• PO Box 25079, Tempe, AZ 85285 USA

Getting Started in Barrelponics

gardenpool barrelponics

A simple 3D animation to show the relative size and layout of the Garden Pool Barrelponics design.

While we have had fun with aquaponics in an old swimming pool, we decided it would be a good idea to feature an aquaponics resource that is more readily available. Not everyone has an old pool but anyone can pick up a 55 gallon barrel as they are a standard in the shipping industry. The great availability reduces the cost compared to other aquaponic solutions.

The 55 gallon barrels we used for our barrelponics project were made from High-density Polyethylene, or HDPE. This plastic is both strong and is considered a good choice for those worried about plastics that are more prone to leach chemicals. HDPE is used for many things, including milk jugs, ballistic plates, and plastic lumber. If you are purchasing used 55 gallon barrels, be sure you stick with food-grade barrels and not barrels that previously held chemicals. HDPE is easily identifiable by the “#2” Recycling Plastic Symbol.

The barrelponics system that we have designed is inexpensive and easy to reproduce. We have simplified the design as much as possible without sacrificing the function of a good aquaponics setup. The entire system cost us around $100 to build from scratch. We were able to find the 55 gallon barrels for $5 a piece on craigslist. The most expensive component was the hydroton, but we feel it is the best medium to use for this project because of its superior wicking ability and overall light weight.

Here is our completed project. We added a small piece of chicken wire to cover the mouth of the fish barrel. We also added outlet tubing to prevent overflow. These tubes are mounted about 1 inch below the top of the hydroton.

Materials Used

  • (6) 2″x6″x8′ Lumber
  • (1) 2″x4″x8′ Lumber
  • (1) 1lb box of #10 x 3″ Deck Screws
  • (2) Plastic Food-Grade 55 Gallon Barrels
  • (10 linear feet) 1/2″ Black Irrigation Tubing
  • (1) 1/2″ Black Irrigation T-connector
  • (4) 1/2″ Black Irrigation Shut-Off Valve
  • (1) 3.7 oz Amazing Goop for Plumbers Sealant & Adhesive
  • (2) 50 Liter Bags of Hydroton
  • (1) 4″ Net Pots
  • (1) 145 Gallon Per Hour Submersible Fountain Pump

Tools Used

  • Variable Speed Jigsaw
  • Circular Saw
  • Cordless 3/8″ Drill or more
  • 7/16″ Drill Bit
  • 1″ Drill Bit
  • 55 Gallon Barrel Bung Opener Wrench
  • Marking Utensil (sharpie, crayon, pencil, etc.)
  • Measuring Tape
  • (2) Saw Horses
  • Safety Glasses

Instructional Video

Recorded LIVE
When: January 8th, 2011
Where: The Garden Pool in Mesa, AZ
Who: Dennis and Danielle with GardenPool.org
Length: 31 minutes

Getting Started In Barrelponics from GardenPool on Vimeo.

Getting Started In Barrelponics was recorded live in a classroom setting. To be a part of our classes in person, join our meetup group.


[gview file=”https://gardenpool.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/gardenpool-barrelponics.pdf”]

Alternative Resources

There are many different types of barrelponics designs. What we have shared with you above is just the Garden Pool version of growing food with 55 gallon barrels, not to be confused in any way with the Barrel-Ponics™ system of aquaponics. Barrel-Ponics™ was originally invented by Travis Hughey, the self-professed “agri-missionary,” and has a very lengthy manual that includes using toilet parts. We were inspired by his work to invent our own simpler way of using this common resource, 55 gallon barrels, for aquaponics.

Here are other barrelponic manuals: