Introduction: Grow Anything Grow Bucket for $50
First Prize in the
Gardening Contest 2017
Normally when you grow indoors you can only grow shade resistant plants. But with the lights and fan mounted on this bucket, you can grow pretty much anything! Pictured is my Thai hot chili plant.
This project is heavily based on the DIY Space Bucket build, with some minor modifications so that you don't have to fiddle with any wires (the electronics just plug into each other).
If you just want to buy a kit, check out my website! http://growbucket.life I sell kits for $50 each (pick up only in the San Francisco Mission), and I'm dreaming of doing a Kickstarter for a version of this with LED lights to save power.
Because I'm making 100, I have been able to buy some of the parts at great bulk rates, bringing my total cost to $30 (not including tax), but if you buy just the parts for 1 grow bucket kit your cost will be about $50.
PARTS (see first step for sourcing details)
2 five gallon buckets (free to repurpose)
bucket lid (free to repurpose or $2 to buy from TAP Plastics)
Blackout material -- black vinyl/paint/duct tape for white buckets, mylar lining for colored buckets (~$4 but vinyl is more expensive)
4 E26 or E27 fluorescent lightbulbs, 23-32 watts each ($10 from Amazon)
2 E26 or E27 lightbulb Y sockets ($5 for 5 on Amazon)
2 E26 or E27 lightbulb socket to power adaptors ($3 each at my local hardware store)
1 programmable light timer ($7 for 2 on Amazon)
USB fan ($6 on Amazon)
USB power adaptor ($4 at my local corner stores)
2 three foot (or longer) extension cords ($3 each at my local hardware store)
1 polarized three outlet tap ($3 at my local hardware store)
8 hex bolts, 3/4 to 1 inch long, size 4-20 (9 cents each at my local hardware store)
- 8 nuts, size 4-20 (7 cents each at my local hardware store)
If you have purchased your own black out vinyl, you have the option of cutting it in the shape of the attached SVG to make it easier to apply without wrinkles.
- Dremel (I bought the Wen brand one from Amazon for ~$30)
- Metal cutting disks (22mm vented ones with diamond grit that fit on the Dremel, set of 12 for ~$8 on Amazon)
- Safety Glasses
When I first started making these I used my Dremel for everything -- the cutting disk to cut big holes, and the drill bit to cut small holes and make holes bigger. Now I use a combination of laser cutter, hole saws, and special bits to do things faster.
Depending on how you pay for your utilities and the wattage of your lightbulbs, the buckets may cost money to run! Mine cost $10 worth of electricity to run per month (but utilities are included in my rent). If this is a problem for you, you can invest extra money into a lower power LED build. I'm working on designing an LED build for mass manufacture -- subscribe to my newsletter if you'd be interested in this Kickstarter project (http://growbucket.life/).
This grow bucket kit design consists of many parts that plug directly into the household outlet. The parts that I have pictured do not have any safety features built in. It is recommended (especially if you are making this kit with kids) to buy a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt adaptor (GFCI adaptor) to plug everything into -- this way if there are any electrical leaks the power will automatically be shut off.
For a really detailed rundown on electrical safety for this style of DIY grow bucket, check out this post on Reddit.
Check out my project diary! https://medium.com/grow-bucket-life-project-kickst...
Subscribe to my newsletter! http://growbucket.life/
Thanks to SuperAngryGuy for teaching me about the GFCI adaptor for the safety section.
Step 1: Sourcing Parts
Here is information on how to source each part. For reference I've included a picture of all the parts included in my kit.
2 Buckets and 1 lid
I've had the most success by far getting free buckets from bakeries. You can also get them at some bulk food places (things like peanut butter come in buckets), and also at sandwich places (pickles come in buckets). Be wary that pickle buckets will always smell at least a little bit like pickles.
Places I've gotten free buckets in San Francisco: http://growbucket.life/faq.html
The idea with blacking out the buckets is to reflect light on the inside of the buckets, and block light on the outside (unless you want your bucket to double as an intensely bright lamp).
If your bucket is white, then it is already reflective on the inside, and you just need to black out the outside. I've tried using black duct tape, paint, and stick on vinyl (you can see the comparison in my project diary). I haven't tried thick black paper (the kind students use for posters), but I think it would work and be cost effective as well.
If your bucket is colored, then you can make the inside reflective and block the light from leaving by lining it with mylar. My local TAP Plastics sells 2 ft wide mylar for a couple bucks per foot. You'll need 3 feet of 2 ft wide mylar.
Any caged USB fan will work fine (about $7 on Amazon). If you will be keeping your bucket in your bedroom or study, you may want to invest a little bit more in a quieter fan. I did a test and found the Stylepie Fun Fun Fan to be the quietest ($15 on Amazon and maybe a little cheaper on Aliexpress -- search 'summer fruit USB fan'). You can also solder together a computer fan solution (example tutorial).
Electronics from Amazon
These are the best prices I have found for parts available on Amazon.
