Intro: Hydroponic Tower
This is a generalized step by step guide on how to build your own Hydroponic tower. An important thing to note is that this hydroponic system operates similar to a drip system. This project is both simple and complex to build and tool choice can vary greatly as there are multiple methods to accomplish the same results. It's also a great project for anyone.
The major notable difference between the two is that this one operates by having the water drip down from the top drainage holes, by the openings where the plants are and continues down the system until it reaches the reservoir.
Most, if not all of the materials can be purchased at a nearby hardware store. The exception to this would be the rock wool and hydroponic basket the plants grow in, as well as the nutrients the plants need. Those items can be easily located on Amazon's Hydroponic Department.
Thank you for checking out this project and good luck gardening.
Step 1: Gathering Your Materials
This is more of a general guideline for anyone as you will need more or less of some items and different sizes for others depending on how big you want to make your own Grow tower. For the 3 tall tower I'll be building you will need the following:
- 4 - 4 gallon square buckets (It's always one more bucket than the height you intend to build)
- 2 - 4 gallon square bucket lids (depending on preference and your variation of assembly you can either use two less lids than the height or the same number of lids for the height)
- 1 - Kitty litter bucket (with lid still attached)
- 1 - 5 ft. section of 2 in. PVC pipe ( approx. 5 ft. per 3 height, or more depending on size of cut)
- 1 - tube of exterior construciton adhesive (I used the loctite brand on mine, additionally depending on the person additional tubes may be needed but it's generally 1 tube per 3 height)
- 1 - 10 ft. section of 3/8 in. tubing
- 2 - 3/8 in. hose elbow barbed
- 1 - 3/8 in. x 1/2 in. hose barb adapter
- 1 - submersible pond pump of adequate size (varies depending on size and preference) For this 3 tall I chose a 330 GPH adjustable pump although you could use a 264 GPH pump and get the same results ( just needs a head height greater than the height of the tower)
- at least 4 1/4 in. Bolts and nuts ( or any other attaching device for attaching two buckets ) More are recomended
Step 2: Selecting Some Tools
This section entirely depends on what you want to use for building the tower.
- A miter saw for cutting the PVC pipe
- A drill for making holes for the cutouts on the buckets
- Various sized drillbits
- A jigsaw or dremel ( with appropriate cutting bit) for creating the cutouts on the buckets and any other alterations on items
- A scissors or other cutting devise
- if you do use bolts then appropriate wrenches for tightening them
- tape measure
- caulking gun
- A permanent marker
- (optional but recommended) a Table saw
- An extra set of hands to make things easier (optional but recommended)
Step 3: Cutting the PVC Pipe
The cut pipe will become the basket inserts on the sides of the buckets. I am using six inserts per bucket but you may chose to use as many as you want, but prepare a sufficient amount of pipe accordingly if you choose to go over what I do.
When it comes to cutting the PVC Pipe you need to cut at a 45 degree angle to attach it properly to the bucket, as for how long to make the pipe, measure 1 in. and mark the pipe; from there you begin the cut with the back of the miter saw toward the mark and make the cut and you should end up with a piece like the one in the second image. For efficiency's sake to use the least amount of pipe you then move the saw back to 0 degrees and move the pipe forward and facing the opposite direction, like in the third image. From there you can use the first pipe as a base and cut so you're back to a flat edge on the pipe, simply repeat until you have the desired amount of baskets for the height of your tower.
As a side note 5 feet of pipe will make about 20 sections of the basket inserts
Step 4: Building the Reservoir
The reservoir will be made out of any other type of container that's grants some kind of access for the pump cord and a method to refill the reservoir. The Tower I'm building will use a tidy cats litter bucket for the reservoir. If you use a litter bucket then it is easiest to start with one that hasn't been open yet because you need to cut the edges of the shorter side since the buckets will sit on the larger portion that you normally open. A dremel with a cutoff wheel works best to shorten the sides to open the bucket. If you have an already open bucket then you only need to screw/bolt the longer lid shut. For easier access and a place for the cord to go through, if you cut out a handle on the lid then you should have sufficient space for the cord to go through.
