12 Hydroponics System Designs – One For Every Budget!

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hydroponics_systemsHere are examples of hydroponics systems with enough variety that there’s one for every budget and (almost) all of them have complete instructions.  (There are tips and knowledge links throughout and at the very bottom.)

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1.  A nice setup using Rubbermaid tote.  The instructions have lots and lots of detail photos. This hydroponics system was featured on National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers.


Photo by: nationalgeographic.com

2. Yes folks, even Martha Stewart has jumped on the hydroponics system bandwagon with her own version using a styrofoam cooler.


Photo by: Martha Stewart

3. Larger, but still manageable, size of hydroponics system will sustain a small family. It’s a little bit larger setup that would require a good amount of space in a garage, but could also go in a corner of your yard.


Photo by: backyardaquaponics.com

4. Another nice Rubbermaid tote version with some different details.


Photo by : Gardening Friends on YouTube

5. Aeroponics. Although this looks like just another Rubbermaid hydroponics system – it’s not!  Watch to see a completely different way of getting the water to the plants.


Photo by: Garden Pools on YouTube

6. Below is a shot of my setup so far. This method is called barrelponics.  Lots of 55 gallon barrels cut in half. Now I just need to wash 2 tons (literally) of gravel and plant stuff!

Barrelponics before gravel

Photo by: diy-alternative-energy.com

You can size your hydroponics system to fit your exact needs. In addition to the number of people you’ll be feeding, you’ll need to figure out just how much those people like greens and veggies. My setup looks huge, but we juice every day and juicing takes A LOT of produce.  The leftovers will just wind up at work on the “take me, I’m free” table.

If you want to see my progress from Day One.  This includes the link to the complete building instructions for this version of hydroponics system.

Complete instructions for choosing the right size and making bell siphons. 

7. Yes, you can grow root vegetables in a hydroponics system.


Photo by: Austin Family Gardening Channel on YoutTube

8. The Kratky Raft Method.  If you want to build an entry level hydroponics system, this is probably the one for you. The easiest method of all and can be scaled down or up to suit your space and needs.


Photo by: MHPgardener on YouTube

In the Kratky method, the plants just sit in the styrofoam, which sits on top of the water all the time – with some air space between the bottom of the styrofoam and the top of the water.  Besides your plants and a little fertilizer, you’ll just need a piece of styrofoam and something to hold the water! There are no pumps, no aeration, no electricity needed. This would be the perfect method if you have lots of power outages in your area.

You’ll want to watch LOTS of this guy’s (Bobby Smith) videos. He is simply one of the very best on YouTube. He talks in an easy to understand way and does some really outstanding stuff in his greenhouse. Look for him under his YouTube name – MHPgardener.

9. This is also about the Kratky method.  A great explanation of exactly how this type hydroponics system works.


Photo by: Hydroponics Explained on YouTube

This one explains in very easy to understand terms exactly how the Kratky method works. Here’s the link to the original scientific paper the science in this video is based on.

10. Dutch Bucket Hydroponics System. Again, one of my favorite YouTubers – Bobby Smith aka MHPgardener.

Dutch Bucket Aquaponics System

Photo by: MHPgardener on YouTube

Another way of growing plants in an aquaponics or hydroponics system is the dutch bucket method. As with most other types of hydroponics, it’s necessary to use some kind of medium to keep the plants upright. The various types of medium used in the bucket system are vermiculite, perlite, clay marbles, gravel, or rock wool.

11.  Gutter Hydroponics System – Grow your plants in a gutter.


Photo by : University of Arizona on YouTube

This system uses gutters for planting. There is quite a bit of labor involved in the way the folks at University of Arizona set up their hydroponics system. You will find there is a great deal about this system that is not necessary to do for most folks – depending on your budget and your patience.

12. An example of a bare bones vertical gutter system.


Photo by: scubasonar via thingiverse on YouTube

The great thing about a hydroponics system in a gutter is you can adapt it to have the gutters mounted on a wall or fence if you lack horizontal space. Here’s an example of how gutters can be mounted on a fence.  (Please note this system is just being set up – and is not complete.)

The reason the gutters are hung at angles is so only the top gutter needs to be watered. That water then flows to the lower end of the top gutter, falls through a hole to the second gutter and waters those plants – and so on – to the bottom gutter. The bottom gutter should then be plumbed into a reservoir for the next watering cycle.

This photo is from the thingiverse website where scubasonar shows all the parts he’s designed for his 3D printer – including the brackets holding up these gutters. You don’t need special brackets to hang your gutters.  The home improvement place should have plenty.


Note One: The difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is that in aquaponics fish are involved in the system. Briefly, in aquaponics, the fish poo in the water.  The fish waste is a natural fertilizer, so it can be used directly from the fish tank to water the plants. (Usually most of the solids are filtered out.) The water is filtered by the plants and cleaner water is returned back to the fish tank, starting the whole process over.

Note Two: There’s no real reason to buy the round clay “rocks” that are so expensive. Pea gravel will do fine.  Just make sure the gravel you buy doesn’t have a bunch of limestone in it and that you clean it thoroughly before adding it to your system.  The pH in limestone will not allow the pH levels in your system to balance easily for happy plants and (if used) happy fish. If you want some great information about the various types of growing medium, check out the information here from Home Hydro Systems.

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