Introduction: My First Hydroponic Set

Picture of My First Hydroponic Set

How to make a foolproof and cheap fully working hydroponic system.
This system can be used indoors or outdoors, can be used as a cloner or to grow veggies and plants.
This is the first set I build, 5 years ago.
It is still perfectly working.

Step 1: List of Materials

Picture of List of Materials

A blue Rubbermaid tub, or any other brand with an inside rim.
The inside rim is important, as the PVC tubing will rest on it.

1/2 inch PVC tube

4 pieces 1/2 inch PVC tube 90 degrees angles.

one T junction 1/2 inch

an aquarium pump

a 15inch long flexible water hose 1/2 inch diameter.

6 or 8 empty yoghurt pots

a 24 hour timer

Step 2: Pot Holes

Picture of Pot Holes

Place your growing pots (yoghurt or any other pot) on the cover of the Rubbermaid.
With a marker, draw the places where they will be, allow some space between the pots.
I made 10 holes, but 6 or 4 are definitely OK.
Make sure all pots get enough "splash".
When you cut the cover, be careful for you fingers.
Cut holes with a cutter or better with a clock saw if you have one.
When using a clock saw, use a very low speed.
I warn you, be careful for you fingers.

Step 3: PVC Emitters

Picture of PVC Emitters

Inner tubing of PVC will rest on the rim.
With a pencil draw a straight line in the PVC tubes.
Punch holes with nail and hammer or better drill holes of 1 or 2mm.
Clean the debris inside the PVC tubes.

Step 4: Pump

Picture of Pump

Fit the pump.
Add water till it reaches 1 inch below the PVC tubing.
Plug the pump and check the flow.
Add more holes if necessary.


chefmichel (author)2015-10-22

The pump is a medium size pump, this one has a 1000Liter/H or approx 260 Gal./Hour capacity.

PkP4 (author)2015-10-22

Hey what kind of pump should i get? About to copy this design but with black 1/2 poly tubing. Planning on also running 1 or 2 lengths of poly tubing widthwise. Perferating with a hot needle as per comments.

DELTAWOLF05 (author)2009-03-23

way don't the roots just sit in the water, eliminating the need for a pump? sorry im a hydroponics nube trying to make a first rig

a.murchie (author)DELTAWOLF052011-01-15

Another reason to keep the roots in circulating water or a drip or mist is simply that they must have oxygen to live and grow. Too much water and with few exceptions, plants will drown.

chefmichel (author)DELTAWOLF052009-03-24

Good question Deltawolf05, But how do you make roots grow till they reach the water ? The pump will aerate the water, thus allow a more vigorous plant grow. Still water might stink after a few days, while aerated flowing water will not.. The best you can do it try to build one system yourself, and share it with us on instructables.

DELTAWOLF05 (author)chefmichel2009-04-13

ok so i built a rig close to this the diffences being the the pvc sprayer but they r only minor. will miracle grow work as a fertilizer and how do i prevent the roots from roting?

chefmichel (author)DELTAWOLF052009-04-14

Congratulations on your building your own system, you'll enjoy using it for many years. You'll even know how to fix it, should something go wrong. Re the nutrient, I always use special hydro nutes myself. But make a search (Google) and see or they have answered your question. Check and prune the roots from time to time, take out the rotten ones, you'll avoid major rotting. Change the water every 2 or 3 weeks, check the PH. Hydroponics, like gardening, take some time and efforts, but you'll learn quickly.

evengravy (author)2009-01-29

you would be far better replacing the lengths of pvc tubing with black poly tubing, this way you could attach 180 degree misting or fogging nozzles for full coverage. These misting nozzles are cheap and easily available, you simply Insert the heads into the 1/2" Poly-tube by punching a small hole then threading on the heads. The heads can then be adjusted so that their spray will cover the entire area.

