This Site Uses Cookies
This site uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, you agree to the Privacy Policy and accept the use of cookies.
Reef Stable is a small business focussed on educating and providing the best coral for beginner reef keepers

Disclaimer: This page contains advertisements and/or affiliate links. We receive compensation from clicks and/or purchases made through these links. Though we may not have tested the specific product(s) mentioned, we do our best to recommend products that are beneficial to our visitors.

How To Set Up a Small Coral Farm

Share this article:
Pin it!

Last updated on November 17th, 2023


How To Set Up a Coral Farm

What is a Coral Farm?

A coral farm is usually a fairly large facility that grows, cuts, and sells coral. But on a smaller scale, it could refer to something as simple as a growout tank. Any coral growout tank could be called a small coral farm. This could be a glass tank, stock tank, or aquaponics growing tub. The primary idea is that the coral farm is intended for growing coral, not just aesthetics. Compared to a home reef tank, a coral farm has different challenges and focus areas for decision making.

Shop Coral at Reef Stable

Coral Farms vs Reef Tanks

So just to really put the nail in the coffin so-to-speak, let's talk through the main differences between a coral farm and a reef tank.

Reef tanks are usually focussed on looking beautiful, with livestock including fish and invertebrates that you enjoy but are not necessarily focussed on utility. A coral farm, on the other hand, is very intentional about the livestock. In a coral farm, you will see utilitarian fish and invertebrates that are intended to eat algae, and pests.

Another key area is that coral farms can make different choices about things like biological filtration. For example, a reef tank will utilize live rock and sand for much of the biological filtration. A coral farm, since the focus is not primarily on aesthetics, has the option to use other methods of biological filtration, such as Bio Bricks to achieve the same thing in a much more organized way and smaller space. Though they can also use sumps full of live rock, or any other method you see fit!

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Tank (and Stand)

The first step in setting up a coral farm is planning the tank itself. Depending on how much space you're looking to grow coral, the look you want, and even the budget you're working with. The main objective is to provide a large footprint, but keeping a short height. This allows the most light and the most area for coral growth.

Best Option: Frag Tank

The best option for a coral farm is a glass or acrylic Frag Tank or Breeder Tank. The reason I believe that a shallow glass or acrylic tank is the best option is both looks and practicality. A regular aquarium looks best as it can be an enjoyable display piece, but it also allows you to see the coral and tank from the sides and even the bottom.

Being able to see the sides and bottom of the tank helps keep the aquarium cleaner, spot pests, or even stressed coral sooner. It let's you keep an eye on the cleanup crew better and just all around visibility as well as looking the best in homes and facilities. You will notice that facilities such as Tidal Gardens uses glass aquariums for their coral farming. Just demonstrating some of the same things I mentioned above.

There are a couple disadvantages to these tanks however. The first is price. These nicer looking tanks are obviously going to cost more per square foot than non-traditional options. These tanks are also more work to maintain. The sides of the tank will need regular scraping to remove algae and calcium buildup. Finally, working with these tanks can be more difficult. Mainly because drilling them can cause the aquarium to break. They are also harder to move because they're heavier than the alternatives.

Middle Ground: Water Reservoir / Utility Tub

Another coral farming tank option is to use a water reservoir such as the ActiveAQUA Reservoir or a Utility Tub. I am personally setting up the ActiveAQUA Reservoir myself. These provide a large amount of space for your coral garden, with a shallow height, for a reasonable price. If done right, you can build a stand for these tubs that look really nice as well!

Some disadvantages of these types of tubs start with the fact that your stand will have to be custom. You also need to make sure the coral farming tank can hold the water without bowing or breaking, by building the proper braces to add support. There is a lot of reward for setting up Water Reservoirs as Coral Farm tanks, in fact many coral farms do this. However it requires a lot more DIY and "Sweat Equity" as compared to the standard tank options.

Budget Option: Stock Tank

Stock tanks are likely the lowest cost, most available option. That being said, in general, they look the worst out of all of the available options. Drilling these tanks can be difficult since there are no flat sides, but on a positive note, they are sturdy and more than get the job done for a low cost. You may need to do extra work to make them look nice, but if that's not a problem, a Rubbermaid Stock Tank may be a cheap way for you to start your own coral farm!

Custom Options

While I don't have the prices, if you know what you're doing or have the option to work with professionals, there are an infinite number of custom options. Well braced custom glass or acrylic aquariums can give you the exact footprint and dimensions you're looking for! You could also build a plywood aquarium to achieve the same coral farming layouts! I don't know the waterproofing or other details to all of the custom options, but these could be some very cool methods of starting a coral farm. Be warned though, custom options provide the most risk of leaking or breaking. Be very careful to ensure they are build correctly.

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Plumbing

When it comes to plumbing your coral farm, there are more options than standard reef tanks. The first is to simply make it an all-in-one. Being a coral farm, you don't really need separate, hidden sections for hiding protein skimmers, biological filtration, and other equipment. You can set all of this in the tank itself, sacrificing some of the growing area.

Another option is a simple sump. I personally advise drilling and setting up a small sump to give you more options. The main reason I decided to add a sump is to provide an easier way to handle top-off. Using an ATO for the main tank would work, but due to the surface area, it will be larger amounts at a time. Keeping a smaller sump lets you add smaller amounts of top-off water more frequently, maintaining a more stable environment.

