Introduction: 55 Gallon Food Grade Barrel to Aquaponic System With Tank Window

For this project, you will need:

Two food grade 55 gallon barrels, one MUST be whole, bottom 12" must be intact (at least) on second barrel

a box of 1/4" by (1/2" long)Stainless steel carriage bolts (MUST BE STAINLESS STEEL) You wont need them all, but a box of 100 runs us under $8 at Ace Hardware (Try to support the little guy!).

A box of 100 staineless steel washers (about $3 to $4)

A box of stainless steel 1/4" nuts (under $7)

A piece of plexiglass (can be 1/8" the thin, cheap stuff) Ours was from scraps.

aquarium safe clear silicon (two tubes, it can probably be done with one, but get 2 just to be safe)

a small pond pump (we use 400 GPH pumps for our systems)

either a 10 foot stick of 1/2" PVC, or some scraps and fittings

two 1/2" PVC male adapters (slip to thread)

Two 1/2" PVC female adapters (also slip to thread)

A 3/4" TAP to thread a couple holes

a 3/4" hole saw and electric drill

A jig saw

A Sharpie (to mark out your cuts on the barrel)

some expanded clay or gravel (media)

A 12" piece of 4" PVC as a media guard

PVC cutters, or a way to cut PVC

A bell siphon (I wont cover that here, but there are a great many resources on this site, and you tube that will show you how to build one, and there are alternatives to the bell siphon that work well too.)

a 1/2" ball valve

I think that is about it.

Step 1: Prepare Your Fish Tank by Removing Top of Barrel, and Cutting Access Ports and Prepare Plexi Glass

Remove the top of the barrel, leaving a small lip inside of the top, to help the grow bed sit comfortably and use a ruler to mark out two squares on the top third of the barrel, ours are about 8 inches by 8 inches. Use a drill, to drill a hole in a corner of the marked area you plan to cut so that you can get your jigsaw blade in. make sure to make rounded corners to help the barrel keep its integrity. Remove any burrs left over after the cut. they can be picked off by hand, or a pocket knife works well also.

Now onto the plexiglass. I have found that the easiest way to cut plexiglass is with a jigsaw, mark out your rectangle, 11" tall, by 20" long, and put masking tape on the bottom side of the glass under your planned cuts. The tape prevents the plastic from fusing back together after the saw blade passes through making the cuts.

Once you have your 11" by 20" piece of plexi, mark out your bolt holes with the sharpie. I suggest going 2" apart, leave a 1"buffer between the edge of the glass, and the bolt holes. To drill the holes, I used a 3/8" drill bit. Make sure to run your drill backwards, and apply very little to NO pressure to avoid cracking the plexiglass. Once the plexi is drilled, remove burrs around your holes, and set a pizza pan in the oven upside down, preheat the oven to 250° Place the drilled plexiglass on the pan, and heat it for 5 to 6 minutes. It will start to sag a bit at this point and be soft enough to form. Using cotton gloves, remove the plexiglass from the oven, and place into your barrel, (make sure both the glass and barrel are CLEAN) and hold it inside the barrel for a couple minutes to make sure it forms to the curve of the barrel. Leave it there for about 10 minutes to cool fully before grabbing the drill again. It is now time to drill the barrel. Using the plexglass as a template, drill the middle holes on top and bottom of the window, and insert a bolt from the inside of the barrel to the out, and add a washer and nut. Next, drill out the holes on either side of this middle bolt, (top and bottom for a total of 4 holes) and add the bolts washers and nuts to these. Continue using this method drilling from the middle out and inserting bolts as you go until you reach the edge of the window. The side holes can all be drilled one after another on both sides and then bolts can be inserted.

Step 2: Mark Out and Cut Your Window Replace the Plexiglass

mark your barrel for the window, 1" inside the bolts, remove all the bolts (and window that is bolted inside of course), and use your pocket knife to remove the burrs inside the barrel from the drilling. once everything is smooth, use your drill to make a hole along your marked cut, and then your jigsaw to cut out the marked window. Remove the burrs, (with your pocket knife is easiest) and now get your silicon. Place a bead of silicon on both top and bottom of the bolt holes inside the barrel, and carefully replace the plexiglass using the same method as before to add the bolts. start in the middle, and work your way out to the edges, making them finger tight. once they are all in, grab a 1/4" box wrench and tighten down the bolts working in a circle, and tightening a little at a time. Expect to work your way around at least 3 times tightening little by little.

Step 3: Finish Window, Grow Bed, All Done!!

I like to put a bead of silicon on top of the bold heads as well, and smear it around to cover them. Let this sit AT LEAST overnight to cure, if not a little longer.

Now for the grow bed. Grab your second barrel.

Cut the bottom 12" (about a third of the barrel) off. you will need to use a 3/4" hole saw, and cut two holes in the bottom of this piece. one about in the middle for the drain, as well as one situated toward a side, for the feed from the pump. Each of these holes will need to be tapped, (threaded) with a 3/4" tap. Thread in your 1/2" male adapters from the top, and then add the female adapters on the underside of the bed, set up your bell siphon, media gaurd and inlet pipe on the hole in the middle of the bed, and your pump will attach underneath to the fitting you have created on the side. fill your media bed with expanded clay, or gravel, and get some plants in! You may need a ball valve to control the water flow into the bed as well.

As an afternote, I suggest testing your window outside to confirm that there are no leaks before setting it up inside!!

If you are new to aquaponics, no not be discouraged if you do not get insane plant growth the first few months. You are working with a natural ecosystem here, that requires certain bacteria to and other critters to complete the circle, and things take time. Oce the system is established, you will be amazed! A great idea for a kitchen herb garden!!

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