While there is ample content available online regarding starting your own hydroponic system, they usually address the professional aspect of installment which ends up being costly cumulatively. Conversely, sites, and articles offering a more DIY approach to hydroponics have been far and few between. Hence to fill that gap, the purpose of this article is to introduce the simplest and cheapest method of hydroponics in hopes of inspiring anyone and everyone to start on their very own hydroponics journey.
Unlike professional hydroponic systems, the DIY method is significantly more straightforward, particularly in terms of logistics. Similarly inspired by the concept of aquaponics which involves a cycle of codependency between fish, bacteria, and plant growth, hydroponics also involves a multitude of factors and conditions to consider when creating the ideal environment for the plants. Both share the same inconvenience of being overly-complex and troublesome in setting up and maintaining the environment. Originally, there didn’t seem to be any solution to this. However, after more research, I finally found the answer I was looking for: non-circulating hydroponic methods; otherwise known as “Tub Hydroponics”.
The materials required for this process is simple: a tube with a lid ranging from one to seven gallons, approximately two- to four-inch net pots, a 5-inch hole saw, your seeds, Rapid Rooter grow plugs, hydroponic-suitable fertilizer, a plastic tray and last but not least, water. A word of caution when procuring your tub: Since it’s the literal foundation/base containing this DIY hydroponics set-up, it’s important to pay special attention to its dimensions. It’s very easy to overlook hidden holes in various spots or mess up the tub’s sizing, thereby affecting the integrity of your DIY. Thus, it’s recommended to opt for bus tubs with lids commonly used across many restaurants.
After obtaining all the necessary materials, we can finally begin the DIY process.
(a) The Tub
Firstly, use your hole saw to cut four equidistant holes at each of the four corners of your tub’s lid. After that, use a penknife to smoothen out the perimeter of the holes.
(b) The Seeds
Next, generously wet four Rapid Rooter plugs before slotting them into four net cups each. Ensure that the root plugs are drenched enough for this step. Due to the sizing differences between the root plug and net cup, the plugs might not be fitted snugly in the pots. In such cases, take a fifth root plug and dissect it into four pieces. You may now use each of these pieces as an anchor for your original ill-fitted root plugs.
You can now proceed to insert two seeds into each of your plugs and then set the four net cups into a shallow tray filled with ¼ inch of water. Cover the tray with an opaque cloth and set it in the darkest spot of your room to facilitate the germination process. Within two to three days, you should expect to see seedlings sprouting forth. This is your cue to transfer the tray back to a well-lit area and replenish the water. After a week, remember how you planted two seeds into each pot? Now’s the time to remove one of them from each accordingly so that there are only four seedlings instead of eight remaining in total. At the two-week mark, your seedlings should’ve grown remarkably and we can now move on to the next phase of “tub hydroponics”.
Take an empty net cup and slot it into one of the holes cut in your lid previously. Fill the tub to the point that the water level intersects with the net cup, filling the cup up by ¼ inch as previously done during the germination stage. As a rough estimate, a seven-gallon tub can hold approximately five gallons of water. However to be more accurate, feel free to do your own measurement of your tub’s dimension.
(c) Nutrient Solution
Once the tub is filled, it’s time to add in the appropriate nutrients into the mix. A recommended nutrient mixture recipe you can follow would be a combination of Tomato Master Blend, calcium nitrate, and magnesium sulfate (also known as epsom salt) in the following proportions of two grams, two grams, and one gram respectively. Note that these proportions are in relation to per gallon of water. Therefore, add these proportions of ingredients for each gallon of water present in your tub. Mix this nutrient concoction well with the water to better dissolve the ingredient components and create the perfect nutrient water blend. You can then pour this new solution into the existing water in the tub.
(d) pH Level
The next step is probably one of the most crucial steps throughout this whole procedure — checking the pH level of the solution. Plants require a highly specific pH range for the best growth. If the environment is too acidic or basic, your plant will greatly suffer, impeding their growth and in the worst-case scenario, killing them. For example, the ideal range is roughly between 6.4 and 6.7 for lettuces. Do note that there are marginal differences in pH requirements across plant types, so do your due diligence in researching your plant’s pH preference. Now, if the pH level is out of the ideal range, you can use lemon juice or pH adjuster solutions to adjust the pH level accordingly.
(e) The Waiting Game
Finally, once all this is done, insert your seedling net cups into the holes of the lid and cap the lid snugly over the tub. At this stage, there’s nothing left to the process except being patient. All you have to do is provide sufficient, evenly-distributed sunlight (preferably natural or fluorescent if you’re feeling fancy) for all of your plants and wait.
After about five weeks, your patience would’ve paid off because now your plants are ready for harvest! You can finally enjoy the well-deserved fruits (or in this case, vegetables) of your labor.
In total, this entire DIY hydroponic process takes just a little over a month and the rewards are satisfying. All in all, it’s definitely a worthwhile venture to pick up, especially if you’re interested in home-based gardening but are limited by land space or live in an apartment.
The hydroponic industry is fast gaining popularity due to the independence, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness that it affords. Manual labor is also significantly reduced along with how friendly it is to beginners and novices. Indeed, hydroponics also encourages creativity and innovation in the 21st-century farmer or gardener because its setup can be replicated in a plethora of ways through simple tools around the house or from the DIY/hardware store. Growing your own crops has never been easier!