Another benefit to having a sump is that you can have a refugium. Adding macro algae to the main tank will likely cause the algae to grow in places that are not ideal. Including on rocks, frag plugs, and even grow on coral. Choking them out and killing the coral. Keeping this in a sump will help reduce nutrients while isolating your coral from the macroalgae.

While not the only other option, something else I've seen while expanding a coral farm is to keep adding these large tanks in a line. Then add a pipe from one to the next. Putting the return on one side and the drain on the other. This lets you keep the tanks separate, with only one body of water to work with. Additionally giving you the ability to expand.

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Lighting

For lighting a coral farm, the biggest thing to remember is you're covering more surface area and less depth. That means you don't need just a few narrow lens lights like you may want on a reef tank.

To learn more about light coverage, read this article.

One way to get this kind of light spread is to use T5 Light Fixtures. T5's cover more total surface area with less direct depth. That means you can adjust the height of the light fixture to get the desired PAR levels. If T5's are too old school, or really just not your thing, Orphek OR3 LED Bars provide the same general concept as T5s, but as a lower power LED option.

Both T5s and Orphek Bars provide a large amount of coverage at lower costs. The T5 option will be cheaper up front, but with the cost of power and replacement bulbs, it will cost more over time. The Orphek OR3 LED Bars will cost more up-front, but still more than reasonable prices for a coral farm.

Another option is to use more controllable/higher power lights for your coral farm. The Neptune SKY and Ecotech Radion XR15s are a great method of lighting larger areas. In fact, many large coral farms use these high end reef tank lights. That being said, while there is more control over PAR and color, you are paying for it. That is why you'll find these in much larger scale businesses and not as often with smaller coral farms.

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Flow

Flow for a coral farm tank can vary a lot. The nice part is that you are likely not as worries about the looks and more worried about the functionality! The added surface area means you will need better flow options, but low costs are also a priority. So what are the options for a coral farming tank's flow?

Personally, I use Jebao Wavemaker Pumps. These pumps are low cost and provide a great amount of flow! That being said, since the appearance and control may not be as important, you could even use a series of small return pumps, such as the Sicce Return Pumps mounted on the sides of the coral farming tanks to get a lot of flow for cheap!

I would recommend using the lower cost Wavemaker Pumps in this setup however because they have multiple flow modes so you're able to simulate a more natural environment.

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Filtration

Filtration for coral farming tanks is very similar to that of reef tanks. My Guide to Saltwater Filtration covers most of the information you need to know about this. Essentially, the main difference is for biological filtration, you may not have the space for live rock, so you need to find other ways for beneficial bacteria to grow. That's where alternative methods such as deep sand bed sumps and Bio Bricks come into play.

How to Set Up A Coral Farm - Dosing/Control

A coral farming tank requires just as much, if not more monitoring and control compared to standard reef tanks. Since the objective is growing more coral quicker, alkalinity, calcium, and pH are all very important. I strongly encourage using a controller such as the Neptune Apex or Hydros with the new IV setup!

The key is to be able to monitor and control temperature, salinity (just monitor), alkalinity, and pH. That means you will need dosing pumps that can add kalkwasser to help pH as well as other solutions such as soda ash that raise alkalinity without affecting pH. Personally, I would skip the soda ash and just do kalkwasser but to each their own.

I will leave this section at that for now, as I am looking to write an in depth article about control for reef tanks and will link that here.

Shop Coral at Reef Stable


Overall, coral farm tanks are not that much different than regular reef tanks. The main thing you need to focus on is the difference in surface area and total space. This means that while you have more needs for lighting and flow, you can save money on biological filtration by using larger amounts of live sand and bio-bricks. I am encouraging more successful reef keepers to establish coral farming tanks to reduce the dependance on the ocean to support the hobby. This will make the hobby lower cost and more sustainable!

Recommended Reading:

Share this article:
Pin it!

About the Author

Reef Stable Founder John Krenzer

John is a Software Engineer with a passion for saltwater aquariums, as well as the founder and president of Reef Stable. He started in the aquarium hobby as a child with a 20 gallon freshwater aquarium. His interest in aquarium life grew and in 2008, John set up his first saltwater aquarium.

Today, John maintains an over 300 gallon reef tank system, consisting of a 120g reef and a 210g reef. These large tanks are contained within the same system, sharing a sump as a means to reduce total maintenance and increase total water volume.

John writes articles for the blog as a means to learn about more reef aquarium topics. These articles act as a reference for the readers as well as himself. John updates these articles frequently to provide additional information or make corrections as new information becomes available.

If you would like to request an article, tank tour article, or to collaborate, let me know via the Contact Me Page!

About Reef Stable

Reef Stable was initially founded in 2019 as a reef tank parameter log to fill a need. Reef Stable quickly grew, becoming a location to solve all of your reef tank problems as well as a place to learn.

Reef Stable now provides a Reef Blog, Reef Aquarium Guides, Coral Care Guides, Identification and Solutions for Pests and Algae, and Reef Dosing Calculators, in addition to the original Reef Parameter Log.

Reef Stable continues to grow, striving to provide a single location for all your reef tank needs!

Swim With Us!

Follow Reef Stable on your Favorite Social Media Platforms!

Reef Stable Facebook PageReef Stable Instagram PageReef Stable Pinterest PageReef Stable Youtube Page

+1 (414) 810-7878

© 2019-2021 Reef Stable, LLC. All rights reserved.