DIY Bucket Hydroponic System: The Complete Guide

DIY Bucket Hydroponic System: The Complete Guide

Bucket hydroponic systems are among the easiest hydroponic setups to build and maintain. This type of system is ideal if you are a beginner or just wanted to dip your toe into the world of hydroponic gardening. In this article, we’ll review the basics of hydroponic gardening and how to make your own DIY homemade hydroponic system.

(Featured Image: Hydroponic Lettuce Grown In Buckets by G. Minkhoff)

This post contains affiliate links to some of the materials needed for this system. We have tested these products and have used them to build our own hydroponic bucket system. We earn a small commission from purchases made through these links, thank you so much for your support!

Bucket Hydroponic System: The Basics

A bucket hydroponic system is a type of hydroponic system designed for growing big plants in a mesh pot, typically using buckets or similar containers as the primary growing vessels. This system is often used in small-scale or home hydroponic setups due to its simplicity and effectiveness.

Bucket hydroponic systems are suitable for various types of plants, including fruiting vegetables, herbs, and leafy greens. Gardeners can set up multiple buckets to create a small hydroponic garden, and because each bucket is separate, it allows for individualized care and adjustments to meet the specific needs of each plant.

What Type Of Plants Can Be Grown In A Bucket Hydroponic System?

A bucket hydroponic system is a small-scale, DIY hydroponic setup that can be used to grow a variety of plants. While the space limitations of a bucket may restrict the types and sizes of plants you can grow, there are still several plants that can thrive in such a system. Here are some options:

  1. Herbs: Herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley are excellent choices for a bucket hydroponic system. These types of herbs relatively shallow root systems and don’t require a lot of space.
  2. Leafy Greens: Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are well-suited for bucket hydroponics. They grow quickly and can be harvested multiple times.
  3. Strawberries: You can grow strawberries in a bucket hydroponic system, but they will require more vertical space. Consider using a hanging or tower-style system for strawberries.
  4. Cherry Tomatoes: Dwarf or cherry tomato varieties can be grown successfully in a bucket hydroponic system. You’ll need to provide support for the plants as they grow.
  5. Peppers: Smaller pepper varieties, like bell peppers or chili peppers, can be grown in a bucket system. Ensure they have adequate support for their growth.
  6. Cucumbers: Dwarf cucumber varieties are suitable for bucket hydroponics. Again, vertical support may be necessary as they vine and spread.
  7. Radishes: Radishes have shallow root systems and grow quickly, making them a good choice for a small hydroponic setup.
  8. Green Onions: Green onions, also known as scallions, can be grown in a bucket system. You can harvest them by snipping the tops as needed.
  9. Microgreens: Various microgreens, such as arugula, mustard greens, and radish sprouts, can be grown in a bucket hydroponic system. They’re perfect for small spaces and provide a quick harvest.
  10. Basil: Basil is a popular choice due to its compact size and strong growth. It’s also a versatile herb used in cooking.

Remember that proper lighting, nutrient levels, and water quality are essential for the success of your hydroponic plants, regardless of the type you choose to grow. Additionally, make sure to choose a suitable hydroponic growing medium, such as perlite, coconut coir, or hydroton, and follow a reliable nutrient solution regimen for your chosen plants to thrive.

A cannabis plant in a bucket hydroponic system that was built at home.

How To Make A DIY Bucket Hydroponic System

Materials Needed:

1. Buckets or Containers:

You’ll need one bucket or container (a 5-gallon bucket will do) for each plant you want to grow. These should be made of food-grade plastic and have a plastic lid with a small hole or premium net pots for plant support.

We love these 5-gallon buckets by United Solutions because they are food safe and very sturdy for hydroponic setups.

2. Growing Medium:

Choose a suitable hydroponic growing medium like perlite, coconut coir, hydroton (expanded clay pellets), or a mix of these. The growing medium supports the plant and provides stability.

We love these clay pebbles by Legigo because they are very easy to use for beginner growers. Clay pebbles like these are also able to be washed and reused many times.

3. Plants:

Select the type of plants you want to grow in your hydroponic system. Different plants have varying space and nutrient requirements, so choose accordingly. For a full rundown of the best kind of plants to grow in a hydroponic garden, we highly recommend “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Steven Dowding. This book is not specific to hydroponics, but is a very useful tool when planning out your indoor garden!

4. Nutrient Solution:

Purchase a hydroponic nutrient solution that is appropriate for the type of plants you’re growing. These solutions contain essential minerals and nutrients needed for plant growth.

For the majority of my hydroponic vegetables and herbs, we use “Grow Big” by Fox Farm. These nutrients are affordable and have delivered consistent results for our hydroponic plants.

5. pH and EC Meter:

You’ll need a pH meter to measure the acidity or alkalinity of the nutrient solution and an electrical conductivity (EC) meter to measure the concentration of dissolved minerals. These tools help you maintain the proper nutrient levels.

