipe, or a little scrap piece of balsa wood. The end cap that we pried off the knitting needle would also work if you flipped it over and flattened the top.

Whatever you use, put a few dabs of superglue on it and press it into place around the mark where the knitting needle sits.

Step 5

While that dries, slide together the PVC parts. Just take the 7'' and the 2 1/2'' lengths and connect them with the elbow. You can use PVC cement on these in a minute, but for now we just need to measure some heights.

There are a couple things you can do here. If you have more 1/2'' PVC, you can measure out about 15'' for the long arm and run that straight through the top of the wooden box. I only had a few scraps lying around from another project, so I'm using a wooden block (from a tree limb) to get enough height. I also like the rustic look it gives the project.

If you go this route, drill a hole in the top of the wooden block so that the 1/2'' PVC pipe has a snug place to sit.

Step 6

Set the PVC assembly in the hole so that the elbow points over the rim of the flower pot. Attach the aquarium tubing to the water pump, set the pump in the bottom of the coffee pot, and put a mark on the PVC pipe where the tubing hits it.

Drill a hole at the mark. Only drill through one wall of the pipe, not all the way through.

It's worth pointing out now that this assembly is essentially going to be a casing for the aquarium tubing coming from the water pump. In other words, there won't be any water actually in the PVC pipes, so they don't need to be watertight. You can always skip steps 5 and 6 and just run the tubing straight up over the rim of the flower pot, but it looks a lot nicer this way.

Step 7

Slide the aquarium tubing through the hole you drilled in the PVC pipe, bringing it up, through the elbow, and out the other end. The easiest way to do this is to disassemble the PVC pipes and run the tubing through them one at a time, then attach them together again. Cut off any excess tubing coming out the top.

At this point...'s a good idea to pour some water into the coffee pot and test everything. Add at least enough water to cover the pump, and turn it on. It should send water through the tubing and into the flower pot, then back into the coffee pot from the hole at the bottom of the flower pot.

Step 8

Okay! We're done building everything. The only other functional change I made was to stick a piece of mesh over the hole in the flower pot. That'll keep rocks and pebbles from falling through.

Finishing Touches

I went ahead and gave the PVC pipes and the flower pot a quick paint job, transforming this from a garage job into something fit for the living room.

Final Notes

So what are we looking at? Obviously, I did more than paint it: The coffee pot is now home to a goldfish, along with a few rocks to hold the bacteria that make all this work. The flower pot is filled about halfway with a mixture of pea gravel and marbles, and in this is a small ivy plant that I transplanted.

The pea gravel and marble mixture is called the substrate, and it holds the ivy's roots in place. As the water trickles through it, the roots suck the nutrients out and clean it at the same time. The fresh water drips back into the fish tank, where the little guy will poop into it some more and fill it with stuff plants like. It's a plant that waters itself, and a fish tank that cleans itself---all you need to do is feed the fish. Use this for herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, anything you want.

Hope you enjoyed this project!

Check out the video below for a different type of aquaculture system you can make in your house---an upside down aquarium.

Get Started Today

Backyard Aquaponics Made Easy
Backyard Aquaponics Made Easy

Learn all the basics of aquaponics, including the types of fish and plants you can grow in a typical system!


A unique take on aquaponics and indoor gardening

Did you build it? Are you going to? Let me know!

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