This is a guide to raising and harvesting fish using a fish farm. A fish farm is a great idea, giving you tons of quality protein for a minimal time and money investment. It also pairs very well with worm composting, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re looking to diversify your food supply, give starting a fish farm strong consideration.


This set up can work for various kinds of fish, but works particularly well with:

  • Catfish
  • Bass
  • Carp
  • Bluegill

A typical 50-60 gallon barrel can house up to 40 fingerlings. They won’t be reproducing in these conditions, but they will grow to their adult size and be ready to eat.


This is a guide to building a functioning barrel aquarium for your fish.

What You’ll Need:

1)      A 50-60 gallon barrel. Plastic works well.

2)      Aquarium gravel.

3)      An aquarium water filter.

4)      A water tap and garden hose.

5)      A circulation pump or aerator.

6)      A thermometer.

7)      Water de-chlorination drops.

Putting It Together:

1)      Find a level area that receives partial shade, and is within reach of your garden hose.

2)      Place your barrel on the level area.

3)      Put 3-4 inches of aquarium gravel at the bottom of the barrel. Place an aquarium water filter firmly in the gravel (also called the substrate).

4)      Secure a garden hose to the barrel, at a level just above the gravel. This is where new water will be added- from the bottom up.

5)      Attach a circulation pump or aerator to ensure the water always has enough oxygen.

6)      Attach a thermometer to the inside of the barrel, at a level that will always be immersed in water. You want your water to stay within the 70-85F range. You may need to adjust how much sunlight your barrel receives to sustain this.

7)      Fill the barrel with water and treat it with de-chlorination drops.

8)      Cover the barrel with a pane of glass and let sit for 2 days so the temperature can stabilize.

9)      Add your fish.

Maintenance on Your Barrel Aquarium

Every day, remove 15 gallons from your barrel and replace it with fresh water that has been chlorine treated and allowed to sit in the sun for 5 hours.

Every month, empty the tank and replace all of the water.


Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

There are commercial fish foods available at most hatcheries and these will work fine. Each will come with their own instructions on how much to use for the type and amount of fish you have.

But a really cool idea is to build a worm composter, and feed your fish the worms from there. It’s possible to create a system where your kitchen and garden scraps feed your worms, your worms feed your fish, and your fish head to the kitchen to start the cycle anew. It’s a good permaculture environment to consider. If you’re interested, check out this detailed guide to worm composting.

If you go the worm route, you’ll want around 10,000 red wigglers to get you started with 40 fingerlings. You’ll need to feed your fish 50-100 worms a day, and the number will grow as the fish do.

Feed your fish at dawn and dusk, as these are the times they naturally eat in the wild.


When your fish reach adulthood, you can clean and gut them and use them for food. Empty your tank out, clean it and start the process again.

You can also go with a staggered approach, taking a few adult fish out at a time and replacing them with younger ones.

For a constant supply of fresh fish, start a new barrel every 2 months.

Here’s a very cool article on Aquaponics. It shows in great detail how to create a closed, independent  ecosystem with fish, microbes and plants that all feed each other in a continuous cycle.


Good luck and stay prepared!

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  1. Very cool idea.

  2. I agree! It seems to blow all other methods out of the water (pun intended) in regards to how much food and nutrients you get for the cost in time and money in takes. A very efficient method of producing food.

  3. How long does it take for them to reach adulthood? I have seen they grow an inch a month (catfish)..that doesnt seem feasible for someone who lives in colder climates, as it would be hard to keep it at the required temperature during the cold winter months.

    • Yeah that’s a good question. How long it takes for a fish to reach adulthood varies for each of them. Living in a colder climate though, you’d want to focus on smaller fish that reach full size quickly- some of the catfish, bass, etc. species take a few years to reach their full size of 1+ lb.

  4. How about a nice koi pond…sans koi and add catfish. Instead of moving a barrel in and out of shade build a little ornamental bridge or something that you can set to block more or less sun (to regulate temperature). This would be more attractive than a barrel and easier to go bigger. If I did a barrel I’d go full aquaponics and then I wouldn’t have to change out the water because the garden layer would filter it.

    Cool alternative I hadn’t thought of though.

  5. Yeah, those are all good ideas. A person with some experience should probably go in one of those directions. The hydroponics is a great idea, the more self-sufficient the system the better.

  6. I’ve seen a very cool setup online doing hydroponics here: I want to try something similar on a smaller scale. There’s an even better video showing something very similar, but I am currently unable to locate it. If I can find it later, I’ll post it. :)

  7. Yeah, that is a fantastic article. So good, in fact, I’m going to include a link to it in the article.

  8. Very good article, lots of great information. If they won’t bread in the barrel, how would you get them to breed?

  9. @Brandon: They need more space to breed, so the answer is less fish, or a larger barrel. You may also need to feed them more.

  10. Kilyoni Kilunde says:

    I want start fish farming

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