Introduction: Hydroponic Ebb and Flow Single Bucket System

About: im just a regular guy that like regular things
I set out today to do two projects.  The ebb and flow  buckets you see here and a cloning box like the Ez-clone machines that cost 200 bucks.  I made both.  If any one has an interest in the other let me know and I will write up and instructable on it as well. 

I have been growing with an ebb and flow system for a while.  It is one of the easiest Hydroponics system to use and maintain in my opinion.  Up until now I have been using an large tray with multiple square pots inside the tray.  When the tray floods, the buckets fill up to a point with water/nutrients. The water saturates the rock wool cube at the bottom and the wicking action of the cube saturates the rest of the cube with only what it needs, the rest runs off the cube. Although it is a great system, the plants are close together and are very restricted with how many plants you can have in the area.  With a bucket system you can spread your plants out a little and allow them room to grow. 

The goal when finished is to have self contained  system with a pump inside to pump the nutrients to the plant located on top. Whatever nutrients aren't absorbed will drip back down into the bottom of the bucket. The bucket should be completely light resistant this way the fluid inside doesn't grow bad bacteria. There also needs to be air flow so you can continually agitate the water so it doesn't get stagnant. So onto the actual project.

Here is the parts list:

Drill with drill bit big enough to fit your vinyl hose through snugly
Wire cutters
dry wall screw

5 Gallon bucket (home depot $3.00) (can also use a black bucket)
Black lid for bucket (home depot)
Aluminum foil
Packaging tape
Gorilla tape (like duct tape but stronger)
2 Eco Plus 4 inch air stones ($.99 at here)
1/4 air hose (25 ft at walmart is like 3 bucks)
Eco air Double outlet air pump ($10.90 at here)
Square pot ($1.39 at here)
100 gph water pump ($8.90 at here)
3/8 vinyl tubing
zip ties
1/4 barbed connector ($.25 at here) (you want the ones that have a sharp end)
electrical tape
coat hanger

Step 1: Covering the Bucket

If you got a black bucket you can skip this step.  I couldn't get a black bucket anywhere.  Even the three hydroponics stores I went to were out.

Even if you do have a black bucket make sure the bucket does not let ANY light penetrate its walls. (If it does you will have to do this step any way.)

Using the aluminum foil completely cover the outside of the bucket.  You want to make the bucket completely light free inside.  You don't have to cover the bottom of the bucket but leave enough to fold under the bucket. Using the packaging tape make 3 lower "bands" around the bucket.  The top band will be added after the next step.  Technically I cheated and took this photo after the next step but you get the idea.

Step 2: Making the Hole for the Wires and Tubes

Drill a hole in the bucket about an inch or so down from the top lip. Then using the knife cut down till you hit the hole.  Now that you have the hole put the top band on the bucket.  Using the knife cut the tape in front of the hole and push it into the hole.

Step 3: Cutting the Lid

Place the Square pot you will use upside down on the lid.  Trace around the pot. Now that you have the line draw another line about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch inside that line, this way the lip of the square pot will lay on top of the lip you just made on the lid.

Now using the BACK of the blade tip, drag the knife four or five times on the inside line you drew to score it.  That is correct I said the BACK of the knife.  If you use the back you actually remove the plastic if you use the sharp part it just parts the plastic and takes longer to actually cut. You can also use a plexiglass cutter but the back of a god sharp knife works just as good and is a lot cheaper. I have a Case brand pocket knife I used.

Once you have the lines scored pretty good turn the knife over and use the sharp edge to finish cutting the square hole.  Make sure when cutting the hole to stay within the lines.  You dont want to have the hole bigger than the square py you will be placing in it later and you dont want any holes outside the pot showing where contaminants can get in.

Now using the drill, drill a hole big enough to pass the vinyl hose through. The hose should be snug.

Step 4: Making the Water Supply Line

At one end of the vinyl hose fold it back onto itself about an inch and a half in from the end, then fold it over again.  Place a zip tie on the bent part then another on the other end of the bent part. tighten them as much as you can without braking them then cut the extra off the zip ties.  Technically you could just buy an end cap I guess but this is way cheaper and gets the same result.

Now cut a piece of the 1/4 inch tubing about 12 inches long. Place a barbed connector in the end of the tubing.  Take the drywall screw and screw it into the side of the vinyl tube by hand making sure not to pierce the other side.  You only want one hole not two. 

This part you have to do quick, the longer you wait the harder it gets to do.  Take the screw out of the tube and shove the barbed fitting into the hole you just created.  If you got the correct fittings the end will look like the end of a syringe.  Once the barbed part of the fitting is all the way in the vinyl will seal around it making it leak proof.

Cut a piece of the coat hanger about 13 inches long.  Bend the hanger about 1 inch from the end to a 90 degree angle.  Place the coat hanger so the one inch piece can be taped to the vinyl tubing and the 11 inch section can be taped to the hose sticking out the side. 

