How to Do Hydroponics With A Budget: Step-by-Step

Hydroponics is a method where you grow your plants in a nutrient and water-based solution. This system helps your plants get enough nutrients directly to grow faster and produce higher yields. Hydroponic systems for people with limited planting space like the city dwellers with no outdoor gardens. It helps them grow their own produce using available materials found at the local hardware store. 

These systems are not affected by unpredictable weather patterns. Fortunately, you can plant fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the comforts of your kitchen. If you don’t like the hustle of making a hydroponic system you can purchase a fully functioning one but it’s expensive. However, if you’re on a budget, you can DIY a system with materials readily available in your local hardware store. 

There are 3 types of hydroponic systems that are best suited for beginners including the DWC, wick, and ebb n flow. You can also explore systems that are more advanced if you have a bigger budget such as the Aeroponic system and the nutrient film technique. In this guide, we’ll be discussing DWC which is easier to set up and budget-friendly.

In this system, the plants have their roots immersed in a large opaque container or buckets. In DWC systems, the water doesn’t recirculate, it simply sits in your reservoir during the entire plant’s life. This means you need to include air pore stones to provide enough oxygen to replenish the roots. Let’s walk through the process of setting up your hydroponic system and the materials you need to complete your DIY project.

hydroponic strawberry

How to make a simple DWC hydroponic system

Materials:

  • Storage container or bucket
  • Net pots
  • Air Pump with airstone
  • Hard Water 
  • Liquid Nutrients 
  • pH meter
  • Measuring beaker
  • Pipettes
  • Hole saw with arbor
  • Drill

Method:

1. Find the right reservoir

For starters, you need to find a deep tray, fish tank, storage containers, or buckets to use as your water reservoir. Make sure the reservoir is deep to hold a large amount of nutrient solution to support your plants throughout the growth stages. You will top up the water, nutrient concentration and balance the pH levels regularly. Note that the reservoir should be opaque to reduce the chances of algae growing the water. You can use paint if your container is clear to block the light from getting in. 

hydroponics plants

2. Drill holes into the lid of your container

You’ll need to plant your crops in a net pot thus you need to drill plenty of holes for the roots to be immersed into the water. Space out the holes evenly and use a drill or hole saw to make even holes. Make sure your net pots are larger than the holes you make to avoid them from falling through.

Before you start, you must first know how many holes you want to make or the number of plants the container can hold without overcrowding them. For instance, if you’re planting tomatoes, they get bushy and need space for fruit. When they are young it looks like it doesn’t matter but when they grow bigger the space gets smaller and they won’t perform well. 

3. Assemble your air pump

The air pump should be placed outside the reservoir at all times. It helps boost the oxygen to the roots of the plants in the water culture system. The air pump makes sure the water circulates to prevent the plant from suffocating since its roots are immersed into the nutrient solution all the time. 

You can also add an air stone to increase oxygen in the water solution. Make sure the air pump has a valve so that when you turn off the air pump, water doesn’t go back and damage the pump. Ensure the valve faces the air stone when connecting the tubes.

hydroponic plant with roots

4. Time to add in the necessities

Before adding the water or nutrients, make sure you place the container in your destination since it will be heavy when filled up. After it’s settled well, fill up the water but leave about 1-2 cm of space from the top. Next, you can add your nutrients according to the instructions on your bottle into the water. 

For instance, you might find the nutrient bottle it advises you to add 2ml per liter of nutrients A and B. So you’ll need to calculate the amount to make sure your plant doesn’t have too much or less. 

You also need to adjust the pH levels of the water to make it conducive for your plants to prosper. Each plant requires specific pH levels and you’ll need to understand to adjust accordingly. You can use a pH meter to measure the levels in your water. 

If you’re using tap water, it would be around 6.5 to 7.5 pH which is favorable for vegetables and herbs. If you need to reduce the pH levels to about 5.5, you can add a few drops of phosphoric acid using a pipette. The phosphoric acid acts as a stabilizing agent that helps your plants absorb macro, micro, and secondary nutrients as well as carbohydrates, vitamins among other beneficial nutrients. Make sure you always use gloves when adjusting the pH levels and wash your hands thoroughly after you’re done.

5. Add timer and artificial lights

If you’re looking to have your hydroponic system indoors you’ll need artificial lights to help your plants grow. Indoors it might be tricky finding the perfect spot for your hydroponics next to a window with direct sunlight. Grow lights can be found at your local hardware store or on Amazon. 

You can also buy an automatic system that adds in water, drain and turn on/off the lights when away. The automatic system is slightly expensive so if you’re on a budget you don’t need it. Use a timer to alert you when you need to turn on or off the lights.

6. Add your plants

After everything is in place, it’s time to add your plants carefully. Note that young plants are fragile and require extra care when they’re that young. After all, plants are placed on the net pot, plug in the air pump, and connect to the air stone and you’re good to go.

Note that you’ll need to do some maintenance regularly. Always check the water levels, add some nutrients when adding the water, and adjust the pH levels. Make sure the young roots are in contact with the water or risk them dying of starvation.

deep water culture hydroponics

Advantages of deep water culture systems?

  • The DWC system is easy to set up and maintain. Once you fill-up the water, add nutrient solution, balance the pH levels and plant your seedlings, you’re good to go for a few weeks. All you’ll need is to watch the water levels and add in if running too low. Also, keep checking the air pump and air stone to ensure the roots get enough oxygen.
  • DWC is perfect for people trying to create a DIY hydroponic system on a budget. You can source the materials from your local hardware store and get your project started. You don’t need building or plumbing skills to set up your system. 
  • All the materials are available and you can improvise with things you already have lying around.
  • It’s great for beginners, you can experiment and enjoy fresh produce within a few weeks

Disadvantages of deep water culture systems?

DWC can only support smaller plants like vegetables, herbs, and small fruits. It struggles with larger or slow-growing plants such as corn, potatoes, and melons. This system is also not ideal for flowers.

  • You must control the nutrient solution or the plants may get overwhelmed or die of starvation
  • Temperature control is important or risks the plants freezing during winter or suffocating during summer

Can Hydroponics Be Done At Home?

Yes, hydroponics can be done in the comforts of your home especially if you don’t have any outdoor space. Hydroponic systems aren’t affected by temperature and weather changes thus you can plant your crops all year. All you need is to set up your system and ensure the plants receive all the necessities to grow. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in a jungle, middle of winter or desert, you can plant your vegetables easily. You’ll need to check on your plants regularly but nothing too involving. This can be a better way for people with busy schedules but enjoy farming as a hobby.