Single Barrel Aquaponics - Part 1 of 5

Part 2 : Here  Part 3 : Here  Part 4 : Here  Part 5 : Here
14th November 2010 update : Here

I have been wanting to try out Barrel-ponics system by Travis Hughey , this system which make use of recycle plastic drums for Aquaponics are among the early setup widely tried by Aquaponics enthusiast everywhere.

If you check out Travis site, their barrel-ponics make use of half barrels as growbed.., fish tank using barrel and water feed using a barrel with toilet cistern type flood and drain.

The one I am making may be on a different approach toward barrel-ponics where I am just using one barrel making the entire setup with it. This approach is already done by others, the one I saw uses loop siphon so I am making this one with my mini siphon.

Additional Note : 
I am downloading the Barrel-ponics Manual to check whether this setup I made is actually a Barrel-ponics system, because from what I understand Barrel-ponics is a system and not just by using these Barrel as containers it could be classified as Barrel-ponics. 

After having read through the Barrel-ponics manual, I concluded what I build here is not a Barrel-ponics system.. its just a Siphon Flood & Drain Aquaponics using a barrel.

Bought a blue barrel from local scrap yard for RM 35.00, that about USD 10.00. It may be a bit overprice but I just wanted one and I've never bought any before. BTW these barrel are widely use here as pontoon, so the guy that sell me this ask whether I am making a pontoon. It will takes half a day to explain to him about Aquaponics, so to cut the time short.. I said yes making a pontoon.

This barrel already been washed internally but have a bit of a smell, Blue barrel normally use for storing non poisonous chemicals. The black color barrel is the one we should stay away from.

Barrel cut to my required size, let it dry out in the sun. Its been very hot and will continue later on with cutting the access on the lower barrel and drill hole for my siphon on the growbed part of the barrel.


Cannot go anywhere today.. its rain so I proceed in doing a bit more on the setup.

I've make cutouts on the lower barrel for access and stack the growbed part on top of the lower barrel.  I use cable tie to hold the top part to the lower half. These barrel are made to be stackable so not much of a problem here to have it this way.

I may have made the cut out slightly lower then necessary,, this will make my water level low and may at time fill to the brim.. well just have to see and find out.

Additional note : 
I should have cut the access hole the size of A4 paper one on each side, its better as compare to this one which is slightly bigger.

Mini Siphon stand pipe in place need to adjust it height next, its more to the side then in the middle, this is due to that uneven part running across from either barrel outlet. A flat place is essential for siphon stability so I have no choice but to have it here.

The point marked "X", I am thinking of making a hole for water inflow feed. I am still contemplating on making this hole or just have the water feed coming from the side to top of growbed.

Bottom of growbed, this show the siphon outlet.. its my mini siphon .. and due to its small size this setup will need a very small pump... I may use existing pump the 1000 L/hr rating and have a bypass for excess water returning back to tank.

Since this part of the barrel will be the growbed... its best to seal the two barrel inlet with a good sealer. I use Selleys' All Clear Multipurpose Co-Polymer Sealant for all my Aquaponics sealing needs... I believe its an Australian brand... so far I can say its the best I can find here in Malaysia.

Put everything loosely in place to test it. I use 1000 l/hr pump with lots of leak at the pump output giving a slow trickle in flow to the growbed.

Water in,, and slowly filling in the growbed, mini siphon is a rough installation. I need to adjust its length to cover the growbed height.

Not much of a guessing game on the siphon it flush first time, the more important is whether it cut off the flow.

Yes it does cut off without problem, this is the water level when it cut off. I need to redo just on the siphon and water feed inlet. Its a temporary installation which I need to redo later. In the mean time I will let it cycle and may put mild detergent to clean this barrel further.

It quite a simple thing to make, and took me approximately four hours to get to this stage, that inclusive of the time to make my mini siphon.

Total cost so far up to this point RM 80.00 thats about USD 22.00

Next will be putting gravel and let it cycle.

Note : This single barrel kit has been totally redo. The siphon use is the 20mm mini siphon which proven to be more reliable that a 15mm unit.

Check its construction : Here 

Finally the Problem Siphon Fixed

As I mentioned before : Here, this was sometimes last year I have endless problem with one of my siphon. I always though that all are identical.

Most of the time I just adjust water inflow to make it work, its working fine if its fed independently with a dedicated pump.. but once using the shared pump its always giving problem.

So finally today,, decide I have to get to the bottom of this problem. Its difficult to get at that's why all this delay in fixing it.  I have to go under the growbed from within the fish tank... and that's not a nice thing to do.

As they say "a man got to do what a man got to do" ... get myself into the fish tank... and remove the siphon.

