DIY Aquaponics: How to Build a Self-Watering Rain Gutter Garden (step-by-step)

Maybe you’ve been interested in getting into aquaponics to grow your own fresh veggies and herbs (and fish!), but you think it’s too complicated, expensive, or the DIY systems you’ve seen are too fugly. This guide explains step-by-step how to build this unique aquaponic rail garden.

diy aquaponics
rain gutter hydroponic garden
  • Garden Dimensions: 40 ft of vertical grow space + 50 gallon fish pond
  • Space Used: 11.5 x 1.5 ft on a concrete Southeast-facing patio (direct sunlight approx. 6am-2 pm)

chard

  • Time to Build: approx. 4-6 hours
  • Weekly maintenance: feed your fish, drop some seeds, and relax to the trickling noises

tinybeans

To learn the basic science underlying this water-saving method of growing plants and fish together, skim Aquaponics 101 before getting started.

Hardware List

Hardware Units Store CA Cost Per Unit CA Total Cost
10 ft. vinyl gutter 4 Hardware Store $5.23 $20.92
Gutter end cap set of 2 4 Hardware Store $5.78 $23.12
#9 2-1/2 in. tempered steel nails – 1 lb pack 1 Hardware Store $5.67 $5.67
#8 x 1 in. zinc-plated steel wood screws – 6 pack 3 Hardware Store $1.18 $3.54
Loctite PL premium construction adhesive 1 Hardware Store $4.81 $4.81
1/2 in. in-line shutoff valve 2 Hardware Store $1.98 $3.96
1/2 in. M x F swing joint elbow 2 Hardware Store $2.47 $4.94
1/2 in. E-Z barbed coupling 2 Hardware Store $0.70 $1.40
1/2 in. barb tee 1 Hardware Store $0.65 $0.65
35 gallon patio pond (or similar) 1 Hardware Store / Amazon $34.98 $34.98
2x4x8 Pressure Treated Fir Lumber 8 Hardware Store $4.27 $34.16
Heavy duty dual outlet plug-in timer 1 Amazon $10.49 $10.49
1.25 cubic feet Growstones 1 Amazon $39.47 $39.47
Air Pump 1 Amazon $15.32 $15.32
1/2 pond tubing – 12 ft. 1 Amazon $11.97 $11.97
EcoPlus submersible pump 1 Amazon $23.62 $23.62
 TOTAL $168.59

Aquaponic Rail Garden Design

Material Prep

Saw/cut four (4) 2x4x8 lumber such that you have two (2) of each of the following length boards:
  • 2” x 4” x 4′
  • 2” x 4” x 5′
  • 2” x 4” x 10”
  • 2” x 4” x 21”
  • 2” x 4” x 14.5”

Cut the 1/2” pond tubing such that you have the following length tube pieces:

  • Two (2) x 8” long pieces of 1/2” pond tubing.
  • Two (2) x 8 ” long piece of 1/2” pond tubing.
  • One (1) x 30” long piece of 1/2” pond tubing

Fish Tips: Unless you already have a fish tank, wait to stock your pond with fish until *after* your system is fully built and cycling. Only use tilapia if you live in a warm climate like Hawaii, otherwise you will spend extra $$$ on electricity to heat the water. Trout and bass are great for cooler climates. If you are able to, dig a hole in the ground for the fish pond. If the pond in the picture below were below ground, it would be easier to stabilize the water temperature, plus you could fit another rail layer on the same partial A-frame for just another $50.

photo (44)  photo (HI AP7)

STEP 1: Build the Short Wall

  • Align the two 4 ft. pieces of lumber side-by-side, perfectly parallel 57 in. apart.
  • Lay a full 2x4x8 piece of lumber horizontally across (“Top Lateral“)  on top of the 4 ft. legs.
  • Align the right side of this lateral 1 in. from the top of the right leg.
  • Align the left side of this lateral 5 in. from the top of the left leg.
  • Secure the three boards by hammering two (2) steel nails in each area where they cross.
  • Lay another 2x4x8 piece of lumber horizontally across (“Lower Lateral”)  on top of the 4 ft. legs.
  • Align the left side of this lateral 15 in. from the top of the left leg
  • Align the right side of this lateral 23 in. from the top of the right leg.
  • Secure the three boards by hammering two (2) steel nails in each area where they cross.

STEP 2: Build the Tall Wall

  • Align the two 5 ft. pieces of lumber side-by-side, perfectly parallel 57 in. apart.
  • Lay a full 2x4x8 piece of lumber horizontally across (“Top Lateral“) on top of the 5 ft. legs.
  • Align the right side of this lateral 1 in. from the top of the right leg.
  • Align the left side of this lateral 5 in. from the top of the left leg.
  • Secure the three boards by hammering two (2) steel nails in each area where they cross.
  • Lay another 2x4x8 piece of lumber horizontally across (“Lower Lateral“) on top of the 5 ft. legs.
  • Align the left side of this lateral 15 in. from the top of the left leg
  • Align the right side of this lateral 23 in. from the top of the right leg.
  • Secure the three boards by hammering two (2) steel nails in each area where they cross.
        photo (HI AP10)             photo (HI AP11)

STEP 3: Attach Grow Rails (Rain Gutters) to Each Wall

  • Apply construction adhesive to backside of each vinyl gutter using a caulk gun and securely attach on the top and back side of its respective 2×4 lateral on its respective Wall.
  • Allow to dry while leaning both Walls upright for 24 hours (optional)
  • Drill six (6) to seven (7) screws, about equal distances apart, to secure each gutter to it’s board.

photo (HI AP1)

STEP 4: Put Together the Partial A-Frame

  • Create a partial A-frame w/both Walls created in Steps 1 & 2. (Short Wall will lean more than the Long Wall)
  • Secure Both Walls together using remaining lumber cut to differing lengths during prep stage.

ZIGG step 5 collage

STEP 5: Plug and Grow!

    • Fit all four (4) sets of gutter end caps on each end.
  • Drill one (1) 1/2” diameter hole in the center of each end cap In the two (2) end caps on the right-side of the Top Lateral on each Wall.
  • Insert the two 8” long pieces of 1/2” pond tubing through the 1/2” drilled holes on the right-hand top side of each Wall. Connect a 1/2” in-line shut-off valve on the inside end of the 8” long tubing to allow for the control of water flow down each rails. Connect a barbed elbow to the other end of the 8” tubing in the Long Wall and a barbed coupling to the other end of the 8” long tubing on the Short Wall. Using the barbed tee and 1/2 tubing cut to the appropriate length, connect the 8” pieces to a longer piece that will connect to the submersed pump, as pictured.
  • Drill four (4) small centimeter wide holes to allow the water to drip down each to the lower gutter In the two (2) end caps on the left side of the Top Lateral and the two (2) end caps on the right end of the of the Lower Lateral.
  • Leave the remaining two (2) end caps without holes.
  • Plug the water pump to the outlet plug-in timer and set it to run 15 minutes on / 45 minutes off every hour.
  • Plug in the air pump into the outlet (without any timer).
  • Switch on the system and add your GrowStones (or pebbles — whatever grow medium you want). Wait a few weeks, then add some fish, plant your heirloom seeds, and watch things grow!

ZIGG front planted

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Urban American Gothic Farmers
Urban American Gothic Farmers by Brandon Martella

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