Picture of Hydroponic Food Factory
Build your own outdoor hydroponic system to grow Potatoes, Strawberries, Lettuce and Celery!

I have been interested in hydroponics from a very young age when a relative gave me a "grow light".
Being young, I didn't realise hydroponics meant growing without dirt, but that didn't stop me trying to grow plants under my parents stairs!

Ever since seeing my strawberries growing under that purple fluorescent glow, I was mesmerised by the idea of growing plants in different ways.
When I learnt that hydroponics was about growing without dirt (and not artificial lights!), I was hooked even more.

I have researched for years, and recently took the plunge growing a small hydroponic chilli plant, that shot up above it's dirt bound siblings. That was it for me, I wanted more, and I wanted bigger!

So here is how I built my new hydroponic garden, I hope to inspire others to jump in, it is a great hobby!

Step 1: The Green side of life

Picture of The Green side of life
Hydroponics is not only an enjoyable hobby, it is also a green one.

Hydroponics use as little as 10% of the water needed for plants grown in dirt , and results in higher yields due to the plants always having the necessary nutrients available to them when they need it.

Being a closed system, it also means that fertiliser is kept out of the water table, which is great for the environment.

An added benefit is that there is a less chance for weeds and dirt bound insects to attack your plants, so there is less of a need for chemical poisons.

Going further
Keeping with the green spirit, this instructable uses recycled materials where possible, and uses a low power pump, to keep electricity use low.

From using old PVC pipes, an old wooden baby's crib and other miscellaneous junk, not only is the cost kept down, but so is the waste.

As for power, the only thing needed is a water pump.
A small submersible pond pump kept the power usage down to a small 18 watts, which is about that of a CFL and less then a third of an Aerogarden!

When it comes to lights, it is hard to beat the Sun!
Free, effective and carbon neutral, it provides the exact spectrum that plants have evolved to use.


By growing food in my garden, it is a little bit less food I need to buy, a little less food that has been shipped across country, by trucks.
No packaging, and no transport makes this food the greenest in my kitchen.
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midpoint5 months ago
crank_girl5 months ago
Great ible. I'm hoping to create an indoor hydroponic kitchen garden and this will be really useful.
NathanWilliams (author)  crank_girl5 months ago
I'm in the middle of doing an indoor system too for strawberries.
A bit on hold at the moment, but I hope to one day write an instructable for it.

What are you planning on growing?
What lights are you thinking of using?

For my strawberries I'm going to use some compact fluorescent globes (the spiral ones).
Haven't thought that far ahead as we're waiting on getting our kitchen decorated. Probably lettuces, potatoes, peas, strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, some or all if i can. No idea what lights.
NathanWilliams (author)  crank_girl5 months ago

Sounds like an ambitious plan, I love it!

If you need help with lighting at some point, feel free to send me a message, I have done a lot of research into grow lights lately.

I will - thanks! :)
MattP67 months ago

Great documentation! Just about to get started... I just have a quick question.. How loud is this system with the pump? Im just wondering weather pump noise could ever be a problem when its indoors...


NathanWilliams (author)  MattP67 months ago
It has been a while since I ran this system, but as I recall, it was pretty quiet.

The pump is submerged in water, so all you really end up hearing is the trickle of water.

If I were to do this again, I would buy a smaller pump, the one I had was too powerful and pumped too fast. A smaller one could only be quieter still.

Good luck with your build, post pictures!
jeff-o6 years ago
A proper hole saw would make this step easier. They're expensive at that large of a diameter, though...
The hole drill bits are relatively inexpensive actually- I purchase a 4" ( much larger than need here) high end one for under $10.00. If you use it over and over again it is a great investment, and huge time saver. No drilling little wholes then smoothing- just do it all in one shot.

I really wish I read this before spending 2+ hours cutting holes with my dremel

billbillt1 year ago

This is one of the most useful and complete projects here... Double plus good.....

love this idea this year i am going to give it ago.

NathanWilliams (author)  jmarshall351 year ago
Good luck, post pictures!
vincent75202 years ago
What does this poor potato do sitting alone in this deep bucket : do you really expect to have a potato harvest with a single plant ???…
NathanWilliams (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Actually yeah, if I was more patient it would have given me a good yield.

I read it from a book where the guy used 2 5-litre buckets joined together and got a lot of potatoes out.

The trick is to keep covering up the stem as it grows, and more potatoes will grow from the covered stem.
diy_bloke2 years ago
with this all being some 3-4 years ago, I was wondering wether u r still using the system and if u are happy with it
NathanWilliams (author)  diy_bloke2 years ago
It lasted me about a year before I stopped taking care of it.
I have so many projects, and I become a bit scattered!
Then I moved and threw it all away.

I want to build a new system someday that needs less maintenance.
This one wasn't perfectly stable, and I had algae grow over the perlite (the white mix).

I want to do something with flood & drain next, and put a black plastic over the medium with holes for the plants to stick through.

I'm hoping being in buckets on a properly built frame, and no way for sunlight to grow algae on the medium, that it might be easier to just keep going.
diy_bloke2 years ago
What I wondered with the NFT: how do roots get water when they have not developed completely to the bottom of the cup, or at least far enough to be in the 'film'
NathanWilliams (author)  diy_bloke2 years ago
I wondered this initially too, but I read in a book that tiny splashes of the water add moisture to the surrounding air, enough for the roots to grow towards the source.
This system is great in the winter time.
plus it can almost support itself
sandspr12543 years ago
Thanks Nathan !

