Setting Up a Dutch Bucket Hydroponics System

(Sorry about the Auto-Start on the Video.  Don’t know how to turn that off–Rick).

I’ve set up a hydroponics (soil-less growing in an inert medium) system inside the tunnel, which is itself inside my greenhouse.  This is a little video on how I did it and how the system works.  For early season vegetables, this scheme will work all the way up to Maine…at least that’s what Eliot Coleman says.  You can have, however, just one or two Dutch Buckets (also called BATO buckets) in a corner of your house.  Just as long as the temps stay warm enough for, in my case, tomatoes and peppers.

There are some parts coming that are not in the video.  One is an aquarium air pump to keep the growing liquid oxygenated.  The other is an aquarium heater, which will warm the solution that is pumped over the roots.

Also I failed to mention that this system doesn’t run continuously, it is On 1 hour, Off 4 hours.

  • It used to be that you couldn’t find drip irrigation supplies at garden centers and the big Orange or Blue stores, but now you can.  However, you can order drip supplies from Drip Works online as well.
  • The Dutch Buckets came from Grower’s Supply, but there are many sources (be sure to order the siphons, 2 per bucket, which are separate).  There are also videos on how to make home made Dutch Buckets (BATO buckets).
  • the Hydroton came from a local hydroponics store, but is also widely available on-line.  You can also use any light medium, such as expanded shale, perlite or even river gravel (anything without limestone.  To test, put a hand full of gravel in a jar of vinegar.  If it bubbles and sizzles, you can’t use it.)

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  1. Eric J says

    Did you rinse off the hydroton before putting it into the system? I would highly recommend it. If you don’t it will take a very long time for all the dust to be removed naturally by the system.

    Are you keeping this system hydroponics, or making it an aquaponics system?

    Eric J.

  2. says

    EJ: I did. Gave it a good hosing off as I poured it into a bucket then, dunked it in a mesh bag.

    My problem now is actually the water, which has tremendously high dissolved iron content. Looks clear coming out, but oxidizes –almost– in the air between the hose and the bucket. I’m having it tested so I’ll know exactly the mineral content, but also for pathogens.

    I have doubts about getting temps high enough to “light off” and then sustain the bacteria needed for aquaponics until Spring. I’m planning on building a circulating solar heater, but still… OTOH, we’re having a really mild winter so perhaps I’m being pessimistic about my chances. But even in the best of cases, I’ve read that you have to nurse your system up gradually, adding fish, letting the bacteria grow and multiply, and then adding more growing capacity.

    I’m certainly going to keep some “aquaponics starter dough” next year, in a thermos or something.

    Besides (as you’ll hear on Eric’s next radio show) I had some setbacks and rebuilds, which have put back the aquaponics project a bit. One step forward six steps to the Home Depot, seems to be about my rate of progress.

    So the Dutch Buckets are a strictly Hydroponics operation at this time, something I can get going with quickly as I build the other stuff. I can use an aquarium heater in the solution with an air pump to keep the solution for the roots warm and O2 rich.

  3. Cash Olsen says


    I like’d to comment on your question about eventually using the Dutch Bucket in the aquaponic system. I have run mine that way for several months and have taken it down in favor of a more typical grow bed. It worked and cycled very nicely but gradually became unreliable. The postmortem analysis shows that eventually the bio-film builds up to such an extent that it chocked itself off. There are ways around this but I chose to go a different route for now and may one day return. Here is a rule of thumb I developed: Holes and slits should be no smaller that 1/8 inch (3mm) and preferably 3/8 inch (9mm) to avoid fouling by the bio-film. I’m back up and running and getting result.

  4. Dimitri says

    Hello Eric, thanks for this video. I have a question, A week ago I set up a dutch bucket system, got the reservoir in the ground, with a Little Giant pump, and got my return pipe well done. However, my problem is the drip system.

    I bought a 20 unit drip system from Ace Hardware, it’s just the roll of 1/4 tubing, 20 0.5gallon/hr drippers etc. Now, at first the drippers where working erratically, one day one dripper would drip, not the other day, by this happening it killed many of my smaller plants., so, I decided to cut them off, and plainly replaced them with 1/4″ Tees. Now, i got a nice flow to my first 4 buckets and it’s not flowing after that….
    I got 2 rows of 8 buckets. I come from the pump 2 feet up split the 1/4″ tube to left and right row, and then the drippers, (now plain open T’s). Seems that this pump cannot push all the way through. And I hate to think this is it. The pump I believe is a 400gph. Would you think it would help if instead I would use a thicker hose it would work? maybe a thick 1/2″ or 3/8″ from pump up, in between the two rows, and then make holes and stick in the 1/4″ tubing? is that going to help?

  5. says

    Dimitri, you’re on the right track in your thinking.

    1/4 inch is pretty tiny for pushing liquid through with a pump for any distance. Most submersible pumps allow the excess pressure to escape the rotor area when pressure gets too high. OTOH, you can do what you want with house pressure water, because the pressure isn’t shunted off like it is with a pump.

    All the big box stores (blue and orange) have drip and irrigation in the plumbing aisle. I’d get some 1/2 PVC plastic to use as main supply line along the length of your buckets and attach it to your pump (just crimp the free end and tape it closed). This stuff is very cheap, like $20 for 100 ft.

    While you’re their, pick up some 1/4 connectors and a punch. (One connector per bucket, plus some spares) The 1/2 inch PVC is sorta “self healing” so you punch a hole where you need it, insert the connector, and attach a length of 1/4 inch tube to the 1/2 inch hose and run the 1/4 tube to your buckets.

    You’re almost there. The fun is in the experimentation and fooling around.

    Ask if I can help with anything else.


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