A Guide to Barrel Aquaponics System

Many people are turning to aquaponics these days because it allows them to grow fish and plants in a closed system with minimal maintenance. However, pre-made aquaponics systems can be expensive. That is why many aquaponics enthusiasts have resorted to creating their own aquaponics setup using recyclable materials, and the results are really excellent and creative. 

One type of aquaponics system that is popular with DIYers and aquaponics beginners is the barrel aquaponics system or barrelphonics. A barrel system will allow aquaponics enthusiasts to delve into aquaponics with little space available and without spending too much money. This blog will serve as a guide, giving you all the necessary information to get started with your own barrel aquaponics system. 

What is a Barrel Aquaponics System?

Also called barrelphonics, a barrel aquaponics system is simply an aquaponic in a barrel. It is usually made of a 55-gallon drum and can be run on just 40 watts of power, which makes it ideal for aquaponics beginners who do not have a lot of space available or don’t want to spend too much money on building an aquaponics system. It is capable of growing various herbs and vegetables and would be an excellent addition to the kitchen as a source of fresh herbs and fish. Because of its small and compact size, the system can be setup in the balcony, garage, or any indoor or outdoor space. 

Barrel Aquaponics System

Why Choose the Barrel Aquaponics System?

The barrel aquaponics system needs only inexpensive and readily available materials that can be found in any hardware or gardening shops or online. It is a simple setup and easy to manage, and does not require more space. Here are some of the advantages of a barrel aquaponics system.

  1. The barrel system is easy and cheap to build.
  2. It has larger and deeper grow beds (if cut lengthwise).
  3. It does not require ample space to set up.
  4. The barrels are solid and durable, so your system will last for a long time.
  5. It is great for aquaponics beginners who want to learn the in and out of aquaponics before upgrading into a larger system.
  6. It is easy to set up in an indoor setting as it does not require a large space.
  7. A barrel system can give growers a year-round supply of fresh vegetables and fish.

Where Can You Get Barrels?

You can always find a 55-gallon blue barrel in any hardware or garden supply store near you. You can also try searching online or through your local Craigslist to get the materials for your barrel aquaponics system. You can also use recycled barrels from industrial companies that deal with liquid stuff. Just make sure that it was not used to store harmful chemicals.

What is the Best Fish for Barrel Aquaponics?

The best fish to raise in a barrel system is a goldfish because they require less space to grow. Goldfish are hardy fish and are not bothered by lower water temperatures during winters, so a 55-gallon drum will be a great home for them. However, to ensure their health, you must provide them with chlorine-free water and maintain the good water quality of the system at all times. 

What Plants Grow Best in Barrel Aquaponics?

Almost all plants can be grown in a barrel aquaponics system. However, to ensure that you reap the full benefits of your aquaponics system, plant plants that are suitable for your climate and location. Also, if you have an indoor system, ensure that the plants are provided with enough lights to grow healthily.

Barrel Aquaponics Designs

The barrel aquaponics system comes in two different designs that usually differ in size, space required, materials needed, costs, and ease of building and maintaining. These designs are categorized into two types, the split and chop and flip barrels aquaponics systems. 

1. Chop and Flip

This type of aquaponics system gets its name because of how you build it. From a single 55-gallon barrel, you build both a grow bed and a fish tank. You do this by cutting the barrel in two and flipping it over to create the grow bed that will sit on top of the fish tank. Features of a barrel aquaponics system:

  • Uses only one barrel for the fish tank and grow bed.
  • It has a simple layout.
  • Cheap and easy to build.
  • It uses few materials.

2. Split Barrels

The split barrels system is a little more complicated than the chop and flip system because it uses three or more barrels. It can be a larger system composed of two or more grow beds and a larger fish tank. Features of a split barrel aquaponics system.

  • It is composed of three or more barrels.
  • Usually, the barrel is cut lengthwise for larger grow beds.
  • The system requires more materials than the chop and flip system.
  • It costs more than the chop and flip system because of the materials involved.

Materials of Barrel Aquaponics System

Aside from the three main components of aquaponics which are the plants, fish, and bacteria, here are the materials you need to build a barrel aquaponics system.

  • Barrel: Usually, a food-grade 55-gallon blue drum is used in this system. The barrel is used as a fishtank and grow bed. 
  • Grow Media: The most common grow media used in aquaponics are clay pebbles, expanded shale, gravel, or lava rock. If you decide to use gravel and lava rock, make sure that it is cleaned and tested and not mixed with limestones. For more grow media information, refer to our guide to choosing the best aquaponics grow media
  • Bell Siphon: A bell siphon is required for a flood and drains media bed system. 
  • Water Pump: A small submersible water pump will work well with this system. The water pump is used to pump the water from the fish barrel into the growbed so the plants can have access to the nutrient-rich water.
  • Pipes for Piping: Usually, PVC pipes or aquarium grade pipes carry the water from the fish tank into the grow bed.
  • Water Test Kit: This is used to manage and test the water quality of the system. The five essential parameters to consider are pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates levels. 

How to Build a Chop and Flip or Single Barrel System


Anyone interested in starting their own aquaponics systemshould definitely get into it. Beginning with a simple barrel aquaponics system is a great way to start while you’re still learning the ins and outs of aquaponics. You can quickly expand later on, anyway, if you want a more extensive system. By doing a barrel system, you don’t only enjoy a fresh harvest of your favorite vegetables all year round, but you also enjoy all the other benefits of having your own aquaponics system. Thank you for reading our blog; feel free to leave your comment below. 

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