Barrel Aquaponics System – Everything You Need to Know

Barrel Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combined system of raising aquatic animals or creatures(aquaculture) and growing plants (hydroponics) without soil. The most used animals are fish. The fish are fed, and in turn, they supply the plants with nutrients from their excretion. The plants, on the other hand, clean the water.

Barrel aquaponics is an aquaponics system built or set up around one or more barrels. They make good options for those that wish to grow organic produce but lack a big area or do not wish to spend too much money. They function and work like other aquaponics systems.


The barrel

Usually, a 55-gallon drum is used. Blue barrels are the recommended types for aquaponics as they are safe for fish and plants and yield little algae. Use a previous food-grade barrel and ensure to clean it thoroughly. The barrel is made into the fish tank, and the grow bed.

The larger the barrel is, the more the amount of water it can hold. The more water in the fish tank, the larger the plant growing bed.

The size of the fish tank determines the number and size of fish that can be held. It is crucial to consider the fish tank’s surface area. A short and wide fish tank works better than a deep and narrow one. This is because it has a higher water surface area to volume ratio. A greater surface area provides a greater uptake of oxygen and the removal of carbon dioxide.

55-gallon drum
55-gallon drum

Grow medium

the growing medium should be light to prevent collapsing of the system. One can use gravel, lava rock, or clay pebbles.

The Grow bed

It is where the growth of the plants takes place. Place it on top of the tank and ensure it is larger than the tank’s width. The space of the grow bed determines the size of your fish tank. A large grow bed means more plants, and this calls for more fish. A small grow bed will need a smaller fish tank.

Suggested article: Aquaponic Grow Beds – Everything You Need To Know

The fish

Goldfish is the most appropriate fish type to raise in a barrel. They can live up to forty years, require less space for growth and survival, and are not bothered by any decreased water temperatures, especially during winter. The water must be chlorine-free as chlorine can cause the goldfish to die.

Suggested article: Best Fish for Aquaponics & a Few Great Alternatives to Try

A water pump

You will need a small water pump to suction water to the plant’s grow bed from the fish barrel. Due to gravity, the pump supplies water back to the fish tank.

Suggested article: Aquaponics Water Pump – Everything You Need To Know

aquaponic water pump

An air pump and tubing

The air pump will supply plants and animals with air. The air tube will join the pump to an air stone, usually at the bottom of the barrel.

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The air stone

It breaks a large stream of bubbles from the air pump into smaller bubbles increasing oxygenation in the water.

A testing kit

A water testing kit will be used to monitor the water pH levels, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and any oxygen that may have possibly dissolved.

The nitrifying bacteria

Nitrifying bacteria is required when building the system. You can build up the bacteria by adding ammonia into the system. The bacteria convert ammonia excreted by the fish into nitrites. The nitrites are then converted into nitrates which the plants use for growth. The plants also take in and use vermicompost, the solid fish waste, as food.

Designs for barrel aquaponics

Barrel aquaponics can have two different designs. The designs will vary depending on size, the required space, ease of construction and maintenance, the required accessories, cost, material, and the time available for construction.

The Split Barrel Design

  • It utilizes three or more barrels with an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC tote) as the fish tank. IBC totes will require more space and cannot be set up in small spaces such as balconies, indoors, or in small backyards. They are costly, difficult to handle, and the material needed is quite hard to find.
  • This design takes more time and effort to construct.
  • It utilizes more material.
  • It is more expensive.

The Chop and Flip Design

  • It uses one barrel only. The barrel is cut into two. The top part is used as the grow bed, and the remaining part is used as the fish tank. The fish tank part is usually larger than the grow bed part. You can make the fish tank two times larger than the grow bed.
  • The layout is simple.
  • It is cheap.
  • It is easy to construct.
  • There are no power tools or equipment necessary.

Advantages of a barrel aquaponics

  • It is a cheap aquaponics system and uses readily available materials.
  • It is easy to manage.
  • There is no danger of dangerous chemicals for plant and animal life and soil-borne diseases.
  • This design is ideal for those that want to indulge in aquaponics but lack big spaces.
  • It can be expanded easily.
  • It will yield organic produce conveniently.
  • Due to the compactness of its size, it can be set up indoors.
  • It is a good system where soil and water are deficient.
  • There is minimal waste as the plants and animals exist symbiotically. The water used is also minimal.
  • It eradicates weed growth as the soil is not used.

How to construct a simple barrel aquaponics

  • Get your barrel. You may opt to buy or use an old one. If you decide to use an old one, be aware of what it was used for formerly. It is best not to reuse one that was previously used for chemical storage.
  • Thoroughly rinse the barrel to clean any residue that may be present.
  • Cut the top of the barrel and flip it for the bottom to face up. The top will be used as the grow bed. From the lid, measure about 20cm down from the drum’s lip and cut off the portion. Smoothen burred edges as they can be hazardous.
  • Prepare the fish tank. The fish tank will be the part that remains after cutting. Create an opening to enable you to access and feed the fish. The opening can be made into any shape provided it is of sufficient size. Cut the opening as high as possible as it will also be used to fill in water into the fish tank.
  • Cut two holes on the grow bed barrel. One will be used as a pump inlet and the other as a drainage system. Siphons or standpipes can be used depending on preference.
  • Fill up the grow bed with grow medium. Light grow media such as clay hydrotons, or Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA) is the best. They will put less load on the fish. Rinse before putting them in the grow bed.
  • Start the system by adding water. Run it for a week for it to get “cycled.”
  • Add the plants you wish to grow.
barrel aquaponics


If you want to delve into aquaponics, setting up the system does not have to be very complicated or expensive. A barrel aquaponics system will work effectively. The results are productive, and it is efficient. The system is also easily expandable and is a good choice for those that love organic produce. Barrel aquaponics comes with its benefits and needs some care for the fish and the plants to thrive.

Suggested articles:
A Guide To Constructing Indoor Aquaponics
All The Aquaponics Supplies You Will Need For Good Results
What Is Aquaponics? – Everything You Need To Know Upfront
Desktop Aquaponics Explained – Is It a Good Option?

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