We purchased this 4-in-1 pH and EC meter by YINMIK and have enjoyed the fact that we only need one tool for all of our hydroponics measurements. We highly recommend investing in multipurpose tool like this to keep things organized in your hydroponic space.

6. Water Pump:

If you’re using a drip or recirculating system, you’ll need a water pump to circulate the nutrient solution from a reservoir to the buckets. There are a wide variety of pumps available on the market, all with various applications and abilities. If you’re just starting out, a basic pump like this one by Hydrofarm will be sufficient for your setup.

For a full guide on how to choose a water pump for your hydroponics setup, click here!

7. Tubing and Fittings:

For systems that require water circulation, you’ll need tubing and fittings to connect the water pump to the buckets and create a closed-loop system. The tubing and fittings needed for your setup will depend on which type of hydroponics method you use. An all-in-one tubing kit like this one by Aienxn will ensure you have all the tubing and pieces you’ll need.

8. Reservoir: A container to hold the nutrient solution. The size depends on the number of buckets and the water capacity needed for your system. Some bucket systems, like this all-in-one system by  HTG Supply, will just hold the water within the same growing bucket, eliminating the need for a separate reservoir.

9. Air Pump and Air Stones (Optional):

If you’re using deep water culture (DWC) or another system that requires aeration, you’ll need an air pump and air stones to provide oxygen to the roots. We prefer to use disc shaped air stones, like these round air stones by AquaticHI, because they deliver more even oxygenation to the root mass.

Support Structure (Optional):

For larger plants like tomatoes or cucumbers, consider a support structure like trellises or stakes to help the plants grow vertically and support their weight. You can make your own trellis using wire or string. Alternatively, you can purchase a simple, small trellis like this bucket trellis by Legigo.

Tools Needed:

  1. Drill: You’ll need a drill to create holes in the bucket lids for plant placement.
  2. Hole Drill Bit or Appropriate Hole Cutter: Use this to create holes of the appropriate size for your plants.
  3. Measuring Tape: To measure and mark hole placements accurately.
  4. Scissors or Pruning Shears: For cutting and trimming growing medium, tubing, and plant roots.
  5. Adjustable Wrench: For securing tubing fittings.
  6. Teflon Tape: To seal threaded connections and prevent leaks.
  7. pH and EC Calibration Solutions: These solutions are necessary for calibrating your pH and EC meters to ensure accurate readings.
  8. Marker: To label buckets and keep track of plant varieties and nutrient solution details.
  9. Grow Lights (Optional): If you’re growing indoors or in a location with inadequate natural light, you may need grow lights. LED or fluorescent grow lights are commonly used for indoor hydroponic systems.

Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Prepare the Buckets:
    • Clean and sanitize the buckets to ensure they are free from any contaminants. You can purchase an additional bucket to use as your water reservoir.
    • Drill a hole in the center of the lid that is large enough to accommodate the plant or a net pot. Alternatively you can purchase net pot bucket lids that already have the net pot built in. One bucket lid can typically hold one large plant or 3-4 small plants with a smaller net cup.
  2. Plant Placement:
    • Place the plant into the hole in the lid with its roots coming into direct contact with the growing medium. If using a net pot or mesh cup, insert it into the hole and secure the plant within it using the growing media.
  3. Add Grow Medium:
    • Fill the bucket with your chosen hydroponic growing medium around the plant. Ensure that the roots are adequately covered and supported by the medium.
  4. Mix Nutrient Solution:
    • Prepare a nutrient solution according to the instructions provided on the nutrient solution packaging. Ensure it’s properly mixed and balanced for the type of plants you’re growing.
  5. Fill the Reservoir:
    • Place the reservoir bucket at a lower level than the growing buckets. This allows gravity to assist in the flow of the nutrient solution to the buckets. Your water solution should near the top of the bucket.
  6. Connect Tubing and Water Pump (for Recirculating Systems):
    • If using a recirculating system, connect tubing from the water pump to each bucket lid. Ensure the tubing reaches the bottom of each bucket. These will be your drain lines.
    • Secure the tubing with fittings and use an adjustable wrench to ensure a tight seal.
    • Place the water pump in the reservoir.
  7. Fill the Buckets:
    • Fill each bucket with hydroponic nutrients and water until the growing medium is saturated and the plant’s roots are submerged in the solution.
  8. Monitor pH and EC:
    • Use pH and EC meters to measure and adjust nutrient concentration and ph of the solution in the reservoir. Follow the guidelines provided with the nutrient solution for the target pH and EC levels.
  9. Aeration (if necessary):
    • If using aeration, connect an air pump to an air stone and place it in the nutrient solution in the bottom of the bucket. This is sometimes referred to as a bucket bubbler.
  10. Support Structure (if necessary):
    • If growing larger plants that need support, set up a support structure such as trellises or stakes.
  11. Label the Buckets:
    • Use a marker to label each bucket with the type of plant and any relevant information about the nutrient solution mixture.
  12. Provide Light:
    • Place your bucket hydroponic system in a location with adequate natural light or supplement with grow lights if needed.
  13. Monitor and Maintain:
    • Regularly check the nutrient solution levels, pH, and EC to ensure they are within the appropriate range.
    • Adjust the nutrient solution and water as necessary to maintain the proper levels.
    • Prune and maintain your plants as they grow.

