Building Your Own Hydroponic Unit

By Amanda Moses

As the weather becomes colder, the soil turns coarse, plants wither away, and the leaves slowly fall off the trees. While for some this is a sure sign that winter, and the holiday seasons are coming, for gardeners it symbolizes a time to transfer plants indoors or to get a head start germinating seeds. Two indoor planting methods that Garden Educator, Jacqui Roytman often utilizes are hydroponics and aquaponics.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, but rather using a combination of mineral nutrient solutions and an inert medium  (a type of grow media) such as lightweight Hydroton clay pebbles or Rockwool (which is molten mineral or rock materials). This method of gardening allows vegetation to be grown in a controlled environment with artificial light (Roytman also uses Grow Lights to help the plants perform photosynthesis).

Aquaponics is the process of growing plants hydroponically with fish in an integrated system. It’s a cycle in which the fish produce waste, creating microbes converting it into a fertilizer for the plants. The plant absorbs these nutrients and filters the water back to the fish. 

There are different types of hydroponic and aquaponic units. Roytman has used for her classes a pre-made vertical hydroponic unit (before the pandemic), which uses an aeration system that’s connected to a small power source that pumps air into a water pot. The water is then pulled through a pipe into each plant section, where the liquid drips from the plant and back into the water pot repeatedly. Each plant holder has a funnel at the bottom of its container so that water that drips from the top will continue to go through each of the four sections.  It is a cycle, water comes from the bottom of the unit, air is pumped from the power source into a hook shaped pipe, and then the water drips into each cup holder and so on and so forth.

Roytman will be maintaining the garden and working remotely, she has devised her own deep-water hydroponic unit using a water bucket and a few other materials. “Using a 5-gallon hydroponic bucket may be the simplest hydroponic system, both to make and take care of,” Roytman said.


  • A 5-gallon hydroponic bucket
  • Bucket Lid
  • Aquarium Pump
  • Check valve
  • Air Hose
  • Air Stone
  • Pod Baskets
  • Grow Medium (hydroton clay pebbles, rock wool)

Roytman explained that a bucket allows you to grow vine plants, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. “The plant roots are suspended in the nutrient- rich water that is pumped full of oxygen she said.

Roytman then shared the steps to make your own hydroponic bucket by:

  1. Connect the air hose to the air pump. Connect the other end to the check valve.
  2. Cut a piece of the remaining air hose long enough to go from the check valve and into the 5
  3. gallon bucket.
  4. Drill holes in the lid, put the pod baskets in. Drill a small hole in the bucket lid just enough to fit the air hose through the top of the bucket.
  5. Next connect the air hose to the air stone.
  6. Add the grow medium to the pod baskets, if you have a plant ready you can add that as well.
  7. Now add water and mix the nutrient solution.

“Making a hydroponic bucket is an easy Do It Yourself (DIY) hydroponic system that will produce great results. It’s simple to use and doesn’t take up much space. Plants may grow big so make sure to provide support and trim them to control growth,” Roytman said.

Photos by Jacqui Roytman