A very inexpensive, basic, easy and popular hydroponic system is the bucket system. It is easily made using 5 gallon buckets, mesh pots, assorted fittings and a little ingenuity.
It can be designed for fairly maintenance free automation.
- 5 Gallon Plastic Buckets
- Black Tubing
- fish tank air pump
- quality nutrient solution
- Mesh Pots[s]
Food grade buckets are best, but you can also use the ones you buy at the hardware store for paint – so long as no paint has actually ever been in them. Darker colored buckets are best, white ones will suffice but are not the best, as lighter colors will allow too much light to penetrate.
A simple Single Bucket system can be set up. Cut a hole in the lid of the bucket sized to allow your mesh pots to nest in them without falling through.
Add your pH adjusted solution to the bucket.
Attach your air-stone to the pump with tubing and place it in the solution for oxygenation.
Place the mesh pot with plant and grow media in the hole you made for it, allowing the bottom of the roots to rest in the water. Assuming you have a viable light source and ventilation you now have a simple hydroponic set up going. When you are ready to expand your operation you can add more buckets either solo or in an array.
Expanded Bucket Systems use either 4 or 8 buckets set up in a line, with one bucket serving as a reservoir for circulating returning water from the growing buckets.
For each bucket, roughly 2 inches above the bucket bottoms cut holes to match the size of the marine fittings you will be using. The fittings are generally either 3/4″ or 5/8″ Rubber Gaskets are also necessary on the inner and outer sides of the fittings to prevent leakage. Silicone sealant is sometimes used also.
Gravity can be used to allow the water to filter through the grow media to the buckets bottom. A small pump will be needed to circulate amongst the buckets. A low volume and low voltage pump is just fine.
Tubing is strung along the bucket tops and solution fed through these tubes and dripped onto the media where it filters through for use by the roots system, is retruned by gravity to the bucket and eventually the primary reservoir to be recirculated. The feed line carrying the solution to the plants may need to be anchored under some of the grow medium.
As you gain proficiency in your hydroponic endeavors you can enhance your system one step at a time. Adding buckets as you go.
You might also want to try various configurations – such as dual drip lines which some growers use, emitters for precise liquid measurement and distribution. Growing several plants per bucket which would require several smaller holes and pots.