- 4 fluorescent lightbulbs, 23-32 watts each ($10 from Amazon)
- 2 lightbulb Y sockets ($5 for 5 on Amazon)
- 1 programmable light timer ($7 for 2 on Amazon)
USB power adaptor
You can use any USB power adaptor. My fan takes 0.5 Amperes of current, but don't worry if your USB adaptor says 1A or 2A on it. The fan will only draw the amount of current that it needs. I can find these for $4 at any local corner store or dollar store, and you can probably get them for about the same price on Amazon. If you have a spare USB adaptor for charging your phone, you can use that too.
Parts from local hardware store
- 2 three foot (or longer) extension cords ($3 each at my local hardware store)
- 8 hex bolts, 3/4 to 1 inch long, size 4-20 (9 cents each at my local hardware store)
- 8 nuts, size 4-20 (7 cents each at my local hardware store)
- Polarized three outlet tap ($3 at my local hardware store) *make sure this doesn't have a ground prong if your timer doesn't accept a ground prong*
I include an extra 6 ft long extension cord with my kit, in case people want to have the bucket further away from their outlet.
A note about the tools
I have this lovely cheap Wen brand dremel that I got on Amazon for less than $30. It's served me well except the button that locks the bit when you change it came off once and I had to hot glue it back on.
I DO NOT recommend using the cutting disks that come with the Wen tool to cut the plastic buckets. They snap very easily. If you decide to take the risk anyways, you MUST wear safety glasses.
I recommend wearing safety glasses in any case -- I always get plastic dust in my eye if I forget to use safety glasses.
If you are making a whole lot of these things, I recommending sourcing some of the electronic parts from dollar store suppliers. I sourced my extension cords, lightbulbs, and polarized tap from dollar store suppliers. Here's an article I wrote about the suppliers I used. These suppliers are domestic to the USA.
I sourced my fans and USB power adaptors from AliExpress. If you are ordering a lot of something, it's worth messaging the seller for a bulk rate (and to make sure they actually have enough stock). Items that have free shipping on AliExpress are generally shipped via sea freight, and take about a month to arrive in the USA.
My lightbulb socket to power adaptors were sourced via Alibaba, by messaging sellers. For Alibaba you will have to pay shipping separately. I recommend FedEx or UPS shipping to get your order to you faster from China. Unless you have a shipping agent, stick with FedEx, UPS, or DHL. You can read about some of my learnings about shipping in my project diary.
Step 2: Prep the Bucket for Holding the Plant
If your buckets are not clean, wash them first.
Put passive intake ventilation holes in the sides of one bucket.
The exact size and shape of these holes do not matter, so long as air can pass through easily without much resistance. I like to put in four rectangular holes size 2cm by 7cm, spaced evenly around the side of the bucket. You want these holes to be at a height that is just above your soil level, so the air can come in by the base of the plant and go up through to the fan at the top of the bucket. I like to put my holes between 1/3 and 1/2 up the height of the bucket, but if you are planning on planting root veggies, you will want them higher. I cut these with my dremel.
Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the same bucket
I like to put about 30 holes evenly spaced around the bottom of the bucket with my 1/8 inch dremel drill bit. Don't put them too close to the edge so the water doesn't drip onto the bolts holding the bucket off the water reservoir.
Step 3: Prep the Other Bucket for the Lights and Water Reservoir
Cut the other bucket in half
Cut your bucket in half at a 17cm height. You will need enough vertical height on the bottom half for the bolts, and the height at which you put the bolts will be the size of your water reservoir. The top half will be where the lights are mounted.
Cut holes for the bolts
On the bottom half of the bucket that was cut in half, drill eight holes evenly spaced around the side of the bucket, at a 10cm height. You can drill these with the 1/8 inch drill bit that comes with the dremel and widen them to fit the bolts, or you can buy a 1/4 inch dremel drill bit (like these) and get the size right in one go. If you are using a drill instead of a dremel, make sure you use a corded one -- I've found that uncorded drills do not have enough speed to go through the bucket properly.
Cut a hole for the fan in the lid
I've found that a 12cm diameter hole works for all the fans I've bought. You can test to see if your hole is big enough by putting your fan through it. Your fan should sit in the hole without falling through. If your fan has a stand, take it off (usually it's just screwed in and you can remove it with a screwdriver).
Cut holes for the lightbulb sockets
To make these holes, you can cut a square with your dremel cutting disk, and round it out with a dremel drill bit. I have been using a 1 1/8 inch hole saw for mine. You want to place your holes just above the bottom most rim of the top half of the cut bucket.
Make sure that there will be enough room for the fan to be placed such that it won't touch the lightbulbs. If your bucket's lowest rim is too close to the top, you can cut the lightbulb socket holes lower than the lowest rim, but you'll want to tape something bumpy on the bucket so that all the weight of the top doesn't rest completely on the lightbulb sockets.
If the placement of your lightbulb socket hole has a rim inside it, trim the rim off the area with your dremel cutting disk. You can test the hole by seeing if the Y shaped lightbulb socket adaptor fits through.
