Our Low-Cost DIY Rain Barrel Aquaponics System


There's always something new to experiment with as homesteaders, especially when it comes to one particular tool that we always seem to have excess of: rain barrels. Our Appalachian homestead runs entirely on rain water, so these rain barrels are invaluable to us, but sometimes we still have far more than we need. A few weeks ago, my husband found an innovative way to use two of them; by creating an eco friendly, self sustaining aquaponics system that fits right in our home, and with any luck, will soon be producing vibrant greens and tasty tilapia for us to snack on all year long. 

For less than the cost of a regular fish tank, we know get to raise our own fish and greens for a miniscule amount of fossil fuels. It's an exciting step for us towards self sufficiency, and we want to share our methods with you, too.

In the past year, we've experimented with many different forms livestock and home-based butchering. We've successfully mastered raising, breeding and butchering our own meat rabbits and even raised our first pig in a pallet-constructed pig pen before butchering him on our property over the holidays, but starting an aquaponics system was decidedly more tech-involved. Nonetheless, we think it was well worth the effort and should benefit our homestead for years to come.

What Is Aquaponics?

By definition, an aquaponics system is a blend of aquaculture (the cultivation of fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water instead of soil). The benefit of combining these two ideas is that plants and fish actually help each other thrive. Fish poop and uneaten food scraps infuse the water with nutrients, which act as a natural fertilizer for the plants growing above. In the same way, the work of the pump in the system aerates the water for the fish, keeping them healthy. It’s a closed loop system where waste is constantly recirculated for the benefit of all organisms.

There are plenty of professional aquaponics systems on the market today, but none can come as cheaply as our simple rain barrel model. Best of all, our system has a capacity of over twenty full grown tilapia, ensuring that it's well worth the space it takes up in the pantry.

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