Barrel Aquaponics – A Brief Guide to the System

Barrel aquaponics is one of the many types of different aquaponics systems.

Before discussing barrel aquaponics, you should know what an aquaponics system is. Aquaponics is basically a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture is keeping aquatic animals, while hydroponics is nurturing plants with the help of added nutrients.

In the process of aquaponics, fish waste that’s converted by bacteria is used to nurture plants. Waste excreted by the fish provides for for the bacteria and turns it into nutrients for the plants, whereas the biomedia acts as a natural filter to provide clean water to the fish. Hence, the system can be called a recirculating system because plants provide for the fish and vice versa. All of this processing takes place in the same integrated habitat.

barrelponics split barrel setup
Split barrel setup

Aquaponics is not a new concept; it was developed back in 1960. However, this idea has been getting major attention from urban centers lately. The concept of growing plants and fish together has been attracting people who like to grow organic food in their backyard, those who like growing organic food themselves, and those who want to utilize their backyard in the best possible way. Another reason for its great popularity is its inexpensiveness and sustainability.

A barrel aquaponics system is based on a 55-gallon drum. A barrel is installed as a fish tank, and plants are placed on top of the barrel on a growing bed. Controlled light and temperature are provided to the barrel aquaponics system.

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What Is Barrel Aquaponics?

example of barrel aquaponics setup

Another word used for barrel aquaponics is barrelponics, which is the combination of the two. In a barrel aquaponics, the fish is kept in an intensive water unit. The concept of barrel aquaponics has received a lot of attention from organic food lovers.

It has been a great invention for people who love aquaponic systems but could not indulge in such activities because it was an expensive process and required big spaces. Even a small balcony would be enough to keep a food grade 55-gallon drum for barrelponics. Due to the compact size of the system, it can be placed indoors as well.

This concept is more popular in areas where water and soil are deficient. The nutrients from the fish waste are also utilized to their maximum way potential and are not drained and wasted.

A barrel aquaponics system is composed of multiple materials like:

What do you need for barrelponics?

A Barrel for the Fish

The larger the barrel, the higher the amount of water that can be stored in it. The more the fish tank water, the larger the growing bed for plants. Normally a food grade 55-gallon drum is used


The gravel has to be clean before you use it because it is often dusty at the time of purchase.

Water Pump

A small water pump is used to suction water from the fish barrel to the plants’ growing bed. After that, this pump supplies water back to the tank due to gravity.

Water Tubing or piping

You’ll need enough tubing to go from the outlet on the pump to the top of your growing bed and form a circle within it.

Air Pump and Tube

Another item you need is an air pump to supply air to the plants in the growing bed as well as the fish in the barrel. An air tube joins the air pump to an air stone at the bottom of the barrel.

Air Stone

The air stone breaks a stream of bubbles from the air pump into micro-bubbles, which increase the oxygenation inside the water.

Grow Bed

The growing bed is placed on the top of the tank and has to be larger in size compared to the width of the tank. This is where the plantation grows. The grow bed is the top of the 55-gallon drum.

Water testing kit

To manage the pH of the water, a pH test kit is also needed. Depending on the pH level of your water, you would choose growing materials. You will also need to test the ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and possibly dissolved oxygen.

Nitrifying Bacteria

Another living organism required to build the system other than plants and fish is nitrifying bacteria. These bacteria turn ammonia to nitrite from the waste excreted by the fish, which is then converted to nitrates that are used by the plants in their growing procedure. Plants also take in vermicompost which is the solid fish waste as their food.

It has to be noted here that only blue barrels should be acquired for the purpose of aquaponics as they produce the least algae and are safe to use for plants and fish. Also, before starting the process, make sure the barrels are thoroughly cleansed and were a food-grade barrel previously.

Benefits of Barrel Aquaponics

  • Since this process eradicates the use of soil, no weed is developed.
  • You stay safe from soil-borne diseases.
  • Free fertilizers are acquired for the plants through the fish.
  • Growth rate increases
  • Growing takes place around the year (depending on your climate).
  • Water usage is reduced.

Why Barrels Instead of IBC Totes?

The blue barrel aquaponics system only needs materials that are easily available in a nearby hardware shop or online. It is also easy to manage and is recommended as it is safe for the production of food and keeping fish since the process takes place in a barrel that had been used for food. Hence, the danger of being harmed by dangerous chemicals is completely eliminated.

On the other hand, an IBC totes aquaponics system requires more space and cannot be kept in a small space like a balcony, a small backyard or indoors. It is costly, and the material needed for this system is harder to find. It is also quite difficult to handle.

Where Can You Get 55-Gallon Barrels?

Craigslist is the place to get your desired barrel and all other aquaponics materials. You can go through your local Craigslist and get your required stuff. In case you do not find anything there, you can always drive to a nearby hardware store. If you still fail to find what you are looking for, you can put up an ad yourself inquiring about its availability on Craigslist or online.

You can also use online stores like eBay or Amazon for this purpose. They have a variety of barrels and the accessories required. The price of barrels ranges from $40 to $90.

Another way to get the material you need is to approach the industrial sector in your town. Companies that deal with liquids can help you with this as such barrels are widely used for keeping sauces and animal feed in factories.

Barrel Aquaponics Designs

Barrel aquaponics comes in two different designs. These designs differ in a lot of factors like size, space required, ease of building and maintaining, accessories needed, material, cost, and the required time to build the system.

barrel aquaponics split

These designs can be broadly categorized into two types: chop and flip and split barrels. The properties of both these design types are as follows:

Chop and Flip

  • It uses only one barrel.
  • It has a simple layout.
  • It costs less.
  • It is easy to build.
  • Power tools and equipment are not necessary.

Split Barrels

  • This system is composed of 3 or more barrels and an IBC tote as a fish tank.
  • It requires more time to build.
  • It also requires more effort to create.
  • More material is required.
  • It costs more.

Raising Fish in a Barrel

The most appropriate fish to raise in a barrel is a goldfish that live up to 40 years. It requires less space to grow and survive, so a 55-gallon drum is ideal for it. Moreover, a goldfish is not bothered by decreased water temperature in winters.

However, you have to make sure that the water provided to your goldfish must be chlorine-free. This is because chlorine can make the goldfish die abruptly.


Everyone who has some extra time, passion for aquaculture, and love for organic produce should definitely get a barrel and indulge in barrelponics right away. It is a great leisure activity that keeps your mind and body fresh.

Furthermore, today, so many diseases are spreading due to adulteration in food. Hardly any food is pure. Thus, you can make a great business out of selling organic food. By doing barrel aquaponics, you can not only save money on buying pure food but also make some money by using multiple barrels to grow vegetables and plants and selling them. Some extra bucks never hurt anyone.

Get Started with Aquaponics

I have written a book that contains all the information you need to get started with aquaponics.

Don’t be the person that makes painful mistakes during your first aquaponics build!

It has 265 pages filled with information about aquaponics. It’s available in paperback or eBook format.

You can buy it here on

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