Step 4: Put in the Bolts
These bolts will hold the bucket with the plant inside up from the water reservoir. Use the matching nuts to keep them in place. You can just screw these on tight with your hands -- there is no need to use tools to make them extra tight.
Step 5: Blackout the Bucket -- Lid
Here are my steps for placing ready-cut black vinyl on a white bucket.
You can cover white buckets with anything black (paint, duct tape, thick paper) to serve the same purpose. For colored buckets, glue mylar lining to the inside (but not the bottom). Don't forget to use scissors or a penknife to cut the air intake holes through the blackout material.
Cover the lid
Take the backing off the vinyl for the lid, and lightly stick it on so that the vinyl is centered over the hole for the fan. Flatten the vinyl from the middle to the edge of the rim.
Step 6: Blackout the Bucket -- Bucket Sides
Cover the bucket for the plant
First, with the backing still on the vinyl so it doesn't stick, wrap the vinyl around the bucket to get the placement right. Trace one edge of the vinyl with a marker. Unfold 1 inch of the backing off the same edge, and carefully stick this edge onto the bucket where you marked. Reach under the vinyl to pull the backing away while smoothing out the vinyl on the bucket with your hand. Trim the vinyl with scissors to uncover the air intake holes, and trim extra vinyl off the end. This is the method that I found to reduce the number of wrinkles in the vinyl as much as possible.
Step 7: Blackout the Bucket -- Bucket Rims
Cover the rim of the bucket that will hold the plant, as well as the bucket half that will hold the lights. Cut strips to the size of each rim section (I just eyeball it), and stick them on. Now we have our blacked out bucket and just need to add the electronics!
Step 8: Lights!
Screw the four lightbulbs into the two Y socket adaptors. Put the Y socket adaptors through the hole in the bucket and screw the lightbulb socket power adaptors on the end to secure the lighting in place. My lightbulbs are slightly too big to be sitting flush with the floor in the bucket, so I have them at opposing angles so they do not touch.
Step 9: Ventilation!
Add your fan! Make sure it is not touching the lightbulbs. If the lightbulbs are too wobbly, you can add tape to bucket holes where they are mounted to stabilize them.
Step 10: Cords!
Take your two extension cords (mine are 4ft extension cords), and attach them to the lightbulb socket power adaptors. Plug your USB adaptor into one of them, and plug your fan into that.
Step 11: Timer!
Plug in the two extension cords into the polarized tap. Plug in the polarized tap into your timer. Tada! Your grow bucket is complete!
You can program your timer to set what hours you want the light to be on. I set mine to be on from 10AM to 10PM. There is also a handy dandy button to turn the light on when the timer has it off on the side, so you don't have to reset the timer just to turn it on.
Step 12: Planting and Watering
I use 2/3 potting soil and 1/3 pearlite, to promote water drainage. You can plant your seed by following instructions specific to the seed.
Be sure to check the surface of the soil to figure out your water schedule at the beginning. The heat from the lights and the ventilation dry out the top layer of soil much faster than your average household potted plant. I water my plants every day when they're just germinating and starting off, and every other day after that. You can also turn off the ventilation until after germination to reduce drying.
If you end up sprouting multiple plants, you may have to eventually pick the biggest one and cull the rest, to make sure there's enough room in the bucket for the plant to grow.
Don't forget to fertilize! You can do this by diluting fertilizer into the water you use to water the plants, so that the plants aren't burned. Leaves with yellow spots indicate that the plant needs to be fertilized.
I have some pretty established Thai hot chilli peppers growing in my first bucket prototype. They've been in there for half a year now, but I didn't fertilize it for a long time at the beginning. After I fertilized it, the plant grew really fast! So it would take more careful gardeners less than half a year to grow hot chilis.
I've also sprouted some arugula, and my friend Duncan has got some baby cherry tomato plants going. I have planted some dragon carrots to see if the bucket setup will work OK with root vegetables, but they haven't sprouted yet (it's been a week).
Everything I'm growing does fine in full sun. If you have something like lettuce that does much better in partial shade (it tastes bitter if you put it in full sun!), you may want to use less than four lightbulbs and play with the timer settings.
Step 13: Extras
You may find that your bucket is so bright it's irritating. I have a conical light guard on my original bucket. It's made out of the mylar bags that the meat from our groceries gets delivered in, but I'm sure even less lightproof material like cardstock would help. I've also stacked on an extra top half of a bucket, so that there is more room inside for the plant to grow.
The question that I always get asked whenever I tell someone about this project is "Can you grow marijuana in it?" If you are interested in that, there is a whole community on Reddit for you.
I hope you like this project! I've been working on it for half a year, and learned a ton in the process. I will be selling my kits at Maker Faire in May 2017, and if people like them I will do a Kickstarter. You can follow my project diary if you're interested in the manufacturing aspect of it, or subscribe to my mailing list if you just want to know when it's available for purchase.
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