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DIY Rain Gutter Aquaponic System

DIY Rain Gutter Aquaponic System

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Here’s an extremely efficient and inexpensive gardening idea.  This awesome DIY system from Morningstar Fishermen combines aquaponic gardening with vertical gardening, using a few readily-available materials.  This simple setup makes a great DIY project that just about anyone can tackle on any budget.  It can be placed against the side of a house, shed, or fence as an alternative to growing food in the ground.

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We have featured several vertical rain gutter gardens in previous posts, as gutters make very convenient planters that can easily be attached to a wall or hung from a balcony or overhang for instant garden containers that can be “stacked” one on top of another.  This particular setup takes advantage of this idea with the added benefit of aquaponic growing, so the water and nutrients required for the plants to grow optimally are provided by a fish tank below the setup.

The system works by pumping water from a fish tank set on the ground up into the topmost gutter.  The water drains through a hole in this gutter down into the gutter below it.  The water flows through each gutter in this manner until it drains from the bottom gutter back into the fish tank.  The cycle repeats itself continuously.  These closed-loop systems use much less water than other types of gardens and the fish provide a natural fertilizer for the plants.

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To build this system, you will need 3 10-foot aluminum gutters, 3 coupling adapters, a rubber hose, a fish tank, a small fountain pump, about 4 feet of PVC pipe, silicon sealer, 4-inch plastic pots for the plants, and grow medium.  These materials will be sufficient to make a 3-tiered system, but this could easily be expanded to more layers if desired.  The length of the hose used will depend on the height of the topmost gutter.

You will want the water to flow through the gutters in a Z pattern, so begin the installation of your system by drilling a hole in the bottom of each gutter, on the opposite side of the hole in the gutter above it.  Cut the PVC pipe into lengths slightly shorter than what the distance between the gutters will be once they are on the wall.  Attach the pipe lengths to the hole drilled in each of the gutters with the adapter and silicone.  Once the silicone is dry, the gutters can be mounted on the wall.

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Once the gutters are attached to the wall, the tank can be set up below them and the fish can be added.  The hose is attached to the pump within the tank and run up to the top gutter.  Next, the plants can be planted in the pots in the grow medium and placed into the gutters.

The grow medium used in this example system is a 3-to-1 ratio of coconut fiber and Biochar, though just about any lightweight medium suitable for aquaponic growing will work.  Many of these materials can be found used at a reduced cost, or even for free.  Gutters can often be found at used materials stores or on Craigslist.  The fish tank can be made from just about anything that will safely hold fish.

Images and information via Morningstar Fishermen.

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John W. Kerr

Saturday 28th of March 2020

When I was a kid, I came up with my own aquaponic gutter system, of sorts. There was a house in our neighborhood whose gutters became blocked with leaves so badly that small trees started to grow in it. It inspired me to make some mud balls with a mix of seeds I got for 5-cents-per-pack. My buddies, and I, tossed the mud balls onto the roof where they rolled into the gutter and sprouted. As they grew, I could tell they needed some fertilizer, and to keep it organic I figured it would be a good idea to fertilize them like the Native Americans did, with fish. There was a drainage system that was over-populated with sunfish so densely we could scoop them out with a bucket. Being highly practiced and skilled with a good-old-fashioned apple-pitchin' stick, I cross-applied the knowledge to pitchin' the sunfish onto the roof. As it happened the sunfish didn't slide into the gutter, but rotted in place, slowly feeding the plants. It grew to a lovely mix of lettuces, beans, corn, and a few mixed flowers. There were a couple problems with my system, though. For one, it was on the path my step-father took to get on the train everyday. One day my mother walked with him, saw my crop, and the dead fish, and concluded there could be only one person in the world who would do something like that, and it was me. The other big problem was that my fellow miscreants took the idea of fish-pitchin' to an extreme. Came to be that a few roofs and lawns in the neighborhood were so covered with dead fish that it looked like they had hired Aquaman as a roofer and landscaper. One house had it so bad the owners had to put on new shingles, but they did have the greenest lawn in the neighborhood thanks to the fish emulsion that flowed from their gutters.

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