How To Build a DIY Hydroponic Top Feeding Bucket System

Hydroponics systems are versatile and can be adapted according to the needs of the grower in a myriad of ways. Out of the many types of systems, the top feeding bucket system, otherwise known as the drip system, is one of the most popular and suitable options for commercial farming. 

The hydroponic drip system

The hydroponic drip system is an active system, where a pump is used to supply plants with their nutrients and water. The reason why it is called a drip system is that it drips the nutrient solution onto plants, with little water used. Growers can maintain control over the distribution of water and nutrients to their plants, and the network of feeder lines used in this system makes it suitable for large-scale plant cultivation. 

Building your hydroponic drip system

To build a basic hydroponic drip system (or perhaps better known as a top feed hydroponic system), these are the following items you will need:

  1. Drip Emitters
  2. Water pump
  3. Large 10 to 20-gallon container or tank
  4. A tray 
  5. Spaghetti tubing
  6. PVC tubing
  7. Small plant pots
  8. Aquarium silicone sealant
  9. Coco noir growing medium
  10. Electric drill
  11. PVC cutter 
  12. Nutrient solution
  13. Timer for water pumps 
  • Fill the plant pots with growing medium – you may use coco noir or any suitable grow media for your plant. 
  • Place the water pump inside the tank, and using the PVC and spaghetti tubing, connect it to the drip emitters. Place each of the emitters into the pot’s growing medium. 

Note: if you aren’t using drip emitters, an alternative is to create holes in the spaghetti tubing, place it directly onto the growing medium. 

  • Position your plant pots on the tray, such that the drained solution can flow into the reservoir. Ensure that the tray is placed at least a few inches above the reservoir for a greater pull of the excess solution. 
  • If the reservoir is positioned higher, have a water pump installed to maintain an inflow of water. 
  • Setup the timer to the power source of the water pump, and set it such that it runs thrice daily for five minutes, or on a schedule that better suits your plants. 

How the system works

In this hydroponics system, water is supplied directly to each of the plant pots through a network of tubings. Each plant will be allocated to one drip emitter supplying water in a regulated manner. 

As for the water pump, it can either be the regular pump or function based on the pull of gravity. Setting a timed schedule is important because the growing media needs time to aerate in between periods of water and nutrient flow. This also prevents flooding, which can harm or kill off your plant crops. Finally, note also that you can also adjust the extent of flow for your drip system. 

To plan the schedule of watering and nutrient supply, read up on the water and nutrient requirements of the plant crop you intend to grow. This will give you a guide on how often the drip system should be activated throughout the day. Once this has been planned out carefully, you will find that the process of monitoring and plant cultivation is easier, due to the help of the automated drip system. 

Recovery and non-recovery systems

Hydroponic drip systems use either recovery or non-recovery systems. Both have their own benefits, with the former being more suited for small-scale, home growing, and the latter for commercial purposes. 

When there are unabsorbed water and nutrients, the recovery system transmits this excess solution back into the reservoir. Although this makes for efficient usage of plant supplies, this system causes the pH levels of the reservoir water to change. As such, growers need to monitor the nutrient, pH, and EC levels of the solution from time to time. 

Non-recovery systems are best suited for large-scale, commercial systems as it does not require growers to maintain the reservoir often. This is because any excess solution is allowed to be drained off as wastewater. Although this can seem wasteful, the drip system itself uses resources minimally, producing less waste than other systems. 

Finally, the non-recovery system can be automated in a highly customized way to the preferences of commercial growers, by attaching timers to their drip system. As such, the amount of solution wastage is also minimized significantly.

Pluses and minuses of the top feeding bucket system:

In sum, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a top feeding bucket system:


  • Better control over the distribution of water and nutrients to plants
  • Scaleable; can be built to suit large scale growing
  • Little monitoring and maintenance required
  • Inexpensive  
  • Minimal risk of a system failure


  • Might be too complicated for small systems like indoor growing
  • Recovery systems will require consistent maintenance
  • Non-recovery systems can wastewater and nutrient supplies

What crops to grow

This hydroponics drip system is best designed for larger crop plants. Since they need to be supported by a larger growing medium, these plants will be able to receive sufficient water and nutrients because of the prolonged retention of moisture by growing media. 

Some examples of plant crops to consider growing are:

  1. Lettuce
  2. Tomatoes
  3. Radishes 
  4. Strawberries
  5. Zucchini
  6. Onions
  7. Leeks

To increase your chances of getting a healthy plant crop, opt for a growing medium that drains at a slower, steadier pace. Some excellent choices would be peat moss, coco noir, Rockwool, and perlite.

The drip system is excellent for growing a wide variety of plant crops, giving you well-timed control over your water and nutrient supply. If this is your first time building a drip system, approach other growers who have tried it before and ask them about their experiences using this hydroponics method. The internet is also a great resource if you have questions, or simply need tips on how to improve your chances of cultivating a healthy plant crop. 

Hydroponic growing requires patience and hard work, but with time, you will start to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Additionally, once you’ve learned how to build this system, you will also be equipped to try scaling up your hydroponics farm. Good luck and have fun building your very own top feeding bucket system!


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