Using the electrical tape, tape the one inch section to the vinyl tubing and make sure the other part lines up with the other hose. . Do not cover the barbed connector.  You want to be able to see the barbed fitting at all times.  first reason is so if it is leaking you will know and second is if you tape this in an awkward position it may leak.

Now tape the other part of the hanger to the 1/4 inch hose starting AFTER the barbed fitting and working your way to the other end..  Make sure you go over the end of the hanger but leave a little bit of the hose hanging out.

You do not have to use red tape like I did, but I suggest some form of bright color this way it makes it easier to see later. Once the plants start growing and you have a canopy above blocking the light you will thank me for the idea of bright colored tape.

Place the pump in the bucket and pull the cord out the hole in the side of the bucket. Leave enough wire inside the bucket so it doesn't  pull on the pump.

Place the other end of the vinyl hose through the hole in the lid and place the lid loosely on the top of the bucket.

If you have a locking lid now would be the time to cut the locks on the side of the lid, I didn't have a locking lid so I didn't have to do this.

With the vinyl hose in the hole as far as it will go, (it should bottom out where the hanger is) get a rough guess of about where you will need to cut the hose so it will fit onto the pump. Now cut about a half inch longer than that. The added length of the hose will help to hold the pump in position.

Now put the lid off to the side.

Step 5: Adding the Air

When you buy the 1/4 inch air line it will be 25 foot long.  Unwind it and put the two ends together.  Place the air stones on the ends of the hose and place them into the bucket.  Holding the air stones in place pull the air line out through the hole in the side of the bucket and then completely back down to the bottom of the bucket on the outside, cut both hoses at this point.

Now connect your air pump to both hoses where you cut them. if you got the correct pump it will have two outlets on it.  If you got the cheaper on you will need to add a tee connector and tee off the single line.  I don't suggest this but if that's what you really want to do go for it. 

Pull the air lines into the bucket so your air pump is hanging about an inch from the bottom of the hole.  Using the gorilla tape (bestest tape everrrrr) tape the air lines and cord to the pump in place.  Put another piece of gorilla tape over the hole as well. This should seal the hole shut and keep your pump hanging without holding it. 

Place a third piece of tape on the bottom to hold the bottom of the pump to the side of the bucket.  I got lucky and the cord came out there so I just taped it to the side.

Step 6: Finishing It Up

Now place the lid back on top of the bucket and seal it on tight.  If you got a black lid like I did you wont need to cover it.  If you didn't then cover the lid in aluminum foil to block the light from hitting the nutrient solution located inside the bucket.

Connect your Vinyl tube to the pump. 

Place your square pot inside the hole in the lid then bend your 1/4 inch hose / coat hanger so that it goes to the center of the pot, then bend the last 2 inches or so downward so it points back into the bucket. 

The idea is the hanger will hold it in place and not  let it flop back out by accident.

Trust me you don't want this to flop out when your not around.  You will have water everywhere.  Yes this is form experience.  I accidentally left the hose out of the pot one time and pumped the hole bucket empty.  This is also when I had the idea for the colored tape instead of hard to see black.

Step 7: Using the Hydro System

I use hydrotin (clay pellets for growing) and rock wool cubes for my hydro grows.  I grow the plants in 1 inch rock wool cubes until the roots show out of the bottom, then place those cubes in three inch rock wool cubes. Once the plants are in the 3 inch cubes I place hydrotin in the square pot so I just barely cover the holes. (about 3 inches) Then I place the 3 inch cube on top of that and then fill in the rest of the bucket with hydrotin. 

Then I place the plant into the hydro bucket and put the hose in the center right next to the stem of the plant.

I place 5 and a half inches of nutrient solution into the bucket which averages out to about 2 gallons. When the square pot is place in the bucket it will be above this water line.

I run the pump for 15 minutes 3 times a day.  The wicking properties of the rock wool cube make it so when the pump is running it saturates the hole cube. the air is run 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

I have seven of these buckets.  One for a mother plant that I keep in a separate room and 6 for my main Grow.  I plug all the pumps into one surge protector and the air pumps into a second surge protector.  The pump surge protector is plugged into a timer and the air surge protector into a wall.

When it comes time to change out the water I have a empty bucket with a cut out lid and I place the plant in it while I clean out and renew the solution in the hydro bucket. Instead of mixing the solution separate for each bucket I have a 35 gallon tote that I mix about 13 gallons of nutrients in an then let that sit with an air stone in it over night to get nice and mixed up.  this way i know my ph and ppm are correct and every plant is getting the same stuff.  Then once the bucket is clean I have a pump in the tote to pump it back into the buckets.

These buckets can be used from rooted clone all the way to harvest.  Right now I have 6 tomato plants that I just recently transplanted into the new buckets I have made today.  I am almost giddy with the fact that I am using the same foot print of the table but the plants can be farther apart which means more light for each plant.

Well i hope you like it.  All in all it took me about 3 hours to do all seven buckets and get them set up.  Not bad.  If you want an instructable on the Ez-cloner I made leave a comment and I will do one up.