Eating Out of the Gutter…Literally

….rain gutters of course! Suzanne has become a celebrity for her ingenuity. Her resourcefulness finds a practical application for reusing rain gutters.

By Susanne Forsling

I am from Iowa, so I have an inherent need to grow vegetables. Each winter, I dream up ways of trying to garden in Juneau’s environment which, so far, has really frustrated me.

Nothing I tried works very well. Like many homes in the Juneau area, our yard has its problems. We live near the glacier, so the soil is cold and has very little organic matter, there are lots of big trees shading it, and we have all the slugs and root maggots anyone could want, with porcupines, cats, bears and ravens meandering to boot.

There is only one side of our house that gets much sunshine, and, of course, that side of the house has the smallest yard. It is really just an alleyway between ours and the neighbors. I might eventually put in some cold frames, but can’t really afford that this year with all the extra money going to the high energy and food prices.

So my brain has kept working the issue, even while I was asleep. One morning in late May, I woke up with an idea that seems to be a real solution for our situation, and I thought it might help others as well. I had heard about people using rain gutters around deck railing at a master gardener class that I took this past spring from the Cooperative Extension Service.

But our deck is on the wrong side of the house. Then an idea came to me that was a little unusual and might involve a little risk. The idea is essential this: Why not put rain gutters in rows along the wood siding on the sunny side of the house. It might look weird, but that was where all the heat, sun and protection from damage is best. I talked to my husband, Pete, about it and he agreed it was worth a try.

We went to Home Depot and selected some “attractive” brown plastic gutters along with all the required parts so that we could mount them in one long row. (The total length or a row would be about 20 feet). Pete drilled some very small holes in the bottom of the gutters to let excess water drain out after he mounted them on the siding.

I filled the gutters with organic compost and soil to about half full. I put in some time release fertilizer and added the other half of the soil (the extra fertilizer was needed because I knew that frequent watering would drain out the nutrients quickly).

I packed the soil in firmly since the plants wouldn’t have a lot of it to grow in. Then I put the seeds in and watered it well. I also allowed water to run down the back side of the gutters (on the siding side) this time only, so that any soil left would be in the gutters and not hidden behind them to cause damage to the siding.

From then on, whenever I watered I was careful to only water in the gutters, attempting to keep the siding dry. It wasn’t hard because I used a watering wand attachment that I could easily control the hose output with. I also only watered enough to keep the seeds wet, so that the ground near the foundation of the house wouldn’t be too wet either.

The seeds I used were these: Simpson lettuce, variety lettuce, French breakfast radish, Swiss chard, beets and turnips. I also bought some green onions from the store and trimmed the roots and stuck them in the soil here and there to re-root.

The seeds opened like clockwork and turned into abundant seedlings. The radishes were ready in several weeks, delicious, beautifully red, white and long, as they should be. The Simpson lettuce is the best I’ve tasted. We put in two more rows of gutters under the initial row about two weeks later and planted it similarly.

We have salad every night now, and the turnips have lots of greens for cooking as well. I am about to replant the top radish row for a second, and likely a third crop. We should be able to have fresh greens etc. every year from June through at least Sept. I also have ideas about how to extend the growing season as well.


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  • Chris Higginson

    I think this is a fantastic idea.
    What may help to extend the growing season easily would be to hang a plastic translucent sheet down the side of the house over the gutters to conserve the heat, rather like a simple greenhouse, provided the neighbors don’t protest!
    You would need to secure it against wind and be able to “roller blind” it up in the heat of the day.
    I am sure you will find an ingenious way to do this.
    The benefit to your health will be enormous with this bio food readily available.
    Well done!

  • Derek

    Anyone interested in the above might like the following website, which is about sustainable solar-dynamic bio-benign design.

  • martin

    well done suzanne & pete. This is exactly the kind of simple but ingenious way people can reclaim their right to grow and eat healthy food, even in tight conditions. Thanks for sharing.

  • A marvelous lesson to those who say ” I can’t because…”

    I love it-will share.

    A blessed 2012 to you and Pete~

  • Jay @RedDawnPost

    Great thinking. I guess your limited to what you can grow, but at least they are able to grow something.

  • Sharada Rijal

    i am a handicrafts producer
    .but i have interest in home base farming as well i loved this idea .i will share it to other people as well

  • GeorgeOle George

    If we all did like this, there would be no hunger related deaths in Africa. Congrats! You both deserve a medal!