So here it finally is – my step-by-step guide to building a Hydroponic Grow Bucket to fit any budget.
Hydroponic kits are great, and I use them. Still, nothing beats a bit of DIY if you are on a budget.
This guide will show you how to build my version of a grow bucket.
I run a few of these buckets every winter to grow herbs and leafy vegetables like chervil, basil, cilantro/coriander, lettuce, arugula, kale, and chervil. And we rarely have to visit the store for leafy veggies and herbs.
So, let’s get right into it. First, here are the items and materials you need.
- What You Need To Build a DIY Grow Bucket
- Step-by-step Guide to Building a DIY Grow Bucket
- 1. Make holes for net pots and air pump tubing
- 2. Wash the LECA
- 3. Fill the bucket with water
- 4. Add hydroponic fertilizer to water
- 5. Place the airstone in the bucket and thread the tubing
- 6. Test levels and fill the net pots with LECA
- 7. Plant seeds or seedlings
- 8. Place net pots in the grow bucket
- 9. Attach the air pump
- 10. Place the grow bucket under a full spectrum grow light
- DIY Grow Bucket vs Hydroponic kits
What You Need To Build a DIY Grow Bucket
Some of these items are optional, as indicated below.
- Bucket or container with a lid: I use 10-liter buckets made from food-safe plastic. The buckets come with tight-fitting lids used to hold the net pots.
To save money, contact school kitchens or local restaurants. Larger commercial kitchens often discard food-safe buckets after use.
- Net pots: I use 7.62 cm or 3-inch net pots. For me, it is an ideal size to fit three plants per bucket.
- Growing medium: I use LECA pellets. They are easy to work with and offer good support for plants. Also easy to clean and reuse.
- Hydroponic fertilizer: I use a 3-part hydroponic fertilizer, but feel free to use 1, 2 or 3-part fertilizers.
- Air pump, tubing, back vent, air stones (optional): I use an air pump as I get a better yield. However, it is optional, and you can succeed with a non-aerated Kratky-type setup.
- Drill and hole-making drill bit (optional): Again optional. But for me, doing a lot of DIY hydroponics, it was a sound investment at less than 10 dollars.
- Seedlings or seeds: Most vegetables are best transplanted as seedlings, but there are exceptions – lettuce and basil are, for example, just as easy to start from seed.
- Full spectrum grow light (optional): Grow lights are optional with a twist. I garden in zone 7; here, grow lights are required to grow indoors in winter, at least if you expect a good yield.
If you take one thing from this article, do yourself a favor and look into full-spectrum grow lights. Especially if you are gardening indoors in winter with poor levels of natural light. You can find full-spectrum grow lights to first most any budget.
Ok then, let’s get into the actual building. Feel free to check out my video below if you are more of a visual learner.
Step-by-step Guide to Building a DIY Grow Bucket
Success in gardening starts with solid preparation. And building grow buckets is no different.
Steps 1 and 2 are all about prep work; I usually do it the day before.
1. Make holes for net pots and air pump tubing
I use a drill and a hole-making drill bit for the net pots and a regular drill bit for the air pump tubing.
Feel free to use any hole-making tool, but be careful not to hurt yourself.
Plastic is slippery and tends to “grip”, causing the plastic to spin with the drill bit. Make sure you pin it down hard and drill gently. Easy does it.
If you are using another hole-making tool, remember that plastic is “slippery”, and it is easy to lose grip. Again, work slowly and be careful not to harm yourself.
I make three holes for the net pots and one small spot for the air pump tubing.
2. Wash the LECA
Your LECA may look clean but must most likely be washed and rinsed several times.
This is an important step, as you do not want to risk introducing dirt, bacteria or pathogens into your grow bucket.
And yes, I also wash LECA manufactured for hydroponics. It is quick and easy.
3. Fill the bucket with water
Fill the bucket, leaving about an inch / 3 cm empty. I use tap water, and it has always worked fine.
If you water your garden with tap water where you live, I recommend using tap water for my first grow bucket. Watch, evaluate and learn. Do not assume. Test and learn.