I did setup systems similiar to your and it's works. I didn't have the clay balls but used gravel from some fish tanks we have left over. I have attached a couple of pictures. I am still experimenting with this over the summer. Hopefully by the winter I will have all the bug out of it. I can't locate the hydroponic food in my area but I am using a mixture of Miracle grow and seem to be working, everything is growing. Thanks
NathanWilliams (author)  sandspr12543 years ago
Where are the pictures?
I would love to see your setup! :)
Here are the pictures. The first picture is the general setup and second is about two week of old and the last one is when I started with some plants started in dirt, wihich told about 2 weeks to get started. I have also try some from seeds. Lettuce is doing pretty good and the cucumbers are dying. I am just trying different soil mixtures to see what will do good. I will keep you updated. Thanks
NathanWilliams (author)  sandspr12543 years ago
Wow, that looks fantastic!
I really like it, it looks so neat and professional (compared to mine which was a bit of a hack!)

One suggestion I would have is to cover your water tank to stop light getting in, otherwise you will have algae growth.

Nice tutorial NathanWilliams! I was going to go the hydroponic equipment route, but if DIY is this simple and affordable….I’m sold.

What veggies are the easiest to grow for a n00b and how much did you spend? I can across this hydroponic FAX which was pretty helpful for a novice like me. Any good tutorials out there that could aid me?

Thanks!!! :)
Thanks for the complement :)
It has been a while and I can't recall how much I spent. The most expensive part was the pump, which here in Australia I think it was about $40, if you are in the US you should get it much cheaper.

As for the best veggies, I had the best results with celery, I would only be guessing at others.

Start with above ground veggies (not carrots etc), and as you get a feel for it you should just experiment with what works!

In the end all I did was experiment. Some things went well, others didn't. It is fun just trying!

I once grew a massive chilli plant using hydro once, way more chillies then I could use.

Don't be afraid to try, plants are pretty tough and they love hydro.

Good luck!
I don't really understand the purpose of the large water reservoir, does the irrigation channel end in it instead of the bottom bucket or is it just to make sure that the bottom bucket never runs out of grow fluid? Im a little unclear of its purpose and am wondering if it is necessary if a person is willing to check the h2o level of the lower bucket on a regular basis.
NathanWilliams (author)  ohyaitsthechad3 years ago
It isn't really needed.

I added it as I tend to get distracted easily, so I could imagine forgetting to keep the water topped up and burning the pump out when it all went dry! (not to mention killing the plants!)

I found the lower bucket of water lasted a fair while, but I would suggest a dark bucket, preferably light proof, as all that water and nutrients makes a nice place for algae to grow, and I found I had to dump the water and clean it after a while.
That is the coolest float valve!
Simple, cheap, ingenious!
NathanWilliams (author)  GhettoEngineer3 years ago
Such kind words, thank you!
With cheapy plastic material, you could also heat the drill bit (or a nail for that matter) and poke right through. When I tried on a similar project, I found that the drilling broke several of my cheap pots.
שגנץ3 years ago
hi, thanks for this w9nderful tutorial. i read it all and planning to give it a try on our new home next month.
i'm reallt new in to growing plants and got some very basic questions:
1. how long it takes to grow the celery? and the strawberries?
2. is because it grows on water the plants grow stronger and bigger?
3. when the celery is fully grown, i need to take it out and plant a new one intead, right? or you just take few leafs every time and let it regrow?

NathanWilliams (author)  שגנץ3 years ago
Thank you for such nice words!

It was quite a while ago now that I did this, so I don't quite remember how long it all took.

1. The celery was pretty quick, the strawberries didn't go as well as I had hoped though

2. The reason they grow stronger is that they have a lot more food to eat.
Plants need a few basic elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) and a few other minor elements.
In dirt the plant roots have to dig far, and even then they only get a small amount of what they could use, so they grow slowly.

In hydroponics the water is full of nutrients, so the plants take up as much as they can and grow fast.

3. I cut stalks off the celery and just left the plant to regrow, but if you want it all at once, then you could cut it down and plant a new seedling.
Either way works!

I'm considering doing a new garden sometime soon, I want to try and get the strawberries to grow better then they did in this setup.
Thanks for your fast reply and detailed answer.
I can't wait to get started. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful work.
daliad1004 years ago
I really want to design something with stackable sections that can somehow can have the bottom potatoes harvested, the bottom section removed and placed on the top then the entire tower dropped down making a conveyor belt of potatoey goodness.

NathanWilliams (author)  daliad1004 years ago
I like the idea!

I was at one point wondering if I could use a worm farm for this by cutting out the base of each layer. (like this: http://www.canterbury.nsw.gov.au/resources/images/worm_farm.jpg)
Unfortunately those things are expensive, so when I finally got one I used it as a worm farm!

If you figure it out, please post it up, I would love to see it!
Just had a potential idea that could make your idea for the Potatonater?, Tower of Potatoey DOOOOM!!!?, other Potato related name? easier to work and possibly cheaper after seeing a milk crate at work.

A set of stacking boxes with holes smaller than the growth medium in the bottom and solid sides should end up with an easily removable layer of potatoes if you can devise a way of moving a very heavy stack of crates.

Some sort of winch or jack that has a travel of the box height + a couple of inches should suffice to allow the bottom drawer to be removed and the rest of the tower lowered to the ground. Don't know how this lifting mechanism will connect to the boxes but I can't make it too easy for everyone ;)
NathanWilliams (author)  daliad1004 years ago
I love it!
Milk creates with some sort of wall would be easy, and if you could hinge one of the side walls, you might even be able to put your hand in to just pull potatoes out without moving it at all!

You could have a perpetual potato plant that you never have to replant!
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