Hydroponics is the method of growing plants in nutrient rich water instead of soil. It is best to try a basic hydroponics setup prior to investing a lot of money in a large or complex hydroponics system. A 5 gallon bucket will create a low cost and easy hydroponics setup to see if hydroponics is a method of gardening you want to investigate further. Choose a low-maintenance and easy-to-grow plant, such as tomatoes, for your first attempt.
Choose a dark-colored 5 gallon bucket to decrease the speed that algae will grow in the water. Wash the bucket thoroughly, making sure there are no soap or chemical residues in the bucket. Choose a bucket with a cover or make your own by cutting a piece of heavy foam board or plywood to fit on top of the bucket.
Purchase netted pots in the desired size to fit the plants being grown. You can make your own netted pot by drilling holes in the bottom and sides of a black plastic potting container. This is ideal if using one large pot for a tomato plant or other large growing plant.
Drill or cut holes in the bucket cover to hold the netted pots. Cut the hole the same diameter as the inside tip edge of the pot if it has a lip to hold it in the hole. Cut the holes 1/2 inch smaller than the diameter of the pot if there is no lip on the pot. Cut 1/2 inch-deep slashes 1/2 inch apart around the hole. These slashes will bend down slightly to hold the pot in place when it's inserted into the hole.
Drill a hole on the edge of the cover slightly larger than the air stone tubing. Feed the tube through the hole and place the air stone on the bottom of the bucket. Set the air pump outside the bucket and attach the tube to the pump hole.
Fill the bucket with water so the level is covering half of the inserted planting container. Add hydroponics nutrient to the water based on the amount of water in the bucket. Mix the nutrient thoroughly into the water and turn on the water pump to start the water bubbling.
Fill the netted pots with hydroponics medium or an even mixture of vermiculite and perlite. Plant the seedlings in the pots and gently firm the medium around the seedlings to hold in place. Place the pots into the lid holes and carefully set the bucket lid on the bucket. Verify the pots are partially submerged in the water.
Run the air stone 24 hours a day to keep the water circulating. Add nutrient water to the bucket as it decreases in level to make sure the plants are always submerged in nutrient water. Place the bucket in a well-lit area.