DIY hydroponics

9 Cost-Effective, DIY Hydroponics for Home

Disclosure: Your purchases through our links may earn us a small commission, supporting our site’s ability to provide valuable information to our readers. Rest assured, it won’t impact your price. Thank you for your support.

Growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers at home is an experience anyone would love. Yet, very few have the space or budget to grow food in their backyard. For others, these DIY hydroponic techniques would help.

Soilless gardening is prevalent now, and plants can be grown on apartment balconies, rooftops, offices, and many other places where growing was previously impossible. But unlike growing in the soil, which demands water and sunlight, hydroponic setups may cost you a fortune.

This post breaks this barrier to hydroponic gardening. You can start growing at almost no cost and then scale up to grow more without spending much money on setups. You can do much with essential DIY tools, like a hand drill.

We present nine affordable hydroponic techniques that are easy to build and need little care. We will also describe how to build one, its cost, and what you can grow in it. These are also the basic hydroponic techniques used in industrial-scale factories. Your hands-on experience in doing these may even lead you to open your farm.

If you’re only interested in growing and don’t care about building the systems yourself, we have some suggestions at the end of the blog post. You can buy these pre-built systems, assemble them at home, and start growing.

So, let’s grow…!

1 . Kratky Hydroponics System

kratky method hydroponics

Kratky is the simplest and cheapest hydroponic system to build. You only need a waste bucket, nutrient solution, growing media, and the plant.

This system is named after Dr. Bernard Kratky, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii. You can read his original research paper here. He called it the 4-liter bottle method.

Take a four-liter water bottle and poke a hole in its lid to insert the net cup. Now, fill the bottle with nutrient solution to cover only one-third of the net cup’s bottom. You may have to cover the bottle with black paper to avoid light sneaking in. If it does, it may induce algae growth inside the bottle. Finally, you can fill the net cup with the growing media and transplant your seedling.

Roots in contact with the solution will absorb the nutrients the plant needs, and the roots above the surface of the nutrient solution can breathe oxygen. It is important to prevent the growth of Pythium, commonly known as root rot.

Dr. Kratky designed it to grow lettuces. He devised the 4-liter mark by calculating how much nitrogen an average lettuce plant needs. Yet, the Kratky system has now been used to grow many different types of plants than lettuces. You can grow almost all types of greens in this system. You can even grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans if you can support the plant with trellis.

Kratky’s method is also expandable to an industrial scale. But if you’re growing using this method, you should ensure the nutrient solution is not open. Static water may invite mosquitoes and other undesirable visitors.

Estimated cost per plant in the Kratky Method

Here is the cost breakdown and product links. As of writing this post, the estimated cost to grow a 200g lettuce head using the Kratky method is about USD 0.95.

Container (You can use Waste Bottles)0.00
Net cups0.20
Peat pallets (Growing Media)0.24
Hydroponic nutrient0.50
Lettuce seeds0.01

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your Kratky hydroponics system! How to Grow Plants with the Kratky Method?: A Passive Hydroponic System

The Difference Between Kratky and DWC Hydroponic Systems
10 Advantages of Organic Hydroponic Nutrients in the Kratky Method
How to Make Kratky Method More Efficient and Effective

2 . Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponics System. 

dwc deep water culture hydroponics method

Kratky is a fantastic passive system. But if you are worried about root rots, growth speed, or container height, you could make minor modifications. Aerating the water increases its oxygen content, which boosts plant growth and prevents root rot. This is also known as Deep Water Culture (DWC.)

Also, you don’t have to leave a space between the plant’s bottom and the nutrient solution. Since the water is oxygen-rich, we don’t need the oxygen roots. Thanks to this, you can reduce the height of your container. This is often beneficial when vertically stacking DWC containers. But home growers rarely do it.

Like Kratky, we can grow greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers on this system.

Although this isn’t a passive hydroponic system, DWC can tolerate pump failures better than others.

