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Four plant drip system growing Broccoli plants
Broccoli flower on broccoli plant growing in this easy to build hydroponic drip system

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There's nothing like growing your own fruits and vegetables in your own Hydroponic Garden.

Their are Six Hydroponic System Types

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This hydroponic drip system was designed to grow the larger plants that need more root space. Larger plants like tomato's, cucumbers, melons,  peppers etc. etc.. But it's simple design is not only highly functional, expandable and customizable, but is quite inexpensive to build as well. For most of us on a budget, this drip system is a great design that will be able to produce lots of fruits and veggies without needing to spend lots of money to do it.

The plans to build this 5 gallon bucket drip system for large plants are downloadable in pdf. so you can easily e-mail them to anyone in the world, or print them out for yourself at home.

Easy to Build Hydroponic Drip System

Download these hydroponic system design plans in pdf.

Because prices change from place to place, your exact cost is going to be determined by what you can get in your local area. But you should be Four plant drip system for growing large plantsable to acquire all the materials needed for under $100. I built this system myself for between $60 and $80. You may even already have some of the needed materials around the house.

Even though this system is designed to grow 4 plants in 5 gallon buckets, you can easily adapt it to grow more or less plants as you wish, as well as in larger or smaller containers and buckets.     

System Parts List
  • 4 Five gallon buckets (for plants)
  • 4 Through holes (also called bulkhead fittings)
  • Black vinyl tubing (for both fill and drain lines), also blue vinyl tubing from a
    hydroponic supply shop will work fine as well.
  • 1 Submersible fountain pump (found in most nursery's)
  • 18 to 30 gallon storage tote for reservoir (larger is better in the long run)
  • Hydroponic growing medium (to support plants and hold moisture for the roots)
  • One inexpensive furnace filter (to keep growing medium from getting in the tubing)
  • A Few “T” Connectors that Fit the Vinyl tubing your using (how many depends on your
    final configuration)
  • Two cans of inexpensive black spray paint, and two cans of Inexpensive white spray
    paint (in order to light proof the buckets and reservoir)
  • (Optional) A small amount of PVC tubing and connectors (for return line ends)
Additional Items You'll Need to Grow the Plants
  • Hydroponic Nutrients (any type, as long as there designed for hydroponic plants).
  • pH test kit (to test pH of the nutrient solution) pH drops by General Hydroponics works best and is the cheapest way to go.
  • pH Adjusters (pH up, and pH down) That's to adjust the pH if needed once you have
    tested it.
Except for the hydroponic nutrients, pH testing kit, pH adjusters and growing medium, you
should be able to get the rest of the materials needed at local stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s Wal-Mart, Target, Big lots, Kmart etc. I got the five gallon buckets at Home Depot for about $2.50 each, and the 18 gallon storage tote at Wal-Mart for $3.50. The black vinylFountain pump used for hydroponics tubing and “T” connectors, I got at Lowe’s.

The fountain pump was from Lowe’s as well. That was the most expensive part of the whole system. The pump was about $40, but for this system you don't need a pump as large to do the job, but it does allow you to expand on the system in the future. Just make sure any pump you use has a removable filter, If not you will want to create one to keep debris out of it.

The Through holes/Bulkhead fittings come in all sizes and shapes. They are used in all sorts of industry’s, but most home improvement stores carry them somewhere in the store, and very likely to have them in more than one place. I got these in the electrical department at Home Depot for $1.97 ea, right next to the electrical conduit.
Through Hole/Bulkhead fittingThrough Hole/Bulkhead fitting, expanded

You will need to make sure the end of the
through hole that the vinyl tubing will go on
(end without the threads and nut), will fit the size tubing you are using. The ones in the pictures above will fit 5/8 inch inside diameter tubing. If not you can use two sizes of tubing and/or using a hose clamp to tighten it up. Or by cutting a short piece of tubing (the size that fits the through hole), and slipping it on the through hole, then slipping the smaller tube inside the larger one. If so you may want to use a small amount of waterproof glue between the two different sizes, and/or a hose clamp to make sure there's a water tight fit. Also you may find that a old garden hose will fit just fine, and can be substituted for the vinyl tubing for the return (drain) lines.

Cutting the hole for the through holesFirst step is to trace the side of the through hole with the thread and nut, on the bottom of all 4 five gallon buckets. You'll want it to be close to the edge of the bucket, but not so close you wont be able the thread the nut on in order to install it (about an inch). That's so you will be able to set it upright on a table or bench, and most of the buckets weight will still be supported, and it wont tip over.

It's important that you don't make the holes too big, or it may leak. It should be just big enough to stick the threaded side of the through hole in without a noticeable gap.Rotary tool used for cutting holes for the through hole

I use a rotary tool to make the holes myself, like the one pictured on the right. If You don't have one you can make the holes any way you want, even a hot metal coat hanger will be able to melt the plastic nicely, then just scrape any burs off with a razor blade to make the edge smooth.

Through hole installed in bucket seen from bottom
Now that you have the whole cut, insert the
through hole and tighten it up. Just make sure you have the rubber gasket on the right side, in most cases (depending on the particular through holes your using) it will most likely be on the outside of the bucket, and only the nut on the inside.

In order to keep algae growth down you will need to light proof the buckets. Algae needs two things to grow, food and light. The nutrients will provide plenty of food, so you need to block the light.

Turn the buckets upside down, and put tape all around the through hole (so you don't get paint on, or in it). Give the buckets a couple of coats of black spray paint, or as many as needed to block all the light. Then because the color black absorbs heat, give the buckets a couple of coats of white spray paint. This will reflect light and help keep the root zone temperatures from getting hot. Make sure you only paint the outside, you don't want paint to come in contact with the roots or nutrient solution.