I am a bit of a camera shy,, and professionally as a teacher, I always feel that the subject we're presenting is most important and not the presenter in person.

After removing the siphon then I realised that the failed one (on left) is not of the same design that I normally use. I wonder why was that... it must be a Sunday when I assembled it where I ran out of parts and all shops closed. At lease that what I told myself... to make it OK for this blunder.

As photo above the fail siphon use threaded coupling instead of the tank adapter that I normally use for my standard design on the right.

There is a slight difference in its inner diameter between the two as shown below. The failed siphon using threaded adapter is slightly smaller inner diameter as compared to the one on the right. This slight difference make it behave differently hence require slightly different water inflow setting to the other siphon.

What prompt me to check it is that while I am cleaning the siphon with a bottle brush, I feel restricted in pushing the brush into the failed siphon. This is the first indication to me that its not identical to the rest. Its been quite a while since I last cleaned it, and all this while I just adjust water inflow to make it good.

Finally its fixed .. :)

Home Kit - Dismantling

Today I had to dismantle my home kit, need the space for something else. Learned a lot from it and I must say its a successful setup giving plenty of herbs for the kitchen.

Fishes and plants I've transferred to my main set up and I'll concentrate on this main set from now on. My experimenting on siphon more or less over for the time being and I am set to continue with checking few plants and vegetable next on my Aquaponics experiments.

I have not decide what to do with it, my in law is moving few doors away and they are keen to have it in their backyard. That's a good idea, I still can check on it every now and then.

I am also thinking of redoing it, using 2 smaller growbed instead of the current big one. In this case its more of an experiment. A nursery growbed with removable tray with smaller growbed material is what I have in mind.

So until then the setup will be stacked in the alley behind my backyard.

Aquaponics - Nostalgia

Found these old photos, of my 2nd generation setup.. the 1st gen I am unable to locate the photos. This setup was before I make the existing siphon.

The siphon design is straight stand pipe with some holes on the end I'm experimenting at that time.

The reliability is unpredictable, only one growbed due its very difficult to get it going without fault.

You can see from above photo, its very close to the design that I use today..., this is almost the time where I shouted "eureka" and its works without problem. 

The holes on the end of the stand pipe was for an experimental siphon, it have a bell within a bell... I am trying hard to make it cutoff ... it work but the inner bell keeps dropping of the stand pipe.

Water flushing over a very long drain tube....

Fish mostly goldfish and KOI

Due to difficulties in getting it to work properly, I only have one growbed... and conduct all experimenting on siphon from this one growbed.

Now its so easy... no more guessing game and worries whether "Will my siphon works... tomorrow" and "what is it to make it stop" kinda questions....

During this period I never try siphon with breather tube on the side, not sure why. It could be that I did not notice that design, its a blessing also otherwise I may be stuck with it and do not experiment further to get other alternative.

Just to share some of my earlier... trials and errors... wish I could find my first set up photos.... that's is priceless to me... 


Kunyit Leaves

Turmeric leaves are use locally as flavouring in Malay dishes, these leaves can make good cash crop to provide sustainability for the Aquaponics setup. Normally 3 leaves average size of 1 feet long sell for RM 1.00 that's US 0.30 so roughly US 0.10 per leaf.

Its rain very heavy today and strong wind makes matter worst, I had to harvest a lot of Turmeric leaves as shown above due wind damaged.  Roughly about 50 pieces harvested today, estimated retail value of USD 5.00, these about half  of what still available on the growbed.

I am taking this to the office tomorrow and gives it to my colleague, the ladies will loves these small "gift"

Siphon - Revised

Note : Further design improvement of this siphon : Here

I had many feed back regarding the siphon design on usage of smaller funnel inlet to the stand pipe. My standard design make use of 50mm ~ 25mm reducer as illustrated below.

I decided to redo this valve with 40mm ~ 25mm reducer as shown below and see how it goes. Its still too early for me to say whether its working without problem but so far the result  is positive.
With this reduction to the stand pipe inlet size it will then be possible to reduce the overall size of this valve and still maintain the same siphon muscle to the growbed.

During initial testing of this smaller size inlet, I found that it needs more inflow of water to create the siphon this in effect could reduce ranges this siphon will work. What I suspect is as you are nearing the stand pipe size in this case 25 mm more inflow will be needed to create a siphon.
Photo above is the standard siphon on the left with the reduced inlet on the right, both these siphon is identical  in its size with only difference is the reducer used.

Photo below for the standard siphon from top, with water overflowing and down the 25 mm stand pipe.
Photo below is the 40mm inlet siphon, note that the bell and strainer pipe is still using the existing which is for the 50mm inlet siphon.