After that grab one of the barbed elbows to attach to what is now the rear of the bucket.
Select a drill bit that is at the very least, the same size as the unbarbed section of your elbow for a tight fit and if you want a loose fit then simply go for a larger size, the key point to remember is that elbows for the tubing may vary in size so giving a specific drill bit size to use may end up with me giving the wrong size So choose a bit that fits your elbow.
After attaching the elbow, you now need to place the pump inside the reservoir and make sure that you put the 3/8 X 1/2 in. adapter on before placing the pump where you choose.
From there take the 3/8 in. tubing and mark the distance between the part of the elbow inside the reservoir and the barb on the pump and cut the tube to length. An added step to make things easier will be to then remove the pump. Then reach in the bucket and attach the tube to the elbow first as it will make things easier than doing it the other way. After attaching to the elbow attach to the pump and replace it in the reservoir.
Step 5: Cutting the Buckets
Before you mark or cut any of the buckets make sure to set one of the buckets aside for later.
Additionally for whichever bucket you pick to be the top section make sure that you don't place any pipe within the top 3 in. of the bucket
Next Decide where to place your basket inserts, For the two sides with one basket, which are on opposite sides of each other, measure the side of the bucket for the center. Then place the basket approximately over the center of it and trace around the outside of the PVC pipe.
Then cut the hole out by way of drilling an initial hole from which to finish the cut with either a jigsaw or the dremel.
For the sides with two holes, you can either eyeball the placement or draw a line across the bucket halfway down, and two lines top to bottom at 1/3 of the way across from each outside edge. After that you would place one insert below where the left 1/3 line meets the center line, and the other insert goes above where the right 1/3 line meets the center line and trace around them and repeat the process for cutting them out
At this point you should have six oval holes in your bucket in total
Step 6: Opitonal Step
If your square buckets have handles on them and you don't want them to be an annoyance, then at this point you remove them.
Step 7: Attaching the Pipe to the Buckets
Attaching the pipe to the buckets can be as easy or difficult you want to make it.
More Difficult method
In this method you do this entirely by yourself. So if you mis-cut the pipe then the difficulty rises in relation to how far off the cut is.
For this method you first need to prepare the caulking gun before you start and place it nearby. After that, you then grab one of the inserts and hold it in place inside the cut hole and then grab and use the caulking gun with the other hand to spread the adhesive around the outside of the pipe until you have a solid ring around the pipe. Then wait 30-60 seconds to allow the adhesive to have enough grip on the pipe that you can let go and proceed to the next pipe on the box. After gluing all of the pipe on the outside of the box continue by doing the same to the remaining boxes. When you finish all of the boxes wait for 30 min to make sure that all of the outside adhesive is dry so that you can put adhesive on the interior of where the box and pipe meed to completely seal the pipe in place and slightly improving the durability. After all that is done inspect all the pipe for any missed spots and gaps, if you find one simply fill it in.
More easy method
For this method you and a buddy work together to make things easier. Your buddy holds the pipe in place as you glue around it for all pipe on the box. From that you continue by finishing all boxes. Then you wait 30 minutes to allow for sufficient drying for one person to do around the insides and the other person can check all the boxes to make sure that you didn't miss a spot.
Step 8: Making the Upper Reservoir
This step is relatively straight forward. The remaining bucket that you set aside is used as the upper reservoir. To make the reservoir you measure 3 in. from the bottom of the bucket. and make a mark. After that use a a cutting device to cut the lower portion of the bucket off, the upper part will not be used.
It's best to use a table saw for this part as they have rulers on them and they cut the bucket nice and straight.
This is so the reservoir has enough depth that if several of the holes are too high you can adjust them to the right height.
After that either find the seam where the top and bottom of the bucket connect or if your bucket doesn't have one measure 1.25 in. up from the bottom and make a mark for where the holes should be placed.