Either this or have pin sized holes in the pvc for increased coverage, this can be achieved by heating up a darning needle till its red hot and piercing the pvc tubing. Your current water pump is not strong enough to supply such large holes in the pvc tubing.

sorry to be so negative, I build hydroponics for a living, it would work ok as it is, but these small changes would make it great and cost little!

my two cents.

botronics (author)evengravy2010-06-11

PVC is better for use with micro spray heads. You drill and tap for 10-32. Thats what I did on mine. The pvc on the outside spraying toward the inside is great. This prevents spray from hitting the lid edge and dribble outside along the lid top. I placed my spray heads in the middle and sprayed out toward the edge. I had to make a spray barrier to keep it from dripping outside the container. I suppose some weather stripping would seal the top, but I had trouble with it sticking with all the wetness. A filter bag and polyfill batting around the pump will keep the heads from clogging and protect the pump.

chefmichel (author)evengravy2009-01-30

Dear Evengravy, On the contrary, I appreciate your pro. comment. When I wrote this instructable "my first hydro set" I wanted comments & ideas on how to improve it. I tried the misting nozzles from 2 brands (Gardenia & Hazelock) and they got klogged. Once the system is running, I hate to open it and unclog the nozzles. Holes with a red hot darning needle are a good idea, I'll try it out. The pump is a medium size , and as you can see on the pics, has enough power to splash profusely all the pots. I do not put plants in all holes, but keep a lid on 2 of them. Like this I can access inside for maintenance or add water.

botronics (author)2010-06-11

I just built a system similar to yours. Planted seeds and the lettuce is just starting to come up after 5 days! I'm using VF-11 for the neuts. That stuff has crystals coming out of solution and about 2 tablespoons full of solids in the bottom of the bottle. I divided the solution between another gallon jug and added water to dissolve the stuff. It helped, but not completely. Go here to see the setup.

russ960 (author)2009-06-15

Chefmichel I used your article to build my own unit. I started with plant purchased from Home Depot. I cleaned them free of dirt and such and planted them. I have them in Hydroton clay pellets. I had them set to water 5 times a day 30 minutes. My leaves are drooping any ideas? My pots appear to be drying between watering but are getting saturated and my clay is getting saturated. Anyone any ideas?

truestyeloutlaw (author)russ9602009-06-21

It could be because they started out in dirt and you moved them into hydro, that or you don't have any nutrients in the water

russ960 (author)truestyeloutlaw2009-06-22

I have nutrients but found I was giving them too much Texas Sun. I have relocated the system and they are doing well. I've even got a pepper started coming in. Thank you for the advice.

chefmichel (author)russ9602009-06-16

Hi Russ960,I am not a plant guru, but here a few important points to watch. Hydroponics is a science based on getting the right nutrients and the right conditions for the plant to grow. You'll need 2 meters; a PH meter or paper strips, and a PPM meter. 1. What kind of nutrients are you using ? 2. Did you check the PPM concentration of the nutrients. 3.Did you check the PH 4.Exposition to too much direct sunlight and lack of fresh air could be a cause. Is there enough air circulation ? 5. Try to sprikle the leaves with plain water. Plants roots need a few days to adapt to hydroponic feed, how long are they in your hydro unit ?. For general information, I would check the hydroponic pages of Good luck to you. Chefmichel.

russ960 (author)chefmichel2009-06-17

Chefmichel, I think the Texas heat is my issue. The spot I had the seedlings in had only partial day sun and the new spot has sun most of the day. I also have it in a place where my sprinkler hits it also. I'll look into the PPM and PH. I've noticed it looks better every morning. I may be just nervous as I'm new to this. Thank you for your advice.

zachpower7 (author)2009-04-08


Caps lock.

surfguy1936 (author)2009-04-07

For those who asked about the pump the best pump to use would be a 400. anything less than that for this size system will work like a 250, but it risks the chance of getting clogged. And another thing i would put the 360 mister sprayers on the pvc and put it across the tub not around it, just to get better water coverage

chefmichel (author)2009-04-03

The green tube is garden hose.

