Introduction: Hydroponic Garden Cage

About: I am the Innovation Specialist at a rural elementary school. I work with students from Pre-K to 5th grade, collaborate with teachers, and design STEM lessons. In my free time, I enjoy all types of crafting, …

Our school has two hydroponic gardens that we grow various plants with our students. One of the gardens has a cage that is used to support plant vines and also help protect the plants from little fingers. I wanted a structure to help deter young students from damaging the plants as they walked by. Sadly, our school budget would not support a new cage. Armed with a creative spirit and a 3D printer, I set about to design and build a cage for our second garden. Using the Engineering Design Process, I was able to create the usable cage shown for our garden.


8 wooden dowels (36" long x 3/8" diameter)

Tacky Glue

3D Printer with compatible software

ABS Filament

Laptop w/Internet Access

Dowel Connector Design -

Small Saw


Soft Cloth

Small Mallet (optional)

Step 1: Step 1: Prepare Materials

Dowel Connectors:

  • Download the Tinkercad project using the link in the supply list

  • Using your printer's compatible software, slice the design and set up printing. You will not need supports for this print, and I did not use a raft or brim.
  • Print 12 dowel connectors for a 3-level cage.

Horizontal Dowels:

  • Carefully measure from the center of one support hole to the center of the next support hole. Make note of this measurement (mine was 23").
  • To mark the cut line on each dowel, use the above measurement to mark each dowel from the end. Mark this point on each dowel.
  • Cut the dowels using a small saw. It is helpful to cut the dowel approximately 1/8" on one side and rotate 90 degrees to cut 1/8" again. Repeat until you have worked around the dowel. It will be connected by a small amount of wood in the middle. Holding the dowel close to the cut on each side, snap the dowel to break the connecting wood.
  • You should have 8 shortened dowels that match the above measurement. Save the pieces that were cut from the dowels.

Vertical Dowels:

  • Using the saved pieces from the last step, measure 12" from the uncut end of each dowel.
  • Follow the steps above to cut each remaining piece. You will have approximately 5" of unused dowel leftover from each dowel.

Step 2: Step 2: Assemble the Cage

Check to be sure that dowels fit into holes easily. They should be snug, but not so tight that you need to force them in. If any dowels are too snug, use the sandpaper to remove a small amount of wood. Check frequently to ensure that you do not take off too much!

Prepare the Vertical Supports:

  • Dip approximately 1/4" of a 12" dowel piece into glue, wiping any excess off. I simply wipe it on the edge of the glue container. With the 3/8 design facing up, slide the dowel connector onto the glued end of the dowel. Wipe any excess glue if needed.
  • Repeat for all 12" dowel pieces, making sure to place the 3/8 design up.
  • Place a vertical support in each of the support holes of the hydroponic garden. I chose not to glue these in place because it will make it difficult to clean at the end of the growing season.

Cage Assembly:

  • Dip each end of a long dowel into glue, wiping the excess.
  • Slide each end of the dowel into an adjoining corner connector to make the horizontal support. Use the picture as a guide. Wipe any excess glue to avoid drips.
  • Repeat for the remaining 3 horizontal dowels in the level.
  • Dip 4 vertical supports in glue and place in remaining hole in each dowel connector. You may want to use a small mallet to tap the vertical supports firmly in place.
  • Repeat attaching the long dowels and vertical supports as instructed above to complete the cage. You will leave the four top holes empty on the last level.

Step 3: Final Notes

In the true design process spirit, I modified the dowel connector design after my build. One of the holes required quite a bit of sanding, so the hole was enlarged slightly. I also added the 3/8 design to the top of the connector to remind me of the dowel size and to distinguish the top from the bottom.

Plastic Contest

Participated in the
Plastic Contest