Cheap Hydroponics: Low-Cost Guide to Supplies, Nutrients, and Systems

In today’s article, we will be sharing our low-cost guide to a home-made hydroponic system that is suitable for those living in small spaces. The process utilizes common every-day items found at home, keeping it at a minimal cost. At the same, this guide we have in store for you does not compromise the ease of maintenance and transportation. Furthermore, it is an expandable system that allows you to continue adding plants if you ever wish to have some new additions to the family. With further ado, let’s get moving!

Step 1: The containers

The use of the containers is to act as the reservoirs and specifically, we shall be using the Ziploc screw-top containers as they are airtight and also easy to open whenever there is a need to change the nutrients solution. As for the pot, we will be using the top portion of the 2-liter container. Next, to get the system working, we require essential items such as tubing and a pump specialized for an aquarium. To set up an automated system, lighting timers are also required and they are purchasable at neighborhood hardware stores. A comprehensive list of equipment is stated below.

List of setup equipment and the approximate cost

  • Ziploc screw-top containers (x2)
  • Aquarium tubing (x1)
  • Aquarium pump (x1)
  • Light Timer (x1)
  • Silicone sealant (x1)
  • O-Shaped Rubber Ring (x1)
  • Straight Connector (x4)
  • Empty Container of 2 Litre Capacity (x6)
  • Rubber Washer (x1)

Total cost: ~$25

It would be helpful to make markings on the 2-liter containers before you start cutting away the plastic and remember to stay as close as possible to prevent over and undercutting it. Getting a  perfect size for the hole is hard to achieve but if the hole happens to be too big, those O shaped rubber rings would come into handy as they fit snugly around the 2-liter container. To connect the aquarium tubing down to the reservoir, a hole must be available first for the tube to go through. This connection would then allow the solution of nutrients to be delivered up into the plant. So, for this concept to take place, fit the rubber rings onto the 2 litre, and secure it by using the silicone sealant. Thereafter, the cap should be replaced and fastened. Meanwhile, the sealant should also be applied onto the part where the tubing is connected to the cap such that the air would not flow out. Lastly, straight connectors are cut into halves with holes drilled in place for them. The sealant would be applicable here too. 

Step 2: Setting up a light stand

First off, cut the PVC pipes into desired lengths as outlined below. They would then be ready for the assembly of the light stand. Connectors are useful if you are adding another light as it derives power from the original light. Chains are included in the list if you prefer to hang it rather than having it mounted. 

List of parts for the light stand:

  • PVC pipe, cut into ½ inch each to make up 10 foot long (x2)
  • T connectors of ½ inch long (x4)
  • Connectors of 90 degrees (x4)
  • Chain for light hanging (x1)

Total cost: ~$8

Step 3: Tips on preparing your garden 

Moving on, having conducted some studies, we have gathered our observations and compiled some tips especially for you to achieve the most effective growth rate of plants. These tips are specific to the handling of nutrients and pH, as well as environmental factors concerning light and temperature. 

Nutrients and pH

Mixing of the nutrient solution should be in line with the label’s instruction and they require a change once every two weeks. Otherwise, the consequences would be dire as the plant could die from toxic chemicals. Generally, the system should be flooded two to five times a day with a duration of 15 to 30 minutes. However, you should also take into account the size of the plants. At the same time, a pH tester is a great tool to utilize and it can be used to determine the underpinning problem affecting the health of the plants.

Lighting and Temperature

For an artificial lighting setting, the recommended timing to set in your timer would be 14 to 15 hours as such duration is sufficient for the plant. This is because, in the process of germination, sunlight is not required at all. On the other hand, after the seeds have sprouted, they will require as much sunlight as possible to grow. Besides, all plants have a particular set of temperatures in which they thrive in growing so having a thermometer is especially helpful to observe and monitor the temperatures. 

Further Tips

When you use expanded clay, some fine powder will be produced, due to the rubbing of clay pellets. As a result, they must be washed before use. Not to mention, checking for water leakage is also extremely crucial before the transfer of plants into your system. This is because any small leak can significantly impact the air pressure in the system and affect the speed of flooding adversely.

Step 4: Cheap alternatives and final important tips 

A cheap alternative to expanded clay is aquarium gravel as it is fairly inexpensive. Not to mention, if you do not have the budget for light, you can always just make use of natural sunlight with the help of a good location. Before we wrap up, we would like to also share some final reminders. If you ever encounter the problem of a lack of pressure in pumping the nutrient solution to the plants, it might be because one pot had a significantly lesser solution as compared to the others. To fix things up, simply switch the pump on and flood the system. 


With that, we have reached the end of this article and this is all we have to offer you regarding a cheap homemade hydroponic system. We hope you have found it useful and best of luck in your attempt! 


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