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Deep Water Culture DIY: 3 Extremely Easy to Build Systems

DWC-container

Deep Water Culture DIY Intro

This Deep Water Culture DIY system can be built with 3 options.

Option 1- Use styrofoam like a raft or lid or you can use the lid that came with the storage container. There is a slight difference in the system design. If you use the styrofoam the plants will float in net cups in the styrofoam slab on the surface of the nutrient water like a raft and the roots will always be in the nutrient water. Why styrofoam if the buckets come with lids? First of all, some storage containers don’t come with a lid, so this is a cheap alternative. Second, How many of you have ever made a mistake during layout or cutting…anything! Exactly. Styrofoam is a very cheap alternative to make a lid. if you mess up it’s a cheap fix to try again. You can also use it as a template to cut your storage container lid for option 2 after you’ve already tested and tried it out. 

 

Option 2- Use and cut the storage container lid. if you use this option the plant roots will be exposed to an air gap between the bottom of the net cup and the top of the nutrient water level. Many find this to be the better option, especially if you are not adding any aeration to the water. There are pros and cons to each solution, but the ultimate choice will depend on your plant selection. Some plants don’t like to have their roots constantly submerged in the water solution. 

 

Option 3- Use a 5-gallon bucket with its lid or get an aftermarket lid with a net cup built-in. This option is best for larger and vining plants that have root systems that need more medium for stability.

 

Need more info or are not sure how to proceed? Take a step back and learn more about Deep Water Culture or check out some other DWC designs before you jump in to start your build.

 

 

Option 1: Deep Water Culture DIY Raft System

 

 

Totes Deep Water Culture diy
Totes Deep Water Culture DIY, GrowWithoutSoil.com

 

Materials

  • 27 Gallon Reservoir, or similar size (choose 1 of the following options)
    • Non-transparent or translucent Totes or storage container (Size will depend on what is locally available, how much room you have, and your garden plan)
      • You will always want to select a none transparent or translucent reservoir in order to limit light getting to your nutrient solution as this will cause algae growth.
      • Can I use a fish tank if I already have one? (Sure, why not? This selection could make your Deep Water Culture System an Aquaponics System! Just don’t select large plants or you won’t be able to lift the styrofoam lid to service and feed the fish!
  • Submersible Water Pump
  • 1/2″ Black Water tubing
  • Net cups
    • 2″ – 3″  or 4″ (Net cup size will depend on the size of your reservoir, and plants selection)
      • 2″ lettuce, Greens, Herbs
      • 3″ Kale, Chard, larger greens
      • 4″ Larger and Vining vegetables
  • Air pump (aquarium or other) This one comes with 2 air hoses, check valves, and air stones 
  • Air hose (Usually comes with the air pump)
  • Check valve (Comes with better quality air pumps)
  • Airstone (Comes with some air pumps. Get the biggest one your reservoir and air pump can handle)
  • 1″ thick styrofoam sheet to be used as the lid (large enough to cover the top of your reservoir, or cut shipping costs by using multiple smaller slabs)
  • Distilled or Filtered Water (preferably reverse osmosis filtered)
  • Plants

 

Tools

  • Power drill
  • Hole saw Match your net cup size selection. This may be more difficult than it seems as the exact hole saw size you need may not come in your hole saw kit. See more details in the instructions below.
  • 1/4″ Drill bit  for wood or plastic. The size of this hole will depend upon the diameter of the air tubing you have purchased.
  • Razer or Exacto knife  I would normally never recommend the “snap-off blade” type of box cutter knife, but the ability to extend this blade out a few sections to cut a clean slice on the 1″ styrofoam makes this particular knife design the right choice for this job.

 

 

Instructions

 

Reservoir

  • Clean the selected reservoir. Be careful with your cleaning solution here. Don’t use anything you would not use to clean your own drinking glass. We like to use clean water with a little Hydrogen peroxide. It’s best to follow the manufactures instructions as each bottle is sold with different strength percentages.
  • Discard the original reservoir lid, or use it under your reservoir as a drip pan.

 

Cut

  • Measure and cut the styrofoam so that it fits just inside the rim of your reservoir. A little smaller is ok as it will rise and fall with the level of the nutrient water down into the reservoir.
Cut Styrofoam raft for hydroponic reservoir
Cut styrofoam raft within 1″ from the top of your reservoir
  • Layout and Mark Hole locations (Here are 2 layout options.) These layouts are set up for the Homz Tough Durabilt Tote Box, 27 Gallon, Stackable, 2 Pack, Black/Yellow. You may have to rescale and /or print multiple pages to get it to fit right for your selected reservoir) No need to engineer this or be super critical here. If you have space between each plant and the edges of your reservoir your plants will be fine.

