Making an Aquaponics System with Barrels

Two blue barrels with trees in the background
  • 2-8 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 75-400

An aquaponics system is a type of controlled environment where aquaculture or fish breeding and hydroponics or soil less plant growing is integrated together in an artificial habitat. It is composed of a re-circulating environment where the fish and plants live symbiotically.

Both light and temperature are controlled in an aquaponic system. This type of system post a common problem which is toxic water buildup from fish emulsion and fertilized water from the water-grown plants.

Aquaponics works in a way where the waste from the fish environment is pumped into a section where water needs to be treated. It is mixed with natural bacteria to convert ammonia to fish nitrite to nitrate. This nitrate now can feed the plants since the “fish water” is pumped into the hydroponics system to feed the growing plants living in the same environment.

Thus, eliminating the wastes created by both organisms. The cycle continues to go around without discharging or exchanging water but only adding water when the level starts to go down because of evaporation, plant absorption or biomass removal from the aquaponic system itself.

Using Barrels

Barrel-ponics is another word for aquaponics in a barrel. Since a big aquaponics system is costly, low cost aquaponics using barrels has been an option for people who want to create a system to grow vegetables at the same time as aquatic livestock. This system is good especially in areas where there is low soil or the weather does not permit growing outdoors since these systems are typically placed indoors in a controlled environment.


This type of system requires materials that can be found in any reliable hardware store but the key is to get three quality barrels. Barrels from questionable sources made of toxic or unknown material should never be used as these containers will grow food that will be consumed by animals and humans.

Blue and white plastic barrels are safe to used once cleaned thoroughly. Black barrels are not recommended to be used especially if they were recycled, since this barrels are typically used to contain chemicals.

Never reuse a barrel (whether blue, black or white) with no labels that indicate what it was initially used for. Select blue over the white because they will not grow algae as much as a white one would.

Functions of the Barrels

The three 55 gallon barrel system includes one barrel for the fish, the second is cut in half and laid down for the plants to grow in, and the third is for water return maintenance. Piping and pumps work in tandem to make this whole system work, along with lighting and controlled temperatures.

The environment is built in a way that the light and temperature coincides with normal crop-growing environment.