The alternative is to call your local council and ask about pH levels or to buy a pH testing kit.
You want a slightly acidic pH of around 6.5 to promote healthy nutrient uptake.
Related: Read more about the importance of pH levels and how it relates to nutrient uptake.
4. Add hydroponic fertilizer to water
Follow the dosage instructions for your chosen hydroponic fertilizer.
If you use a multi-part solution, add each part to your grow bucket separately. Do not mix them, as you risk binding nutrients, making them unavailable to your plants.
Related: Learn more about hydroponic fertilizers and binding.
5. Place the airstone in the bucket and thread the tubing
Attach the airstone to the tubing and place it in the bucket.
Thread the tube through the hole in the lid and put the lid in place.
6. Test levels and fill the net pots with LECA
First, you need to ensure you have not overfilled your grow bucket.
- Fill a net pot with LECA
- Now place it in the bucket
- If the top layer is above water, you are fine
- If the top layer floats, remove some nutrient solution from the bucket.
You want the top layer of LECA to be in contact with the nutrient solution – directly or at least indirectly. But you do not want the LECA to float in the pot.
When you are pleased with the volume of nutrient solution in your grow bucket, it is time to fill the net pots with LECA.
- If you are starting seeds: Fill the pot as you do not want the seeds to sit wet. Seeds should sit on top of the LECA. The LECA will “absorb” the nutrient solution and keep the seeds moist.
- If you are tansplanting seedlings: Fill 2/3 of the net pot with LECA. You want to place the roots in the net pot and gently support the seedling by adding more LECA.
7. Plant seeds or seedlings
- Starting seeds: Place the net pot on a table and gently scatter seeds across the top of the LECA. I usually plant around ten seeds per pot when I grow leafy vegetables or herbs like chervil and basil.
Some seeds will fall through the net pot. By placing the net pot on a table, the seeds will not fall into the grow bucket.
Mist with water and place a piece of clear plastic on top of the net pot if the seeds look dry.
- Transplanting seedlings: Place the seedlings into the net pot and add LECA to provide support. I always grow 3-5 seedlings per net pot.
8. Place net pots in the grow bucket
Place the net pots into the lid of the grow bucket when all seeds and seedlings are planted.
9. Attach the air pump
The air pump should be placed above the water level of the grow bucket.
To prevent water from flowing back into the pump, fit the back valve onto the tubing between the airstone and the pump.
Back valves will only allow air to flow one way. Blow through the valve to learn which way the air will flow and then attach it to the tubing,
When the back valve is in place, plug the air pump into the socket.
10. Place the grow bucket under a full spectrum grow light
Finally, place the grow bucket under a full-spectrum grow light.
Use a timer to give your plants 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness daily.
DIY Grow Bucket vs Hydroponic kits
So why build a DIY grow bucket? Who is it for?
The short answer is for everyone who wants to eat fresh, homegrown produce year-round.
DIY grow buckets are inexpensive to build, and you can be up and running with a Kraktky setup for less than 10 dollars. Add an air pump, and you find yourself in the low 20’s. It’s still very inexpensive.
But what about hydroponic grow systems and kits? They are great but also cost more and give you less growing space.
As I have already stated, I use hydroponic kits, and I am a fan. But not because they yield more than my grow buckets. Because they do not.
I like hydroponic kits because they are high-yielding and designed to be seen.
My grow buckets are definitely high-yielding, but they are not that pretty to look at. They would never sit on a kitchen counter.
So, to sum it up, it comes down to what you want.
And if you ask me, both are good choices, but dollar for dollar, DIY grow buckets are the smarter option unless:
- Design is essential: Hydroponic kits are designed to live on a kitchen counter and will add interest to any home.
- You are not interested in DIY: A lot of people do not fancy building stuff or sourcing materials and equipment for DIY builds.
- You want an easy, turnkey setup: DIY builds are not complicated. But they are nowhere near as easy to set up as the iDOO hydroponic garden or the Click and Grow Smart Gardens.
You have to decide what is right for you. Either way, you can find articles here to guide you on your journey to growing indoors year-round and living a bit greener for less.