Barrel aquaponics is a complete aquaponics system that can be built from 55 gallon barrels. It is also known as barrelponics and is one of the several types of aquaponic system which all works on the same aquaponic concept.
A barrel aquaponics system uses a 55 gallon drum which is cut such that one half is made into the fish tank and the other half is used for growing plants in grow media. Water circulation and aeration is provided by water and air pumps.
Aquaponics is the symbiotic relationship between plants and fishes. The fishes produce waste which contains ammonia. The ammonia is converted into nitrites and then nitrates in a two step process called nitrification. This is done by nitrifying bacteria Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter.
Barrel aquaponics is an easy way to recycle blue plastic barrels. For many aquaponic beginners using Barrels are the go-to way to starting a new aquaponic hobby.
However, there are some things to consider to get the most value out of these barrels when using it in barrel aquaponics, which we discuss further in this article.
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What is Barrel Aquaponics?
Barrel aquaponics also known as barrelponics is the use of a 55 gallon barrel which is cut and used to house the fishes in one section and the plants in the other.
Turning a 55 gallon, blue barrel into an aquaponics system is a simple process and can be done by the chop and flip method, similar to an IBC aquaponic build.
Barrel aquaponics is an easy way for a beginner to cut their teeth if they’re planning to go into aquaponics.
Its small footprint is ideal for beginners to manage and get a feel for the routines of aquaponics and what is required for the success of the aquaponics system.
It can be done in a small backyard, porch or even in an indoor setting with the necessary grow lights.
In this type of system there is no need for a biofilter since the grow beds create enough surface area for bacteria to live.
A mechanical filter is also not required for barrel aquaponics because smaller fishes are used which would not foul the system quickly.
Are Blue Plastic Barrels safe for Aquaponics?
The blue barrels used in Barrel aquaponics are mainly 55 gallons blue plastic drums and are safe for aquaponics once along as they have food grade labeling with the numbers “1, 2, 4 or 5”
Blue barrels are designed for the high mobility handling of liquids, semi solids, powdered food, food syrups. They usually come in a cylindrical plastic form with a 55 gallon capacity. These barrels are widely used for small scale and backyard aquaponics.
When selecting barrel for barrel aquaponics, you should always opt for a food grade tote.
Food grade barrels are represented by the numbers “1, 2, 4 or 5” on the labeling at the side of the container.
Shown here –
Barrels with the numbers 1,4 and 5 are good food grade containers but the number two label provides some extra benefits.
The “2” represents HDPE or high density polyethylene which is used for long term food storage since it’s the most stable form of plastic. This is also a UV Stabilized Plastic meaning it can withstand total sunlight without breaking down.
This means that when used in an aquaponic system there will not be any type of breakdown of plastic compounds to be released into the water system and would last a very long time without degradation.
What Plants Can I Grow in Barrel Aquaponics?
In a single barrel aquaponics system you can grow herbs, tomatoes, vine plants such as cucumbers and string beans, since the growing area is a bit limited.
If more than one barrels are being used you can cut one of the barrels in half, vertically, which gives a greater surface area and would allow you to incorporate both grow beds with grow media in one half and a deep water culture (DWC) in the other half barrel.
How to Build a Barrel Aquaponics System?
Tools and materials required-
- Reciprocating saw or jigsaw
- ½ inch hold bore bit
- Measuring tape and maker
- One 55 gallons blue barrel
- ½ inch PVC piping
- Grow media
- Air pump
- Water pump
Step By Step Instructions –
- Flip the Barrel to the side
- Mark the area on the plastic container where you will be cutting
- The container should be marked all the way around.
- The barrel should be cut horizontally using a grinder saw or a reciprocating saw using the markings as a guide.
- If another barrel is being used as the grow beds, it should be cut vertically in half.
- Flip the top part of the barrel so that it looks like a bowl.
- Cut a feeding port for the fishes on the bottom half of the barrel.
- Clean up any rough spots and burrs created from cutting.
- Place the top cut part of the 55 gallon plastic barrel onto the bottom half.
- Install a bell siphon on the top part of the barrel and seal around the connections with aquarium grade silicone to prevent water leakage.
- Connect ½ inch piping from the fish tank to the grow bed above.
- Install the water pump in the fish tank and ensure that the suction is covered with a screen to prevent fishes from being sucked into the pump.
- Fill the system with water and give it a test run.
- Fill grow bed with grow media
- The water quality should be tested using a testing kit.
Fishes can now be added to the barrel aquaponics system.
- After the system is circulating with water and the bell siphon is functioning properly you can start cycling.
Cycling is the process of building a healthy colony of nitrifying bacteria in an aquaponics system before plants are added. It can be done with or without fishes.
You can find a detailed article on how to cycle an aquaponic system here. Cycling in barrel aquaponics is no different from other types of aquaponic systems.
Once the cycling process is completed. Plants can be added to the grow beds.
The system is now complete and water testing is done once every 2 days to ensure that the water quality is being maintained.
The ideal pH you should maintain is 6.8 to 7.0 which favors both plant growth and nitrification.
Where to find Barrels for Aquaponics?
Barrels can be easily sourced from Craigslist where you can find a variety of barrels.
Amazon and eBay are also great places to look for plastic blue barrels to fit your barrel aquaponics needs.
I would recommend going to your local hardware store for such barrels because they may be overpriced coming from online stores. Used barrels are also a great option and helps recycle theses plastic products.
The barrels should be of food grade quality with clear markings showing HDPE.
Benefits of using Barrel Aquaponics
- Small footprint
- Easy to manage
- Can be used in small spaces and apartments
- Perfect for beginners
- Cheap to set up
- Easy to install
- Smaller fishes eg. gold fishes and tetras can be used.
Types of barrel aquaponics design
As mentioned earlier on, barrels can be used as a single unit or multiple barrels can be used in a split barrel configuration to give greater surface area for plants and to also try other types of plant systems.
Single barrel aquaponics-
Chop and flip (vertical configuration)
This is where a single barrel is used to build an aquaponic system.
Multi Split barrel aquaponics
This is where you use two or more barrels which are cut such that the barrels are made to lie down.
The fishes are housed in one whole horizontal barrel and the plants are situated in half barrels lying side by side.
This has a slightly larger footprint and can hold more plants and fishes.