It is so easy to make your own homemade hydroponic system for cheap!
There are so many different techniques and locations (indoors or outside) that you can choose to grow your first set of plants in a hydroponic system. We choose to grow outside (without artificial lighting) and during the summer in Atlanta (hot hot hot).
We choose to use the “deep water culture” method (as opposed to a “drip”, “ebb and flow” or “multi-flow” method) for our trial (Buy a Deep Water Culture System). This way we could learn how to grow outside during the summer months and then move it inside during the winter months and buy some grow lights and possibly a grow box if it is too bright with all the lights.
Here is a list of what to buy in preparation for your 1 hour of installing the system.
1. Water Reservoir: We used a 5-gallon bucket from local hardware store (we found ours at Lowe’s) costing between $2.50 to $6.00 per bucket. We selected the “food grade” and “BPA free” bucket for $5.50 since it will be sitting in the sun and we didn’t want to have any risk of unwanted chemicals in the water.
2. Water Reservoir Cover / Plant Holder: This is one of the benefits of creating your own homemade hydroponic system because you can choose how many and how big of a plant you want to grow in the system. We choose to cut two 4-inch holes in our lid to allow two tomato sized plants to grow (see picture above). These were sold separately and priced around $2.00. We like that we can switch the hole configuration anytime we want to change plant sizes. For the “plant holder” you can either find a plastic plant container commonly sold with plants growing in soil and put hole throughout the container, purchase a plant container for less than a $1. We couldn’t find either of those at the local Lowe’s so we found a 4 inch drainage filter in the plumbing section that cost under $5 and will work to hold the growing media.
3. Growing Media: There are so many types of growing media that you can purchase, however since we didn’t have access to a hydroponic store, we used river pebble found at Lowe’s. This is not the best for long-term growing media, however it will serve the purpose for our first homemade hydroponic grow system. We will probably upgrade to a grow media and buy it online for our next phase of testing the different media types (future blog posting).
4. Oxygen / Air Supply: When you create a “water culture” system, you need to supply your plant’s root system with some oxygen and since the roots are submerged in water a simple aquarium pump will do the trick. We found ours at the local pet store in the aquarium section and choose a version with 2 outputs so that we could run two separate lines into our two buckets for about $24 dollars. You may want to buy a one-way valve for your new hydroponic system depending on where your pump is located so that water does not flow back into the pump if the power is turned off (we keep our pump on a stand that is higher than the water level so the water won’t be able to come back into the pump and saved us a couple of dollars).
5. Tubing: We wanted to allow for our pump to be plugged in on a patio and then be able to move the bucket system around to optimize the best lighting as the season changes, so we purchased the 20 foot length and cut it in half (approximately $5). Hint: After researching some best practices and talking to local enthusiasts, we choose to use a black tubing so that the sunlight would not penetrate the tube and begin to grow mold in our tubing.
6. Bubbler: Since we are going to have 2 plants growing we need the oxygen bubbles to feed both plants, so we purchase two types of “bubblers” that will be a the bottom. The picture below shows the design that we selected for our first bucket and will review how it works in a later post (approximately $5 to $15).
7. Nutrients: The plants will need nutrients, so we purchased a few different types to test in our homemade hydroponic bucket system. We will review the performance of each solution in a later post, however at this point we recommend purchasing a nutrient solution made for hydroponics. Hint: We tried a version available at Lowe’s by Miracle Grow and our plants did not really like the mixture because it seemed to have a lot more nitrogen than the hydroponic grow solution. Here is a nice blog describing “Growing Plants Indoors” to help with this issue.
8. Water Testing: Not all water is the same and you need to worry about the nutrient levels and make sure that your plants do not turn the water too acidic from their growth processes. We did not think we needed this type of testing; however we were wrong. We plan a future blog about what “not to do” from our lessons learned and hopefully save you some time and effort with making those same mistakes. The two types of testing devices needed include a PPM (parts per million) and PH testing. It is actually interesting to test your own drinking water and see how it compares to the recommended levels.
Tubing Installation (expected time of 10 minutes): With a drill, you will want to make a small hole that will allow the tube to enter into the bucket both above the water line and below the lid’s rim (see picture above). Then run your tube from the pump through the hole and connect to the bubbler at the bottom.
Lid Installation (expected time of 10 minutes): We choose two 4 inch holes and had a little saw to cut the hole. They didn’t look perfect (see picture), but they are functional and are covered up by the rim of our containers that will hold the river pebbles in the nutrient rich and oxygenated water. We did add some nutrient to the water (see the red tint), however found it to not be the best solution and will have a future blog post about what nutrients work best and what not to do with your first homemade hydroponic grow system.
We hope this helps you begin to experiment with a homemade hydroponic system and look forward to sharing our experiences (and some funny lessons learned.) The one big take away is that homemade systems are educational and fun, but we may need to purchase some more professional equipment if we really become good at growing our own plants.