How to Build a Hydroponic Garden

Plants inserted into top lid of DIY hydroponic system

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 hrs, 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

A hydroponic garden lets you grow herbs and vegetables without soil indoors or outdoors. Hydroponic gardens have been cultivated for more than 2,000 years from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Aztec chinampas (floating gardens) that took advantage of high moisture areas where nutrient-rich soil was in short supply. Today, any time you find a plant or weed in a crack in the concrete, you have just witnessed a rudimentary form of hydroponic gardening at work.

This step-by-step plan for a basic hydroponic garden uses a tote bin as the base, with PVC pipe forming a spray manifold. A fountain pump located at the bottom of the bin forces the water upward and through the manifold. Water sprays the bottoms of mesh net cups supporting the plants.

Working with a water-based system, you'll be able to concentrate all of your attention on growing plants and less on maintenance issues such as controlling pests and weeds.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cordless drill
  • Tape measure
  • Set of auger bits
  • PVC pipe cutter or hacksaw
  • Set of drill bits
  • Set of steel tap (threader) bits
  • Hole saw, 3-inch

Materials

  • 12 Hydroponic mesh net cups and neoprene collars, 3-inch
  • 1 Latch and carry bin with lid, 18-gallon
  • 12 feet of PVC pipe, 1-inch
  • 2 PVC elbows, 1-inch
  • 7 PVC tees, 1-inch
  • 16 Hydroponic sprayers
  • 1 Submersible fountain water pump

Instructions

Materials and tools to build a hydroponic garden system

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  1. Measure the Inside of the Bin

    With the tape measure, measure and jot down the inside dimensions of the bin. Since the spray manifold should be about three inches below the lip of the bin, measure from this height. Measure the bin's inside length and width.

    Tip

    This project is based on a bin with inside dimensions of 26-3/4 inches by 16-1/2 inches.

    Gray storage bin measured inside for hydroponic system

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  2. Construct the Spray Manifold's Outer Section

    Build a spray manifold for the inside of the bin using PVC pipe, elbows, and tees. The manifold's outer dimensions should match those of your earlier measurements.

    Build the outer perimeter of the manifold with four PVC elbows, six pieces of 4-1/4-inch PVC pipe, two 25-inch pieces of PVC, and four PVC tees to form a rectangle. Each short side of the rectangle is formed from two elbows, two tees, and two 4-inch sections of PVC. The two 25-inch lengths of PVC form the long sides.

    PVC pipes connected to build hydroponic system spray manifold

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  3. Construct the Spray Manifold's Inner Section

    Two long sections of pipe run lengthwise in the inner section of the manifold. These long sections are each made from two 12-inch sections of PVC and one PVC tee.

    Inner manifold of hydroponic system connected with PVC pipes

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  4. Construct the Spray Manifold's Downspout

    The manifold's downspout connects between the two inner long sections of the pipe. It is made from two 1-3/4-inch pieces of PVC pipe and one tee.

    PVC pipe connecting manifold's downspout section

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  5. Drill Holes for the Sprayers

    Drill 16 evenly spaced holes on the top of the manifold. Follow by creating threads in the holes with the steel tap bit. By hand, screw the 16 hydroponic sprayers into the holes.

    Tip

    Hydroponic sprayers face downward, toward the water. So, the side of the manifold where you are drilling the holes will later face down.

    Holes drilled on bottom of connected PVC manifold

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  6. Create the Downspout

    Place the submersible fountain water pump at the bottom of the bin and measure the distance from the pump to the manifold. Cut the PVC pipe accordingly.

    Fit all of the PVC pieces together and place the manifold in the bin.

    PVC pipes and submersible pump placed inside gray bin

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  7. Drill Drain and Cord Holes

    Use one-inch auger bits to drill two holes in the side of the bin, close to the top.

    Drain and cord holes drilled on side of gray storage bin

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  8. Drill Holes for the Net Cups

    Drill 12 evenly-spaced holes in the bin's lid with the three-inch hole saw.

    Holes drilled on bin lid tom place net cups for hydroponic system

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  9. Fill the Bin With Water and Nutrient Solution

    Fill the bin with about 10 gallons of fresh water and add the nutrient solution. Run the pump cord out the side of the bin.

    Pump cord slid through hole with water filled inside gray bin

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  10. Place the Net Cups

    Fit the bin lid on top, then put the 12 net cups in the holes. Fit the neoprene collars on top of the net cups.

    Black net cups inserted through holes on top of bin lid

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  11. Add the Plants

    Place the seedlings you have chosen in the net cups.

    Plants inserted through neoprene collars and placed in net cups

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  12. Add a Lighting System

    If using your new hydroponic system indoors, add a lighting system to simulate outdoor growing conditions.

    Grow light held above plants inside hydroponic system

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Plants to Use in Hydroponic Gardens

Lightweight, small-root plants such as loose-leaf lettuce, spinach, and kale are well suited for hydroponic gardens. Herbs work well for hydroponic gardening since they are smaller and a cook often likes to have fresh herbs nearby for use.

Depending on the scale and sturdiness of your growing area, you can grow larger plants like tomatoes, strawberries, and celery in a hydroponic garden. Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and onions are not a good match.

Hydroponic Gardening Advantages

  • Cleaner: Hydroponic gardening is far less messy than in-ground gardening because no soil is involved.
  • Fewer Pests and Weeds: Within this controlled environment, it is difficult for pests or weeds to begin. Plus, any soil-borne pests or weeds are eliminated.
  • Efficient: The work-to-results ratio is high with hydroponic gardening because no or little labor is devoted to working the soil or to pest and weed management.
  • Faster, Greater Growth: Since the plant directs less energy toward developing a large root system, more energy can be used for plant growth. Growth yields are faster and greater. Overcrowding does not happen because plants are grown in separate cups.
Article Sources
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  1. Hydroponics. Purdue Agriculture