How To Make Aquaponics System From Barrel At Home
This is a simple aquaponic system that you can build in an afternoon on the weekend for a low cost using only a drill and a jigsaw. This guide will show you how to build the system step by step with photos.
Begin by obtaining a barrel. We’re utilizing a 200L (44 gallon) blue barrel here; different sizes are available, but these are readily available for us and have previously been used for food goods, so they’re nice and safe for an aquaponic system. If you can only get different sizes of barrels, that’s great; you simply need to account for the measurements we provide here so that your system works properly.
Before you begin, make sure you understand what was previously in your barrel. You should also be cautious when cleaning out your barrels, depending on what was previously in them. We had some with drink concentrated in them, and the odors when you cleaned them out and cut them open were irresistible. I’ve also had drums containing phosphoric acid in the past; the acid is good because it’s quite easy to dilute and wipe up, and it’s an acid used in food products. However, I was told they had all been cleaned and as I cut the drum, acid leaked out and started fizzing on the concrete, the supposed clean barrels were not clean at all, they contained strong acid residues.
After you’ve rinsed out your barrel, you can consider removing the top growbed. Measure 20 cm down from the lip and mark a few spots around the barrel as a guide.
Now, using a marking pen, carefully connect all of the measurements you’ve taken. This will serve as your cutting guide line. You can use a straight edge, such as the one we have here, or a simpler option is to use something a bit more flexible, but still with a straight edge, so that you can fold it around the barrel to draw your line.
After you’ve finished your cutting line, drill a hole for the jigsaw blade. Use a drill bit that is large enough to accommodate the jigsaw blade but not too huge; if you use a very large bit, you will end up with a dip in the top edge of your growbed.
With a jigsaw, begin cutting your growbed off the top. Other instruments, such as tiny circular saws, sabre saws, and grinders, may be used, but for us, the jigsaw is ideal. Cut around carefully, trying to maintain your line as straight as possible, keeping in mind that this will be the top edge of your growbed. Wear suitable protective equipment when using power tools, such as safety glasses, gloves, and steel caps, as well as hearing protection.
Once the barrel is completely in half you might want to give it a better clean out, depending on what has been in your barrel in the past. It’s also a good idea now to de-bur the freshly cut edges by scraping around the edges with a piece of metal. The back edge of a bread and butter knife will do nicely for this, we had a pipe de-buring tool made for the purpose.
Because no two barrels are the same, you may have to apply your own initiative and modify the design to fit your specific barrel. We now have our fish tank base and growbed top, however they don’t quite fit together. Essentially, we want to make the top edge of the fish tank a bit smaller so that it fits inside the growbed’s lip. We determined that the diameter at the top edge of the barrel needed to be 8cm smaller than it was.
We essentially worked out how to acquire 4 equally spaced spots around the top edge by measuring across the barrel to the widest point and then using a square off that to locate the other two places at right angles.
Now, at the four places surrounding the top, draw four V shapes. Down into the barrel, it is 2cm broad and 15cm deep. For those who are unfamiliar with the metric system, that is 0.787 inches wide by 6 inches deep.
Once you have the V notches cut, mark some points to drill holes, we are going to use cable ties to pull the barrel together and reduce the size of the barrel top.
Drill 2-3 equally spaced holes down either side of the V. The holes should be just large enough for the cable ties to go through. Cable ties are available through most hardware or automotive stores, they are very handy for fastening, though make sure that you use the black UV stabilised ones. You can buy white ones and coloured ones, look for the black UV professional grade cable ties, they may cost a little more but this is going to be outside and you don’t want the ties degrading and pulling apart.
In order for the growbed to fit into the lip on the underside of the growbed, it must be placed on top of the barrel. If the top of the barrel is still too wide to fit correctly, cut the cable ties and cut some more out of the V’s, cut another V, or tighten your cable ties if they are not tight enough. If the barrel’s top is a little too small to fit correctly, this is simply remedied. Cut some of your cable ties and replace them, being careful not to overtighten them; leave a small space in the V’s. Attempt to place the bed on top, gradually adjusting the cable connections until
Now we want to cut an access hole so that we can see the fish and feed them. We decided to use a fish shape for the hole rather than a boring circle or oval shape. If you’re not incredibly artistic, the best way might be to cut out the shape like we have here from a piece of cardboard. Then you can easily draw the shape onto the barrel ready for cutting.
Make this access cut off as high as possible to enable for maximum water capacity in the barrel. Also, make sure the opening is large enough to get a net into the tank; you may need to remove fish or scrape out some mud. Drill a hole on the interior of the fish you’re about to cut out, then insert the jigsaw blade and cut out the hole with the jigsaw.