Getting the buckets ready to put the plants in is also quite simple, but just a few steeps. First cut the filter part out of the furnace Filter, then cut a piece off to place over the through holes. This will keep the growing medium out of the tubing, but still allow the water to flow easily out the bottom.

Furnace Filter
Through hole installed in bucket seen from insideCut piece of furnace filter screen covering through hole opening
Inexpensive furnace filter

Rocks at the bottom of the bucket aid in drainage, and hold the furnace filter screen in placeNow that you have the filter in place, place
some rocks on top of that. I would fill about the bottom third with rocks. This holds the filter in place, as well as helps water drainage from the buckets. Also the rocks adds weight to the buckets keeping them firmly in place. Even strong winds won't be able move them.

Note: be sure to clean and sanitize the rocks
first by rinsing them off and soaking them in
bleach water for about an hour, then rinsing
again. This reduces the chances of any root
diseases from soil born pathogens getting into the system.

Growing Medium
On top of the rocks place the hydroponic growing medium. You can use many materials as a growing medium like Grow Rock (Hydrocorn), Perlite, Vermiculite etc.. Any inert (without
nutrients) material can be used. I especially like, and used coco chips in this system. Coco
chips and coco fiber are Basically the same thing, but coco chips are just in a larger partial
size. The larger partial size allows more air/oxygen to get to the root system.

Compressed block of coco chips growing mediaThese are the coco chips I used in this system, they come in a compressed block. This block equaled 2 cubic feet (about 15 gallons worth) when uncompressed. To uncompressed it you just soak it in water. I would do this a couple of times to leach out some of the color. The color wont hurt the plants, but I try to get out as much color as I can first anyway. These coco chips also hold moisture very well witch is another reason I like using them. This block cost me $9.95, and was enough for all 4 five gallon buckets.

Watering and Drain lines

Plant growing in the drip system
Now make a loop using the vinyl tubing and a connecting “T” for all 4 buckets. These will be the dripper's that will water the buckets. Once you have made them, take a paperclip and heat one end up with the flame of a candle, then poke some holes in the tubing ring with it.

Notice that I cut a notch in the side of the buckets just large enough to hold the watering line in place snugly.

The the feed line (watering) , as well as the drain line setup will depend on the configuration
and positing of where you place your buckets. In the picture below you can see how I have run the lines to my buckets on the tabletop. The feed line comes up through a hole in the center of the table. Then is split into 2 lines using a “T” connector, then each of those lines is split into two lines again using the same “T” connectors. Essentially splitting one feed line into 4 separate lines (one to each bucket).

As the nutrient rich water is pumped up to the top of the plants, it then drips down through the buckets, moistening the growing medium (and roots), then freely drains back down into the reservoir through the through holes at the bottom of the buckets. Once back in theDrip system all set up and growing broccoli plants reservoir, it's able to be recirculated through the system again. The bag of concrete is just there to help add weight to the table, we get 50+ mile an hour wind gustsfrom time to time,
but I never had any problems with the table or buckets wanting to tip over with the weight of the rocks in the buckets as well as the concrete bag on top of the table.

The reservoir

Drip system fill and drain water lines set up

The reservoir part is quite simple too, just paint the base and lid (outside) of the 18 to 30 gallon storage tote the same way you did the buckets. Painting it black to block light, and then white to reflect light. Once painted, cut a notch in the lid for the electrical cord and hose from the pump to go through. Then you are ready to start setting up your hydroponic system.

There are so many configurations that you can do, there is no way to explain them all. The
buckets can be setup on a table, bench, wall etc.. But the one thing that you need to be sure of is that the reservoir is at least 6 inches below the buckets. Otherwise the nutrient solution wont be able to flow back into the reservoir easily.

The design is simple, the pump pumps the nutrient solution up to the top of the buckets, where it drips down through the bucket, and out the through hole at the bottom. Then the return tubing drains it back into the reservoir.

Drip system fill and drainage line setupYou can run the return lines different ways, but it should be a gentle slope all the way back to the reservoir. You can see that I connected the return lines from two buckets together with a “T” connecter, then back to the reservoir. The PVC at the end of the line going back into the reservoir is not necessary, although it does help keep the flow draining back more
even. The tube coming out the side of the reservoir and looping back up through the center of the table is the line that pumps the nutrient solution from the pump up to water the plants
from the top drip rings.

Water Cycling
I used a digital timer with this system (I already had it), but I later got another one for a
different system for $5.95 at Kmart. It had plenty of settings and even a cover over the dial.
Timer used for watering cyclesFor best results with the timer, make sure it 's rated for 15 amps (usually called heavy duty). I had one that was rated for 10 amps but it burned out in just a few days. The heavy duty (15 amp) timers haven’t burned out in over 2 years now.

You'll also want a timer that has pins for the on/off cycles all around the dial, not just a few (for analog timers). That's because it will need to be turned on and off many times during the day (to be explained later). Digital timers usually have many on/off cycles that can be set, though if there is a power outage it will loose their memory if it doesn’t have a battery backup.

Timer covered with plastic bags to keep it from getting wet in the rain

When growing outside, you will want to make sure the timer and cord connections don't get wet or they will short out. This can be done by placing them in a spot that wont get wet even if it's windy and rains hard. In my case I warped 3 plastic bags, layered one on top of the other (in case of small holes). Then tightly duct taped it to the cords. It's not as pretty as it can be, but it kept rain off the connections just fine.

There you go, you just built a drip hydroponic
system. Happy Gardening!!!

Download these hydroponic system design plans in pdf.