trey rice, david rose, katie ogden, josh wilson

what is aquaponics?

aquaponics is a closed-looped ecosystem between fish, microbes, and plants.  the fish produce waste which is then broken down by bacteria and microbes.  the nutrient-rich water is pumped up to the plants, who use the nutrients for growth. the water is then cleansed through the gravel, and returned to the fish tank.

how does aquaponics work?

how are we using aquaponics?

as part of our community garden research, we have been experimenting with aquaponics.  currently, we have a small fish tank in our studio where we have been conducting our research.  we started by thoroughly cleaning the tank and gravel, then cleansing the water with the appropriate chemicals. a few days later, we added danio and red platys fish to inhabit our aquaponic system, and we began testing the microbe levels of the water.  we also began growing seeds in window-side plastic bottles.  currently, we are waiting for sufficient nutrients to be charted, so that we can transfer our seeds into our system and hopefully begin a successful aquaponic environment.

what are the best types of plants to use for aquaponics?

future goals…

for the las lomas community, we plan to expand our aquaponics system into small-pond scale with multiple grow beds.  the plant-to tank ratio is 1 pint of water for four pints of plant, so with a pond sized system, we would hope to have at least 6 to 10 beds.  eventually, we would like to have tilapia or catfish to supplement our system.  Here is our proposed budget:


Hydroponics is a means of growing plants without soil, using nutrient rich water. This hydroponic system utilizes roof gutters to create a plant bed. —> this inspired our new system name: GutterPonics.


We chose to work with vinyl roof gutters because they are very inexpensive and can be easily modified and installed.

Quick list of materials:

roof gutter (10′ long-cut in half)

vinyl pipe (5/8” inside diameter)

water pump (from Petco-lowest speed)

plastic container (must not be clear)

miracle gro (or some other water soluble fertilizer)

gravel and lava rocks

We began constructing one unit of our hydroponic system.  First, we drilled holes in the endcap to fit the tubing through.  Water is pumped through one end of the gutter and is drained through the other.  We then cut holes in the container lid to allow both pipe ends to go through and for the water pump power cord.  In addition, we elevated the gutter using foam packing supplies so gravity could help drain the water.

Next, we filled the container with water about halfway.  Then, we ran the water pump and added the miracle gro to the water in the gutter letting the flow mix it.

First, we tried to fill the gutter with gravel as the grow media.  That did not end up working.  The water flowed on top of the gravel which would effectively drown the plants.  The water also did not flow through the gravel, it would pool at the end of the gutter.  This prompted us to look for other types of grow media.  We immediately thought of lava rocks which are bigger and more porous.

The lava rocks worked fantastically.  The only drawback was their size since plants need smaller growing medium for the grow bed.  We then decided to combine the gravel with the lava rocks and pour them on top along the gutter span.

We tilted the gutter slightly using a roll of tape to quicken the draining process and keep the gravel from damming up the water.

(This is an improvised strategy.  We are developing an alternative solution that involves a more stable structure.)

After all of this, we planted some seeds.  Right now there are lettuce, sunflower, and parsley seeds.  We also placed two orphaned agave plants in the gravel/lava grow bed.


We discovered that one of the sunflower seeds is starting to grow a root. We’ve also added some pepper, cucumber, and wildflower seeds to the gutter plant bed. We’ll post more pictures as soon as things start sprouting!

Update 2:

Some of our seeds are sprouting!!!  Here are some pictures.


We are using what we’ve learned so far to develop a small scale prototype that we’ll take to Las Lomas at the end of April. We want this prototype to engage the community in some way besides their interaction as it is assembled.

Thoughts about how to do this so far include the ability to add more nutrients. Since Miracle Gro is blue it would be fun to watch it spiral down a tube into the GutterPonics system after pressing a button etc.

Also we’re thinking that our prototype could be more educational — the gutter could be two halves that fit together, sealed with plexi glass, as two separate grow beds. These pieces could be split apart allowing observers to see flowing water and growing roots as well as the composition of the grow beds.


Overall, we want a theme of play and exploration for our combined design of a community garden – wax workshop – radio station complex. We also want to create and adaptable and customizable design so Las Lomas can make it their own.

The radio station will be a separate feature, either partly underground (taking advantage of the hilly terrain) or constructed of rammed earth for acoustical insulation. An adaption of the GutterPonic system will transform from  enclosing spaces to lining walkways and even creating large park areas. Any partially enclosed areas could be used for community functions such as wax workshops.

These are some quick sketches of a cohesive design for the wax factory/radio station/community garden.

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