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How to Grow Cost Effective Hydroponics

By Diane Watkins ; Updated September 21, 2017
Hydroponic systems produce more vegetables in the same space

Hydroponic gardening systems and accessories are expensive and it can take years to recoup the investment in equipment and supplies. Some of the cost is offset by the high quality of produce available year-round and the increased yields available through this form of gardening. The cost of your hydroponic system can be greatly reduced by building your own system, using recycled materials and hand watering instead of relying on expensive pumps and timers. This simple hand-watered bucket system is very cost effective and can be expanded and automated as your needs grow.

Find or purchase a bucket. Buckets that kitty litter, laundry detergent or other consumer goods came in are fine. Do not use buckets that contained toxic chemicals. Bakeries and restaurants often have buckets available if you ask.

Drill 10 to 12 drain holes in the sides of the buckets, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the bottom. Fill the bucket with clean, coarse sand. Moisten the sand.

Choose seeds to grow in your hydroponic buckets. Cost effective plants to grow are more expensive vegetables and flowers when purchased, and those that grow quickly. Lettuce is a good first crop but most plants will grow well in this system.

Plant the seeds in the sand at the depth recommended on the package. Water gently.

Water the seeds twice a day with plain water until the seeds sprout, then change to a dilute hydroponic nutrient solution. Start the plants on 1/2 strength nutrient solution and gradually increase it after the first month.

Water the plants with nutrient solution once or twice a day as needed to keep the soil from drying out. In hot, dry climates, three or more watering periods may be needed. Water until the nutrient solution begins to leak out the drain holes.


Things You Will Need

  • Bucket
  • Drill
  • Sand
  • Seeds
  • Nutrient solution


  • This system does not recover used nutrient solution. An improvement that would cost slightly more would be eliminate the drain holes and install a return line that drains the waste back to a nutrient tank for recycling.
  • Automate the system in the future by installing an automated drip system run by a small submersible pump.

About the Author


Diane Watkins has been writing since 1984, with experience in newspaper, newsletter and Web content. She writes two electronic newsletters and has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Clemson University. She has taken graduate courses in biochemistry and education.