Now that the access hole is made at the front, you may wish to clean up the cut with the back of a knife again, as you did with all the previous cuts. It’s a good idea to cut a power cable hole in the rear of your system where you won’t see it. We used a hole saw on the drill for this, but you could also use a jigsaw; just make sure it’s big enough to accommodate your pump’s plug on the end of the power cord.
You will now need to drill holes for your drain fittings and irrigation line. There are many various ways to perform irrigation and drainage; some people like siphons, some prefer standpipes, and some don’t bother with much in the way of irrigation fittings in order to save money. We like our methodology, we’ve tried a lot of various methods, and we’ve seen a lot of different ways people have attempted it, but we believe our methods are some of the most foolproof for long-term uncomplicated operation. Here’s a picture of all the fittings we utilize.
It may look a little confusing all in the one picture, but as you will see in the coming photos and instructions, it comes together fairly simply.
From above, you can see the two fittings fitted in the growbed. The irrigation fitting is located on the left, while the drain fitting is located on the right. The irrigation fitting is sometimes known as a “tank fitting” because it has a big flange to prevent leaks and a threaded female socket on top and a threaded male fitting on the bottom. The drain fitting is known as a “plug and waste” fitting; it is a basic fitting used in a bathroom sink and is available at most hardware or plumbing stores.
The growbed is seen from the bottom side, and the irrigation “tank fitting” has a very lengthy threaded base. The drain fitting has a threaded base, however adding any connections is pointless because the water drains directly back into the fish tank. If your system is noisy due to water splashing back in, you may install a fitting here and run a 40mm pipe down below the water to quieten any splashing sounds.
From the irrigation fitting all the way down to the pump, we now connect the flexible anti-kink tubing. This segment of piping should be a flexible hose rather than hard PVC pipe so that you can easily access the pump while leaving the growbed in place. You will need to inspect the pump from time to time to wipe any leaves from the pump intake, and if you can reach in and raise the pump up, maintenance will be much easier.
We’ve used a fairly small pump with a capacity of 1350L/h (350G). This may seem like quite a lot to some people, but by the time the water has pumped up through all the pipe work and fittings it will have lost some of that capacity, plus we might want to run these on timers for flooding and draining operation. Remember when sourcing a pump that the pumping rate they give is at no head. Once you require the pump to lift the water to any sort of height the flow will be reduced, and once you have pipe and fittings installed this will also reduce the water flow because of friction. Also remember that pumping head is measured from the surface of the water in your fish tank, not from where the pump is sitting.
We utilize 90mm (3.5 inch) storm water pipe pierced with hundreds of 6mm (1/4 inch) holes to install a media guard. This pipe wraps around the standpipe, enabling access to the drain so you can ensure roots aren’t clogging it in any manner. Here we are marking and cutting the pipe to the proper height; it is essential to cut the pipe to the proper height before drilling the holes.
The bed is now back in place, with all of the plumbing work linked and ready to go, and we now prepare to fill the growbed with expanded clay. When we fill the growbed, we’ll need to give the clay a good rinse to eliminate the red dust. The best way we’ve discovered is to do it in bed, therefore we’ll need to connect up a temporary drain so that the filthy water drains into the garden rather than the fish tank.
Holding the media guard in place will help you as you pour in the expanded clay media. The media guard just sits at the foot of the bed, easily knocked out of the way by the clay being poured in. The media guard must be left unattached, simply resting there, so that when roots grow through it, you may rotate the guard and chop the roots off, preventing them from clogging the drain system.
Once the bed is filled with less than one 50L (13G) bag of expanded clay you need to give it all a rinse with the hose, this should take no longer than 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the water running out of the pipe and when the water starts to run clear then you can stop. You then need to disconnect your temporary drain pipe, plug the pump in and turn it on.
You have now successfully completed and put into operation your i-barrel aquaponic system. Check the flood level in your growbed; you may need to remove the stand pipe and cut a little section off. You don’t want water to flood the surface of the expanded clay; if sunlight can reach the water, algae will bloom and you’ll have a slimy growbed. Water should be overflowing approximately 2-3cm (about 1 inch) below the surface of the clay. Check that the holes in your irrigation pipes are pointed down and not squirting out onto the clay surface.
Best to leave your new system running for a day or two so that you can be sure it’s not leaking and nothing will go wrong, then you can look at planting it up and getting some fish for it. You can run the system on a timer and cycle the pump off and on so that the bed floods and drains if you like. For a system this size you probably want to run it 30 minutes on, then 15-30 minutes off. We’ve been running our continuously pumping with the growbed continuously flooded and they have been working really well.
We recommend stocking the system with somewhere between 2 and 8 goldfish depending on their size, and be sure to feed them a good quality aquaculture feed because at the end of the day you’ll want decent plant growth and you need to have a quality feed to get decent plant growth. In a system this size we wouldn’t recommend trying to grow any edible fish species, the system is just too small.
If you want to know any more about barrel aquaponic systems or aquaponics in general, please visit the forum