One of the most popular systems today is the “BUCKET SYSTEM.” Generally this type of garden is “homemade” using five gallon plastic buckets, one gallon mesh bottom pots and some marine or thru-hull fittings.
This system is very inexpensive and is automated enough to require only minimal maintenance. To assemble this system you need a series of five gallon plastic food grade buckets or pails. Holes are cut about 1 1/2″ – 2″ (3.5 cm – 5cm) above the bottom of the bucket. It is a good idea to use black buckets as they do not allow light to penetrate. These holes can either be 5/8′ or 3/4″ to match the size of the marine thru-hull fittings. A rubber gasket or washer is usually fastened on each side or on one side of the fitting to tightly seal the opening (for picture see drain assembly). Now you need to make a choice. Either cut a large hole in the lid of the bucket to hold the one gallon mesh pot in place or drop a three gallon bucket nested inside of the five gallon bucket. If you choose the three gallon bucket you will need to drill a series of small holes in the bottom of the pail to allow water to drain through yet not allow the Hydro-corn or Hydroton rock to fall through.
Usually buckets systems use configurations of four to eight buckets for growing and one bucket to act as a tank or reservoir for the returning water from the growing chamber buckets. Simple gravity allows the water to filter through the rock down to the bottom and returns the flow water to the “reservoir bucket.” In this bucket a low volume pump such as a Little Giant PE-A (80 gallon/hour) or a PES-A (63 gallon/hour) are sufficient to pump the volume needed. From this pump a feeder line of soft vinyl PVC pipe is run along the floor to the end of the system. Feed lines of .220 spaghetti tube are stretched to the top of each bucket to “drip” the water and feed mixture onto the rocks holding the plants roots in place. Special emitters can also be used to allow a precise measured amount of water to feed each plant. Usually 1/2 gpm emitters are used. The return feed line from the bottom of each of the buckets to the reservoir bucket is generally yellow flex hose of 5/8″ or 3/4″.
For larger plants, some growers choose to use two drip lines to each bucket. Generally, the pump is left on 24 hours a day to prevent the roots from ever drying out, even during the dark period. The danger of this is too much humidity and possible diseases. This probably can be avoided by the addition of large fans for rapid air movement. The greater advantage is increased growth during the early stages of the plants life. After the plants have developed multiple roots deep into the Hydro-corn rock, the grower can begin to cycle the shut off time from two to six hours, returning the feed cycle to on just before the lights cycle begins. Be sure to have the water dripping on the rock or the starter cube but never on the plant stem itself. Use a water treatment such as “Fizz” to prevent bacterial growth or “Ascend” to build the healthy bacteria in an active bucket system. These bucket systems are modular and can be expanded to include more plants as needed. Always use a very high quality plant food such as General Hydroponics “Flora Series” for the best results. To find the materials to build this system, contact your local hydroponic supply store.