Estimated cost per plant in the DWC Method

Here is the cost breakdown and product links. As of writing this post, the estimated cost to grow a 200g lettuce head using the DWC method is about USD 0.95. Note that the container and air pump are long-term investments. Thus, they are not included in the cost.

Air Pump16.00
Container (You can use a used bucket as well)32.00
Net cups0.20
Peat pallets (Growing Media)0.24
Hydroponic nutrient0.50
Lettuce seeds0.01

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your DWC hydroponics system! How to Set Up DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System?

10 Tips for the Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponics Systems (DIY)
How does Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System Works?
The Difference Between Kratky and DWC Hydroponic Systems

3 . Wick Hydroponic System

wick hydroponics

Not every plant likes to dip its roots in water. All it needs is a little moisture. This is where wick hydroponic systems come in handy.

Suppose you want to grow potatoes or carrots in hydroponics; too much moisture can cause them to rot. Wick hydroponic systems are a perfect solution for such root vegetables.

But this doesn’t mean wick hydroponics is limited to root vegetables. You can grow almost anything imaginable with the wicking method.

In wick hydroponics, a wicking cord is inserted into the growing medium. The other end of the cord is dipped in the nutrient solution. Slowly, the nutrient-rich water gets into the growing medium and keeps it moist. This way, the plant gets the water it needs but not too much.

Most growers use 40% perlite and 60% coco peat as the growing medium, which ensures enough oxygen. You can also use coco-chips instead of perlite to get a similar effect. Otherwise, you could aerate the water like we do in DWC.

The wicking cord plays an important role, too. But you can use an old shoelace or a cord removed from a mop for this.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your wick hydroponics system! 8 Easy Steps to Setup Wick Hydroponics System.

Estimated cost of Setup for Wick Hydroponic System

A Wick hydroponic system can be straightforward. You can cut a used plastic water bottle and turn the part with the lid upside down. Poke a hole in the lid and run the wicking cord through the hole. Fill the bottom half with nutrient solution and the top half above the wicking cord with perlite and coco-peat. A simple, wicking hydroponic system is ready. You can see the coco-peat get moist in a while. You can plant your seedlings in the top part. You may cover the system with black paper to avoid algae growth in the container. This setup costs next to nothing.

Yet, a growing bed can create a more extensive wicking system. Such a system may cost about $80. In this bed, you can grow many plants at once. Here’s the cost breakdown and product links for the setup.

Container for Growing bed & nutrient reservoir32.00
Wicking cords6.00
Air pump16.00

Related: The Pros and Cons of Wick Hydroponic Systems

4 . NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) System.

nutrient film technique hydroponic system nft

The nutrient film technique (NFT) is the first circulating method in this list. It’s also prevalent because NFTs are very easy to stack vertically. With the help of grow lights, you can get an abundant harvest in a small space.

The simple definition of NFT is growing on top of a thin running stream of nutrient solution. You can choose an uPVC pipe, poke holes for net cups, and run the nutrient solution through the pipe using a pump. Collect the excess solution on the other end of the uPVC pipe and divert it back to the nutrient reservoir. An air stone is optional and often unnecessary since the returning water dropping from a small height would aerate the water enough.

NFTs have some significant advantages. You can plant successive plants in the same NFT channel, grow different plants in the same channel as long as the nutrient mix feeds them all, and use a small reservoir to feed many plants.

The biggest disadvantage of NFT is its intolerance to pump failures. Plants may not survive a few hours in a greenhouse in hot climates.

But you can get one in your house and grow some delicious strawberries alongside lettuces.

Estimated cost to set up a basic NFT hydroponic system at home

As discussed, building your own NFT system is easy. You can get one built for under $100. Here are the product links and cost breakdown. Note that this system allows you to grow many plants at once, and the setup is reusable.

Container for nutrient reservoir32.00
uPVC pipes26.00
Peat pallets12.00
Water pump8.00
Net cups10.00

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your own NFT hydroponics system! How to Set Up a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponic System? and How Hydroponics can be done – DIY Guide to your NFT System

Related: 10 Benefits of Growing Plants with Nutrient Film Technique

5 . Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain) Hydroponics System. 

Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain) Hydroponics

Ebb and flow or flood and drain is a technique that closely resembles the natural rain and drain process.

In this method, we have a reservoir and a grow bed. Often, the grow bed is kept on top of the reservoir. Clay pebbles are widely used as a growing medium.

A water pump pulls nutrients from the bottom reservoir up. Soon, the growing bed will be flooded with nutrients. As the water level in the grow bed reaches a certain level, a bell siphon triggers. It drains all the nutrients back into the reservoir.

The clay pebbles are now moist, and since water can stay in the small air pockets in the pebbles, they don’t need to be watered for a while. After a while, the pump starts again, flooding the bed, and the siphon activates and drains the bed.

You can grow any plant using the flood and drain method. Mainly, this method is perfect for larger plants that need strong root support. So next time, plant your tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers with ebb and flow.

Estimated cost for a flood and drain system

You need a pump, two containers for the reservoir and growing bed, clay pebbles, and a bell siphon. You can buy an ebb-and-flow kit instead of the general bell siphon. If not, you can build your own bell siphon with some PVC. But that’s not the focus of this post.

Here are the cost breakdown and the product links for the flood and drain system items. You can build one for about $ 116.00

2 Water containers64.00
Water Pump8.00
Clay Pebbles36.00
Ebb & Flow kit8.00

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your ebb and flow hydroponics system! DIY Ebb And Flow Hydroponic System

6 . Vertical Hydroponics System, Wall Garden

vertical hydro tower

Vertical towers are gaining traction these days. They are a fantastic solution for growing many plants in a small space. In most vertical towers, water is sprinkled directly to the growing medium or the plant’s root, a process also known as aeroponics.

Vertical hydroponics are mostly aeroponic towers. Yet, NFTs are also made vertically with an A-frame structure or vertical stacking.

For a DIY hydroponic tower, you need a large uPVC, a small one, a nutrient reservoir, a water pump, a sprinkler, and an irrigation tube.

First, make some cuts where the holes need to be in the larger uPVC. Wait to poke holes. Heat the cut area using a heat gun. Then, gently insert a small 2′ uPVC through the cut area. This will make the hole by inwardly pressing the central pipe. Now, cut the small uPVC into small pieces and insert it in each hole. Later, these can hold your netcups. Keep this on top of a reservoir. A water pump is used to pull the water up, and a sprinkler is used to spray the nutrients inside the main pipe.

Although this method is more complex than the others we’ve discussed, it allows you to grow more plants in a small space.

Estimated cost for a DIY hydroponic tower

To build an aeroponic tower, you need a big and a small uPVC. You also need a container for the reservoir, sprinkler, irrigation line, and water pump. Although you need a heat gun, its cost isn’t directly relevant to the tower. Alternatively, you can use a candle or some hot water to smooth the surface of the uPVC.

Here are the product links and cost breakdown for the above. You can build one for about $120.00

Large uPVC40.00
2′ uPVC16.00
Containe for reservoir32.00
Water pump8.00
Irrigation lines10.00
Heat gun (Optional)

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your vertical hydroponics system! Vertical Hydroponics DIY – Grow Without Soil 

Vertical Hydroponics: The Basics
How to Choose the Right Plants for Vertical Hydroponics
Why You Should Use Hydro Towers for Your Vegetables

7 . Drip Hydroponics Systems

Drip irrigation hydroponics

Drip irrigation hydroponics, as its name suggests, involves dripping the nutrient solution directly into the growing medium, often filling it in a grow bag. The excess water is collected and returned to the nutrient reservoir.

You can grow any plant in this system with a large bed or container. However, this method is more suitable for plants like tomatoes and cucumbers. Tomatoes and Cucumbers grow more extensively and even reach heights of 15 feeds. To support the root mass, you can use a bigger bag with growing media.