wilson.joe (author)2009-03-31

I went down to lowes here and got all the parts, I ran down to the hydroponic store and picked up the pump and some nutes and pots.. and I didn't have the whole saw, which I thought was a bit pricey , but i can use it again for other projects :D thats the wonderful thing about tools..

chefmichel (author)wilson.joe2009-04-02

A friend told me aviator shears will dot the job very well, cutting holes in the cover. I my water pumps in aquarium supply shops preferably on sales. Advice ;check the PH of your water and the stength of your nutes. I had great results growing tomatoes with half the recommended strength of nutes. Just for info; how much did you spend on your system ?

wilson.joe (author)chefmichel2009-04-02

without the price of the whole saw.. lol.. lets see.. the tote cost around $8 at biglots,the water pump cost around $25 at local hydroponic store, the pvc and corner pieces came somewhere around $5 but I got extra pvc. so that comes to around $40 roughly.. oh the net pots cost 75 cents each.. yeah around $40.. not bad compared to some setups, or buying them premade. 1/2 the nutes.hmm...You know in some systems like simplified non circulating hydroponics the nukes may never get changed. no pumps at all and some grow cucumbers out of a garbage can.. gradually the roots suck up all the nutes,but as long as part of the roots are getting them the rest do okay just hanging in thin air..

cementbrains (author)2009-03-30

I started with a system like this a few years back it works great but the small jets always seemed to plug up on me over time . So eventually i made them twice the size and they worked great .. best of luck to you..

wilson.joe (author)2009-03-29

I'm going to do something similiar possibly this week, im in a hurry to get things going hydroponically.. problem I see with your corner cups is that they are not going to get much if any water at all because of the 4 pieces of 1/2 inch PVC 90 degrees angles. unless you also put holes in them too. being white I can't tell if you did or not.. but I don't see water coming out of those in the pics & where did you get green PVC? and what exactly did you use to cut the holes? a hole saw? being there only one lid I would be afraid of messing it up.

chefmichel (author)wilson.joe2009-03-29

Dear Wilson.joe, I drillled the holes with a Dremel, I used a 1mm or 2mm drill. I can assure you that the corner cups get enough water, My advice to you is to build the set first, try the pump and watch the water splash out of the holes. You can always add holes where needed. When all works to your satisfaction, use a hole saw to cut the holes in the lid. A hole saw is the best tool to use here. Remark; Use a container with a rim. Good luck, Chefmichel.

evengravy (author)2009-01-30

Actually that is a large pump for such a tub. I know what you mean about clogging nozzles, this is a frustrating and difficult factor to avoid unless you use reverse osmosis or other highly filetered water. Which can become expensive to the average experimenter. Even the more expensive nozzles suffer with this problem to some degree. One way to reduce the possibility of clogging is to have the nozzles pointing downwards, but this is not possible in your design. The simplisity of the system is to its advantage in regards to maintenance and the waterfall effect you have going there is very advantageous as it increases diluted oxegen levels in the solution and also helps to promote plant benificial baterium in the system (similar to bio-bucket systems if you're interested) maybe you could experiment with putting some lava rock in the solution also, to further harbour this bacteria, you will surely notice the difference in growth rate and it will do no harm to add it. Also have you thought about water temps? its fairly easy to add a submersible aquarium heater to keep these in check. one other note on cutting the planting holes: try using aviation tin snips, easily available cheap and go through rubbermaids like butter.

chefmichel (author)2009-01-30

The pump is a medium size pump, this one has a 1000Liter/H or approx 260 Gal./Hour capacity.

ashmist (author)2009-01-24

Whats the timer for? How long do you need to run it for?

chefmichel (author)ashmist2009-01-25

Depending of the the ambiant temperature. It is good for the roots to dry out a bit, but not starve out.. The medium (clay pellets) must dry and get wet again. I would run the pump 4 or 5 times a day, for 15 minutes each time. Good question !

wiley coyote (author)2009-01-17

Simple and effective. Nice. Cutting the holes in the lid sounds rather treacherous.

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