I will need to fabricate entirely new bell and strainer to ensure it is better matching the smaller inlet diameter.
I turn one of my growbed into a testing bed for the siphon, it work just fine. Proper size pipe needed for the bell, ideally the bell pipe should be about 70mm but this tube size is not available so I settle with 82mm sewage tube which is smaller in diameter than a 80 mm pvc water pipe.
More testing need to be done, I should make a siphon tester next. Doing test on growbed is just too risky for the plant.
The 82mm sewage tube I use cling wrap plastic to seal one end making the bell, I could not find an end cap for it.

I did a quick comparison test on the revised siphon on my home kit. 

The setup is as follows;
  • Water in flow is provided by 1 pump rated at 1100 litre/hour (actual in flow is less due to height)
  • Siphon Bell diameter of 75 mm (internal)
What changes are the stand pipe size as follows;
  • 50 ~ 25 mm reducer with stand pipe
  • 40 ~ 25 mm reducer with stand pipe
  • 25 mm stand pipe extender - straight stand pipe.
Photo above from left to right are; 50~25mm reducer, 40~25mm reducer, 25mm pipe extender and 75mm siphon bell (using cling wrap to make it air tight)

The test did was a simple siphon starting time using stop watch. The stop watch is started as soon as over flow is detected from the siphon outlet and stop when full flow occur. Time taken will be the siphon starting time at same water inflow for all the different setup.
Photo above is the full flow of the siphon.

BTW Siphon outlet can be like this with slight restriction if you choose not to use the elbow type.

Tabulated below are the results of this simple test, and it may change the way how I make my future siphon.
As you can see from the above, time taken for siphon to start reduce significantly from the bigger diameter to the smaller diameter pipe. It took 55 seconds to start a siphon for the stand pipe using 50~25mm reducer down to about 5 seconds it take for the straight stand pipe.

However on the 25mm straight stand pipe, siphon do not reset causing the dreaded equilibrium flow. The above short test clearly show the 40~25mm reducer siphon is the best option in this situation.
Above is the equilibrium flow, water continuously flowing out the growbed non stop causing the low water level phenomena. Apart from causing this, the straight stand pipe also has an almost silent down flow with minimal water disturbance or noise as compare to the stand pipe using the reducer as below.
I will do more test, to check which siphon will deplete the growbed water more and what effect does the outer bell size has on the siphon effectiveness.

I am changing the siphon sizes to make it more efficient and better reliability. However this is still to soon for me to make any concrete statement on the smaller size funnel usage.

It does looks good, so I am retrofitting one growbed with this size siphon.

No luck today, hardware store here don't stock 65mm PVC pipes and fittings. They say there is no demand for such size. Being an uncommon size I am reluctant to include it in my siphon part list.

Instead of getting the 65mm pipes I bought three 32 x 25 mm reducer to try out. Photo below show it along side the 40 x 25 mm reducer.
I am testing it now, so far so good no equilibrium flow. I am thinking of making my valve kit available for those that have difficulties in getting the correct size fittings to make their own. Since all 3 sizes will work with my standard valve size i.e the bell and strainer pipe.

I think why not include all three reducer in the kit, this way user can try out which one is best for their setup. It going to cost extra but not by much.

So if I homemade siphon kit as below and make it available worldwide will people want it ?

The kit will be build as below :

Include all these three reducer in the kit, it should very much cater for most people needs.
Updates : 29th May - Final

After a lot of testing, assessment on parts I found that the viable improvement on the siphon design is to reduce the funnel size by using the 40x25mm reducer without any other changes to the initial bell size.

This will allow user to use various sizes of reducers as shown above while maintaining commonality across the design of the 25mm size variant.

On variant that use 15mm or other size you just have to use reducer/adapter funnel size and bell size to suit your installation.

The principle concept and design of this design remains unchanged only slight alteration to its dimensions due to parts differences at different locations.

Updates : 30th August 2010

Siphon outlet for high water level is completed and can be view here the completed work. Simplified diagram as below.

This is a diagram of the revised siphon, material use are estimate base on industry stand PVC pipe available in the market here.

I need to check local hardware store this weekend to get all the sizes mentioned below.
There will be a limit to how small a siphon can be made to work with average size grow bed. One thing that we need to take into account is maintenance.

If the siphon is made too small then it might make it prone to clogging by roots growth and it could also be difficult to clear it of root growth due to limited access.

Additional note :

Due to non availability of the 65 mm pipe, all siphon dimension are the same on both the 50 mm and 40 mm reducer type. They can be use in same installation by just replacing the adapter part,  I have use 40mm adapter for more than a few months without any problem.

