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How to Build Your Own Hydroponic System: A Beginners Guide

Growing Cable in My Simple Homemade Hydroponic System

My Hydroponic System made -it- yourself

The dish is the head farmer at Square Mile Farms. He has spent the last year experimenting with growing over 40 types of vegetables, herbs and microgreens on our Paddington rooftop farm and office farm facilities. Using his knowledge of building and maintaining indoor hydroponic systems, he's on a mission to help London workers reconnect with their food by helping them grow it themselves!

Getting Started With Hydroponics

Are you interested in hydroponics or home growing but don't know where to start? Do you want to build your system by recycling materials from your home?

Hydroponics at home has many benefits - a steady supply of fresh, nutritious produce will certainly save you many trips to the supermarket!

There are many different hydroponic systems (check out my previous blog explaining them). In this blog, we will cover the easiest to understand. I'll walk you through how a Deep Water Culture hydroponic system works and how you can build one yourself in no time.

What is the best hydroponic system for beginners?

Deep Water Culture (DWC) is the simplest type of hydroponic system you can build and maintain in your home. In this system, plants grow with their roots immersed directly in nutrient-rich water. For home growers, this can be achieved by growing in large, opaque containers or buckets. Commercial growers use rafts that float on a large bed of water; they work like a conveyor belt with the addition of young plants on one side they will move until they are ready for harvest on the other side.

A Deep Water Culture System

The lack of moving parts or water recirculation makes DWC systems relatively simple and inexpensive to build.

The water in DWC systems does not recirculate, it stays in the tank for the life of the installation. This means that it is necessary to aerate the water to replenish the oxygen used by the roots.

In soil, air pores provide much-needed oxygen to the roots, and in recirculating hydroponic systems, water is aerated during the pumping process. We can remedy this problem in a DWC system by using an air pump with an air stone attached (used in aquariums) to ensure the water remains oxygen rich.

What can I grow in my DWC system?

The best crops to grow in DWC systems are lettuce, cabbage, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, basil and parsley. These are all plants that are not too heavy. In DWC systems the roots are not well anchored which means growing tall plants like tomatoes can be difficult, if you are growing them you will need the right supports to keep the plant upright.

How to make a hydroponic DWC system at home

Materials: (scroll down for some product suggestions with links)

Storage container or bucket

Mesh Pots

Air Pump with Air Stone

Hard Water Liquid Nutrients (A & B)

PH Reduction

pH meter

Measuring cup


Hole saw with shaft



> 1. Find an appropriate container for the system

Many find that deeper storage containers and buckets work well for these systems because the deeper the water reservoir, the more stable the nutrient solution will be.

Fluctuations in nutrient concentration and pH are more likely in smaller tanks, you will also need to top up water more regularly.

Light must not be able to penetrate your container, otherwise there is a high risk of algae growth in your water. I used this opaque 55 liter container that we had left over from a previous project. In retrospect, I would have preferred to use a deeper container, but for my leafy vegetable growing needs, this will work fine.


Put holes in the lid of the container

Plants will grow in mesh pots, these are pots with many holes for the roots to grow. The next step is to drill holes in the lid of the container where the mesh pots will be. This requires the only specialist tool you will need in this build, a hole saw, they are quite affordable and easy to use. The size of the mesh pots you use should be larger than the hole so they don't fall out.

If you use a larger container like mine, you can drill more holes.

It's important to plan carefully here - I kept the holes 6 inches apart to accommodate the size of mature plants. If you are using a 20L bucket, I recommend drilling a hole in the center to create a unique plant system; they are great for growing something bigger like tomatoes or zucchini.

Pro - Tip: Place some wood under the cover when drilling holes, this will prevent the saw from shaking and breaking the plastic.

Mesh pot

Hole saw

Holes in the lid of the container

3. Assemble the air pump The air pump must remain outside the tank.

It will come with a check valve, this ensures that the pump will not suck in water if it is turned off. If there is none, the pump must be kept above the water level.

Connect the air stone and the check valve with a piece of tubing, making sure the arrow on the check valve points towards the air stone. Then connect the check valve to the air pump in the same way.

How to use a pneumatic stone for hydroponics

How to use a pneumatic stone for hydroponics

How to use a pneumatic stone for hydroponics


Fill tank, add nutrients and adjust pH

The system can be quite heavy when full, so be sure to decide where your container will live before filling! Fill it almost completely with water, leaving 1-2 cm of space at the top. Next you need to add your hydroponic nutrients to the water, following the directions on your bottle. Mine advised me to add 2ml per liter of each nutrient A and B; using a measuring cup, I added 110ml of each to my 55 liter container.

You also need to regulate the pH of the water.

Using a pH meter, measure the pH; tap water will have a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Most vegetables and herbs require a slightly acidic nutrient solution. You can lower the pH to 5.

5-6.5 with drops of phosphoric acid using a pipette (sold commercially as "pH Down" for hydroponic use). Wear gloves when handling the pH and remember to mix the solution well after application.

5. Assemble the system

Connect the air pump and place the pneumatic stone in the tank.

Close the top cover and you're almost done.

Adding your plants is simple, I put a few plants grown in rockwool spines in the mesh pots. You can also use seedlings grown in the ground, but we advise you to use soil that does not soil. Rock wool plugs or Hydroton clay granules are a cleaner solution.

How do I maintain my hydroponic system?

Done! Now for some maintenance things to do.

Simple Homemade Hydroponic System

My DWC Hydroponic System in Action

It is very important to make sure the water level does not drop too low, especially when the plants are young . As long as the water is in sufficient contact with the roots, they should grow well.

Keep an eye on pH levels by checking it each time you refill the water.

I use an old 2 liter water bottle to refill the water, so I know exactly how much water I am adding. For every 2 liters of water I use, I add 4ml of each nutrient A and B to the tank.

Clean the tank and replace it with fresh water every 14-21 days.

Additional Tips

How to sow the seeds directly into your DWC system

If you don't have a way to propagate the seedlings, you can sow the seeds directly for that they germinate in the system. To do this, place a rockwool pad in a screened pot and place a seed or two in the pad.

Make sure the cork doesn't dry out at all or it may affect germination.

How to grow cuttings in your DWC system

You can also experiment with growing herb cuttings, I tried with a mint cutting using a collar foam. It's a sponge cylinder with a slot in the middle where you can wedge the seedlings or cuttings, mine I released with the mesh pots. I cut a sprig of mint under a leaf node, then removed the lower leaves and placed it in the foam collar and then in the mesh pot. We recommend placing a bottomless plastic bottle over the cut to prevent it from drying out.

Final Thoughts

So here is how you can build a simple hydroponic system for yourself at home. You may already have some of the materials in your home right now, an old container or bucket can be reused in a worthy effort to start growing at home. If you don't have a lid, you can cut holes in polystyrene packaging to grow plants.

When you start hydroponics, the complexity of some of the systems on the market can be overwhelming. . That's why we recommend starting simple, a DWC system gives beginners the opportunity to do just that.

They are low maintenance and can be placed anywhere with enough light, indoors or outdoors.

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