Which Hydroponic Methods Can Be Used In A Bucket System?

A hydroponic bucket system can incorporate various hydroponic methods depending on how it is designed and configured. The primary method used in a bucket system is typically “Drip Irrigation,” but other methods can also be adapted to work within a bucket-based setup. Here are some hydroponic methods that can be incorporated into a bucket system:

  1. Drip Irrigation: This is one of the most simple hydroponic system. A drip system delivers a controlled flow of nutrient solution to each plant through tubing and drip emitters or stakes. Excess solution drains back into a reservoir for recirculation.
  2. Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow): While it’s more commonly used in larger systems like flood tables, you can adapt a flood and drain method to a bucket system. In this setup, the nutrient solution periodically floods the buckets and then drains back into a reservoir, providing oxygen to the roots during drainage.
  3. Deep Water Culture (DWC): A DWC system is another option, especially for smaller plants. With deep water culture systems, the plants’ roots are suspended directly in the nutrient solution, which is aerated with air stones for oxygenation.
  4. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): Although less common in bucket systems, NFT can be adapted by placing a sloping lid on the bucket and allowing a thin film of nutrient solution to flow over the roots. The excess solution can be collected and recirculated.
  5. Wicking System: In a wicking system, a wick (such as a piece of cotton or felt) draws up the nutrient solution from a reservoir and delivers it to the growing medium in the bucket. This method is straightforward and low-tech.
  6. Aeroponics (Adapted): While traditional aeroponic systems involve misting the roots with a nutrient solution, you can create a simplified version in a bucket system by using spray nozzles or misters to deliver nutrient solution to the root zone while providing oxygen.
  7. Kratky Method (Static Hydroponics): The Kratky method can also be adapted to a bucket system. It involves maintaining a static (non-circulating) nutrient solution in the bucket, with the plant’s roots partially submerged in the solution.
  8. Wick-Drip Hybrid: Some growers combine elements of wicking and drip irrigation by using a wick to deliver moisture to the growing medium and a drip system for nutrient delivery.

The choice of hydroponic method for your bucket system depends on various factors, including the types of plants you want to grow, available space, and your preferences for nutrient delivery and maintenance. Additionally, consider the complexity and cost of the system, as some methods may require more equipment and monitoring than others.

Are Bucket Hydroponic Systems Good For Beginners?

Yes, bucket hydroponic systems are often considered good options for beginners in hydroponic gardening for several reasons:

  1. Simplicity: Bucket hydroponic systems are relatively simple and straightforward to set up compared to larger, more complex hydroponic systems. They require minimal equipment and are easy to understand, making them accessible to beginners.
  2. Low Cost: These systems are cost-effective because they use basic materials such as food-grade plastic buckets and simple nutrient solutions. This makes them an excellent choice for those who want to try hydroponics without a significant financial investment.
  3. Scalability: Bucket systems can be easily scaled up or down, depending on your needs and available space. Beginners can start with just a few buckets and expand their system as they gain experience and confidence.
  4. Individualized Care: Each bucket functions as a separate hydroponic unit, allowing beginners to experiment and learn about the specific needs of different plants. This individualized care helps newcomers develop a deeper understanding of plant growth and nutrient management.
  5. Hands-On Learning: Bucket hydroponics provides a hands-on learning experience, allowing beginners to see and interact with plant roots and nutrient solutions. This can be a valuable educational tool for those new to hydroponics.
  6. Reliable Results: When properly set up and maintained, bucket systems can yield reliable and consistent results, making them less prone to failures compared to more complex systems.
  7. Easy Monitoring: It’s relatively easy to monitor and adjust essential parameters such as pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and nutrient levels in a small bucket system. This helps beginners learn about the importance of maintaining the right environment for plant growth.
  8. Versatility: While bucket systems are often used for growing smaller plants like herbs and greens, they can also be adapted to accommodate a variety of plant types, including tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

To get started with a bucket hydroponic system as a beginner, it’s essential to research and follow instructions carefully, especially when it comes to nutrient solutions, pH management, and plant care. While these systems are beginner-friendly, they still require attention to detail to ensure the best results. As you gain experience, you can explore more complex hydroponic setups if you wish to expand your gardening capabilities.

Learn More About Hydroponic Gardening

Hydroponic gardening is a great way to bring your green thumb indoors and continue growing fresh vegetables and herbs through the winter months. While there is a slight learning curve when starting a hydroponic garden, many methods are very straight forward and are easy to set up for beginners.

If you want to learn more about hydroponic gardening, check out these helpful guides:

A hydroponic reservoir contains a nutrient solution that is fed into a bucket hydroponic system.

Hydroponic Reservoir