How to Setup and Run a Hydroponics System




About: I am a SPARTAN IV and am currently designing the newest set of mjolnir armour. Engineering is my game and making useless Shiz is what it usually becomes. :D Maker at a young age never undefeated except by pa...

My  family and I  have a greenhouse,  and each year we usually set up tomatoes and basil,  sometimes other veg like Chiles.
I thought I would share some knowledge on how we do it.
It is remarkably simple !

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Step 1: What You Need

You will need:
A fountain pump
Big Plastic Pipes long and wide enough to hold plants - we use 4" (100mm) soil pipe
A Large tub - water tank
Clay beads
Plastic Net pots (Or ones with lots of holes in for the roots to escape out of)
Capillary Matting
pH meter or something of the sort (This is important)
Power socket x2
Nutrients (we use Canna vega and Canna flora)

Step 2: Monting the Pipes

The pipes for the plants can be mounted 2 ways
Either lift them on blocks or mount them with "L" brackets on a wall
Make sure one end is slightly higher than the other this makes sure the water flows correctly. Decide on the lower end first be cause that is where the tub of water and the pump goes.

I mounted the pipes on the L brackets. You need a good "fall" on the pipes - our system falls 50mm in 1.2 metres, 1 in 24

Step 3: Installing the Pump

Get your tank and put it underneath the the lower end of the pipe, then fill it about 3/4 of the way up with CLEAN SOFT water.
Next connect the tubing to your pipes and then lower the pump into the water. Then put the tubing in the higher end of the pipes and test your pump by plugging it in. The water should flow down the pipe into the tub at the end to be pumped round.
then turn it off.

Splashing into the tank is good, it pumps oxygen into the water which nourishes the roots.

Step 4: Laying the Matting

Cut up the capillary matting into widths of just bigger than your Net pots.

This stage allows the roots to hold onto something so that they can absorb the water and nutrients.

Put the matting in at one end then pull it through using your hands through the holes in the pipe until It is all spread out you may have to use multiple sheets. Its nicer done when the pump is off.....

Step 5: Setting Up the PH Meter and Nutrient System

Get your pH meter and insert all the probes into the water make sure they are all in fully or they will stop working.
Plug in the meter. We use a nice wall mounted unit we got on Ebay. It measures electrical conductivity - EC and pH.

If you are using a small hand held pH reader then daily insert and measure the pH.

You want to try and keep the pH around 5.9 and 6.2
If your meter measures conductivity like ours try to keep it around 1.2 mS

When you first activate your pH meter it will read nowhere near that number follow the instructions on the side of the nutrient you use let it flow round for 20 minutes then come back. then add more nutrients if necessary.
Check this daily. Sometimes you may need to add pH UP or pH down  - but be very very careful adding acids and alkalis, for one thing they're corrosive when they're concentrated, anf for another, a little goes a long way ! We add eyedroppers of acid, and it can alter the pH of the whole tank by 1 or 2 units.

Step 6: Filling the Pots and Putting the Plants in Them

We cheat.

We buy ready grown herbs from the local store. We tease the plants out their pots by washing them in water until they come loose from the bunch. .

Then get your net pots and hold them inside at the bottom then fill the pots with clay beads and the plant should stay in it.
Make sure the roots can be seen at the bottom so they can immediately reach water.

Step 7: Keeping It Going

This is day one - straight after the plants went into our system.

Basically just keep checking up on the plants each day to add the nutrients will suffice make sure there is water in the tank and that the water is covered (allow space for the water to get back in from the pipes). If the tank gets too much light, we get an algae problem.

That's it really. I''ll try and update the pictures of the plants as they develop - we'll crop the basil in a month, and one plant will make a whole batch of delicious Pesto.

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    28 Discussions


    Reply 2 years ago

    Aquaponics is with fish. Hydroponics is with running water.


    5 years ago

    Your Intractable is an AEROPONICS setup. Hydroponics is a table setup with the plants in Rockwell that timers turn the pumps & floods and drains from a reservoir. they both can use indoor lights

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Incorrect. Aeroponics systems are when the plants roots are exposed and are being constantly sprayed with water Hydroponics is this where the plants have a material to cling to and have water running through them


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Do you have any info on where to get a pH meter like that one? I've been looking for one myself and I can't seem to find anywhere that sells it, only a couple references to it in some forums.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is a really nice setup you have here. Let me ask you though - have you ever given thought to utilizing aquaponics? I enjoy the fish tank aspect of aquaponics and let's face it - fish food is typically more economical than liquid chemicals for hydroponics.

    I put together an instructable on building a relatively easy aquaponics system utilizing a lot of materials I had laying around at Just click here

    6 replies

    I could see that. The same concept can be used on a much smaller and much larger scale though. For instance... In your use, you could get by with a small tank, maybe 20-30 gallons that would more than sustain what you are doing.

    Its certainly worth looking at - any clear research on the nutrients delivered by the fish compared to the optimum for the plants ? Where you crop the fish, then they're the major crop aren't they, not the plants ?

    There is tons of research online. Unfortunately, it is system dependent as the nutrients to the plants is in direct correlation to the diet of the fish, amount of fish in the system, etc.

    The main reasons people choose aquaponics over hydroponics are:
    1. Fish food is cheaper than liquid fertilizers
    2. Generally less water use as there is less evaporation (yes, even less than a closed hydro system)
    3. More environmentally friendly
    4. Sustainability (you could effectively run an aquaponics system indefinitely even if purchased food was unavailable (SHTF scenarios) as you could use substitutes like duckweed (growable in system) or you could also grow worms, crickets, etc very easily as part of the system

    There are other reasons as well. Now, don't get me wrong - there are clear reasons people choose hydro as well, the main being:
    1. More information online available as there are consistent, scientific methods that do not vary much regardless of region (aqua can vary by fish species, food availability, and yes, even average daily climate
    2. Easier to maintain. Aquaponics typically needs a little more attention and you are maintaining a balance of plants and fish. Plants are pretty forgiving. Fish die quickly when things get out of whack though

    Either way, this is a great instructable. I encourage you to try aquaponics, even on a small scale. I was a hydro fanboy prior to learning more about aquaponics and you see where I am now :)

    I saw somewhere about a certain type of shrimp that would grow in freshwater once they were of a certain size. May be cost-dumb to do though? Worth looking into though.

    I just run down to the local ponds and catch bluegill and small bass for my system. As I live in a coastal town I can catch much larger fish fish for eating. This system is more like my "pet" fish than edible ones, although that may change when I put together a much larger system as I am considering building about a 10,000 gallon system either this winter or next (we are considering a move and I need to make sure before I start building) :)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I wish to do this on my deck, but I have seen previous ibles that refer to PVC as having toxins that can be absorbed by the plants. Have you researched this potentially harmful side effect or mitigated the issues with material choices?

    1 reply

    6 years ago on Step 7

    Great instructable! I was very interested in something like this and liked your system. But after thinking about it, I am not sure what the advantages are, over just planting the plants in soil, which seems simpler.

    2 replies

    Yields are amazing, the flavour of the products is out of this world. You can grow plants at much higher densities too.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You can use this to make use of space and it can be used if you live in an apartment or something where you don't have room for a garden