Few Questions from Ty

Hey Affnan, Great work with blog very informative. I setup 6 grow bed made from 55 gallon drums cut in half vertical. I plan on taking some pictures and submitting on how its layout is once I get everything up and running since winter is officially over.   My question to you however is I want to try and grow some rooting vegetables and I read that this is best in a tight grow media. I've read that a pure vermiculite,  and perlite would be a good mix for this.  I just wanted to get your input on this.

One more question, which I can't seem to find any information online. What are your thoughts are a growing medium that is 100% carbon (activated charcoal)? Seems like it would work nicely due to the high surface area and bacteria able to colonize more efficiently 

Thanks for your time.


Hello Ty..

You sure have some interesting question there...

On vermiculite and perlite to be honest with you I never have these materials here. looks like both of these product have large surface area and light. If they don't crumble into tiny pieces then its not a problem to use.

I never tried these materials it would be difficult for me to make accurate recommendation, perlite is volcanic rock hope it do not remain floating otherwise it will be difficult in using it for growbed. This also applicable to vermiculite.

Generally only two things to consider when choosing growbed materials, 1 its must not remain floating, 2 it must not breakdown into tiny pieces then it may cause water clogging in the growbed.

On activated charcoal, we use it here for growing Orchids in pots. These are wood base charcoal  and they didn't give any problem to plants. In Aquaponics since its immersed in water half of the time, it may absorb the ammonia from the fish tank. Whether this will have any effect on plant growth again I can't confirm, if you are willing to try then it would be a good knowledge for everyone doing Aquaponics.

Hope this help.



CHOPS stand for Constant Height One Pump System, is Murray Hallam's System from Practical Aquaponics. This system reduce the number of pump required as in their earlier setup, and I can say its quite an ingenious system.

Apart from the reduce number of pump to one, this system will make the fish more comfortable due to more water in the system and the level do not change much during operation.

Below a simple diagram on the basic of CHOPS, in Murray's site there is a better illustration on the system.

Note :

  • To avoid confusion on CHOPS installation, please refer to Murray Hallam's DVD or his other instruction on how-to construct this system. The illustration I made here is for brief explanation on basic CHOPS concept.

  • Please check CHOP 2 it is an improvement of this : Here

On the above diagram I do not include the fingerling tank on the return line, this is optional in my opinion and it do not change the way this system work.

This system, water in the fish tank is maintained at a constant height above delivery pipe outlet, water flowing out will be distributed to growbeds and subsequently controlled by siphons. Its doesn't matter what type of siphon used here, if its work for you then its good.

Growbed outlet water collected by a sump tank and returned to Fish tank by a pump, according to information from Murray Hallam's site the pump is running 24/7. However I don't see the reason why it cannot be shut off at night. 

One aspect of this system I find beneficial is the pump located after growbed, this reduce pump maintenance significantly due to "filtered water" in the sump.

As mentioned earlier this is an ingenious system, but with any Aquaponics system there are pros and cons. I do not practice this due to one simple fact that my backyard is too small for such a setup, so I am not able to elaborate on this design.

I do wish this system can be shut off at night, partly because noise, energy saving, reduce pump maintenance and also it will give some species of plants a time to grow and stabilized during that period.

To switch off the pump at night, it may need a bigger sump tank to hold all the water above the fish tank outlet. How big is the sump tank will depend on the size of the fish tank.

A word of caution on any sump tank system in equatorial & tropical regions you must ensure mosquito cannot breed in the tank, by either covering it with nettings or have few larvae eating fish reside in the sump.

With this system, it give Aquaponics enthusiast more way to setup their system and see which is suitable for their location, budget and space.

Updates - 2nd May 2010

Not much been happening, waiting for those seeds that I sow to germinate. I got the feeling that's something wrong with it.

Been raining on and off, causing water logged in the sowing tray. I need to put fresh seed, because apart from the three seedling nothing else germinate. Thanks to Amir, he pulled out those 3 when I am not watching. He may have though its weed or something.

I cut up few "Sambung Nyawa" and gave it to the Tilapias, its good for their diet. Its best to give them early in the morning where the leaves are softer and Tilapias are hungry.

Kangkong is easier for the Tilapias due to its softer leaves, Sambung Nyawa are harder.

Tilapias having a go at their new feed.

Its advisable to throw the leaves with their branches so that it will not clogged the pump and easier to pick up the left overs

Another type of leaves that Tilapia eat is Tapioca leaves which is  also being use for catfish.

Duck weed is popular, but Tapioca, Kangkong and Sambung Nyawa are easier to cultivate here.

Siphon haven't give me any problem, sometimes I forgot that they are there.

Updates - 030510

After 24 hours, all leaves being strip off the branches.

That's more of it where it comes from... 

That's all for now.