Drip irrigation may need a timer to avoid overwatering. When overwatered, roots may suffocate and start to rot. However, drip irrigations are amazing for those who don’t have time to monitor the system.

Check out this tutorial to learn how to build your drip hydroponics system and How to Set up a Drip Hydroponic System.

8. The rain-gutter-grow Hydroponics

Rain gutter grow system

A Minnesota resident named Larry Hall discovered this fantastic and straightforward growing technique. Although his initial invention was for passive watering, it’s now widely used as a hydroponic system.

This is a passive hydroponic technique, which means it needs no electricity. Nutrients are delivered through gravity.

In this system, a rain gutter is kept at ground level, and grow bags are placed on top of it. A little wick is attached to the bottom of the grow bag and the rain gutter. The nutrient reservoir is kept at a slightly elevated place. A float valve is attached before connecting to the rain gutter to avoid overflowing.

The rain gutter grow system is a good option for hydroponically growing plants outdoors. The entire nutrient solution is exposed to the plant in all other systems. If there’s rain, the nutrient solution will get diluted soon. Yet, in the rain gutter growth method, the only nutrient solution exposed to rain is in the gutter at the time of rain. If it gets diluted, drain the gutter and refill it with the nutrient solution.

Since this is a wick hydroponic system, you can grow anything on it. It’s particularly suitable for root vegetables where the moisture level should be maintained without getting too wet.

9. The Dutch bucket hydroponics (bato buckets)

Dutch bucket system

Dutch buckets share much in common with flood and drain and drip irrigation systems, which we discussed earlier.

As with drip irrigation, a central reservoir supplies the nutrient solution. Plants are kept in specially designed buckets called bato buckets or Dutch buckets. Often, perlite is used as the growing medium in Dutch buckets, but you can also use clay pebbles, coco chips, rocks, and sand. The excess water is drained like a siphon in flood and drain systems. For this, the out pipe is designed in an inverted shape. These excess nutrient solutions are brought back to the reservoir.

In a sense, this is a flood-and-drain system. But, the reservoir is kept centrally, and many buckets can be used for growing.

This may be a problematic DIY hydroponics system. But no. Building this is much easier. Take any bucket. (There’s a misconception that bato buckets need to be square. Not!) make a hole at the bottom, Insert an u-shaped uPVC through the hole, and seal it with aquarium silicon gel. The Bato bucket is ready. You can make as many buckets as you wish and line it up. Supply the nutrients from the reservoir using a pump. Collect the excess water from the out pipe and return it to the reservoir. Depending on what you’re growing, you can water the plants about 3-5 times a day.

Recommended products

We get it. DIY hydroponics is excellent, but building systems like these isn’t everyone’s passion. But that doesn’t have to keep you from growing fresh food at home. Here are some suggestions. Check out these pre-built systems. You can buy them and assemble them at home. You can plant your seedlings in them quickly, and they’ll grow fine.

If you want to buy a hydroponic system or equipment, you can select the best one.

  1. Deep Water Culture (DWC) system
  2. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system
  3. Drip system-related equipment
  4. Ebb & Flow (Flood and drain) control system
  5. Kratky system
  6. Aeroponic system and towers
  7. Grow lights
  8. Air pump & Air stone
  9. Water pump
  10. Net cups

Bottom Line

In this post, we’ve discussed nine basic DIY hydroponic techniques you can do at home. As said before, after mastering these, you can also expand these methods to grow at an industrial scale. This would allow you to grow fresh vegetables and fruits anywhere—on your balcony, rooftops, backyard, next to your work desk, etc.

We’ve also estimated the costs of building every system, which could range from $10 to $150. Although leafy greens grow in almost any of these systems, certain crops, like root vegetables, need to be in a slightly more expensive system. Yet, compared to the rising vegetable cost, a long-term investment of $150 is still affordable and attractive.

Having the setup is the first step in growing. We write a lot about how to grow better. So make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

Keep growing….!

Also, read:
Cheap Grow Lights Alternatives Used in Indoor Hydroponics

Similar Posts