The holes should be marked in approx. 1/3 of the way in from the inner hole of the PVC pipe. It's easiest to make these marks by holding up the upper reservoir next to the corresponding side of the bucket you will place it in. After that take a drill bit corresponding to the size of flow you desire up until you exceed what the pump can pump.
Step 9: Adding Drainage to the Buckets
For this hydroponic farm to actually function water needs to go from top to bottom and if you don't add in drainage then all the liquid will be pumped to the top and eventually leak from the PVC cutouts. So drainage is needed.
For cutting the drainage holes you drill out the center hole with a larger bit than the holes you place all over the bottom. I used a 5/8 in. bit since it provides a sufficiently large hole but you can go larger if you choose.
As for the other holes you can choose their placement, just make sure to place them all over so if the system happens to end up on a slope it still drains properly.
Step 10: Attaching the Reservoir to the Top Bucket
First measure down 1/2 in. on the outside bucket, as shown in the picture on opposite sides. Then mark the location.
If you decide to use screws to hold it together then hold the upper reservoir inline with the top side you're starting with and screw through both buckets but make sure to stop shortly after the screw goes through the top reservoir. Then screw through on the other side until you go through both buckets. Then slowly tighten all screws until the reservoir is nearly flush. If it was flush then the holes drilled to go over the pipe won't function properly.
If you decide to use bolts like I did then you first select a drill bit the same size as the bolt for the hole. Then hold the upper reservoir in line with one of the sets of holes and drill through both, then repeat the process for the other side before adding bolts. Afterwards you place the bolt through the outer bucket. For the gap between you should use several washers to create space, then put the upper reservoir on and the nut last. Tighten the first two bolts and then repeat the process for the other side.
Step 11: Adding the Inflow for the Top Reservoir
Select a corner and not a side to drill the hole for the elbow inflow and mark the location.
It's important not to place this on any side because it will affect the flow between all of the drainage holes.
Then drill a hole larger than the barbs, if the hole is too large then use some of the adhesive to fill any gaps.
At this point if you want to cover the top bucket for aesthetics then you can at this point because there won't be any further changes.
Step 12: Making a Way for the Water to Go Down
Attach the lids to the remaining buckets and drill the same sized holes used in the reservoir for draining from top to bottom on the tower in the same fashion for each of the holes.
It's important to remember that if the water can't go from top to bottom easily, then there's a problem. If no water goes from top to bottom then eventually you will have a waterfall on your hands.
Step 13: Another Optional Step
When the tower goes together you can attach all of the buckets together by bolts/screws so it doesn't fall apart when struck. Another alternative is to add some rock or other heavy material to hold the buckets down. For attaching the buckets to the reservoir the same options apply.
Step 14: Assembly
First Place the Bottom most bucket over the drainage holes on the reservoir.
Then stack the buckets one atop the other. You can orient them however you choose since it just changes the look of the tower, and doesn't change functionality provided the lids are on correctly.
Make sure when placing the top bucket that the elbow of the top reservoir is on the same side as the elbow exiting the reservoir.
After assembling the tower measure the necessary amount of 3/8 in. tubing to go between the two elbows and then cut the tube. Then attach the tube to the two elbows.
Wait an additional 24 hours for the adhesive to dry completely and it should be ready to go.
Step 15: Testing and Operating
Fill the reservoir partially with water and cycle the pump until water reaches the top then finish filling the reservoir. Next run the pump for several minutes, and while that's running check for leaks and other problems on the tower.
If all goes well then you should have a functioning hydroponic tower.
After successful testing drain the water.
Start your plants in advance before placing them in the tower as this system will not start plants from seeds.
Use pH testers and adjusters to change the pH of the water to suitable levels for what you grow, if you do not know what pH is needed simply look up a chart with the values labeled.
Make sure to use a pump timer as the system only needs to run at every other 15 minutes all day (don't quote me on this one)
For nutrients just order some concentrated nutrients because it's unlikely that you will have access to the methods to create them. Then follow directions on your nutrients for how concentrated they need to be and add to reservoir until there is enough to keep the pump running while the whole system is operating.