 

 

  • Drill Holes in the raft with a hole saw. The size will depend on your net cup size selection. Remember, the drilled hole size needs to be the diameter of the net cup just before the lip (or flange) at the top. Don’t make it too big or the net cups will fall through the holes. (running the drill backward at a slow speed will make it easier and won’t destroy your delicate styrofoam. You can use a razor knife here as well, but be extremely careful!)
Measure the proper net cup hole size by location
Measure the proper net cup hole cutting size by location
  • Mark and Drill a 1/4″  Hole for the air hose in one of the corners.

Place 

  • Place the reservoir in its permanent location
  • Place your net cups into each drilled hole
  • Push the air hose through the 1/4″ hole

 

Fill

  • Fill the reservoir with filtered water (Make sure the water  level touches the bottom of the net cups when the styrofoam is placed on top of the reservoir)
  • Add nutrients as per manufacture instructions
  • Check pH
    • pH will rise or drop after adding the nutrients (usually drop)
    • Adjust the water pH with pH up or pH down to read about 5.8 to 6 

 

Connect

  • Cut a small 6″ or so length of hose and connect to the air pump
  • Connect the end of the air hose inside the container to the air stone
  • Connect the outside end of the air hose to the check valve. Look closely on the check valve to see an indicator on the side indicating the proper direction of the flow of air and position the direction of the check valve accordingly.  Note that the air flows from the air pump to the air stone inside the container. If you are uncertain, you can blow through the valve one side at a time. One side will be more restrictive. That is the side that will connect to the hose or tubing that goes to the airstone.
Air line check valve direction
Air line check valve direction
  • Connect the check valve to the small 6″ piece of hose already connected to the air pump.
How to connect your hydroponics aeration system
How to connect your hydroponics aeration system

 

Plant

Option 1 – Seedlings

  • Put your plants into each net cup

 

Option 2 – Starter plugs and seeds

 

 

 

 

Option 2: Deep Water Culture DIY Container With Lid System

This is the same system as above with one minor modification, we use the original container lid instead of styrofoam raft.

Totes with Lid -Deep-Water-Culture
Totes with Lid -Deep-Water-Culture, GrowWithoutSoil.com

 

Materials

  • Same as the Raft System but keep the lid above.

 

 

Tools

  • Same as the Raft System above.

 

Detail

  • The only difference from the Raft System above is we used the lid that came with the reservoir. This allows the plant roots to sit higher up out of the water and creates an air gap between the bottom of the net cup and the top of the water level.

 

 

 

Instructions

 

 

 

 

Option 3: Deep Water Culture DIY Bucket System

The bucket system uses the same principles as above but uses a 5 Gallon bucket with a lid instead of a Totes storage container. This system will usually hold one larger plant. However, we have seen some growers drill up to 7- 2″ holes with 2″ net cups for smaller plants. 

DWC Bucket System Build
DWC Bucket System Build, Source

 

Materials

  • Reservoir
  • Net cups
    • 2″ – 3″ – 4″- 6″ or 8″ net cups This will depend on the size of your system and plants; or you can get some of these Viagrow V6ML-6 Net Pot, 6 in. 6-Pack, Black Lid net pots that fit directly onto a 3.5 or 5-gallon bucket. No hole saw drilling necessary!
  • Air pump aquarium or other
  • Air hose Usually comes with the air pump
  • Check valve Comes with better quality air pumps
  • Airstone Comes with some air pumps. Get the biggest one your reservoir and air pump can handle
  • Distilled or Filtered Water preferably reverse osmosis filtered
  • Plants

 

Tools

  • Power drill
  • Hole saw (Match your net cup size selection)
  • 1/4″ Drill bit  (for wood or plastic)

 

 

Instructions

 

Reservoir

  • Clean and Place the selected Bucket with a lid

 

Cut

  • Layout and Mark Hole location on the lid
  • Drill Holes in the lid (running the drill backward at slow speed will make it easier and won’t destroy your lid. You can use a razor knife here as well)
  • Mark and Drill a 1/4″  Hole for the air hose

Place 

  • Place the reservoir in its permanent location
  • Place your net cups into the drilled hole
  • Push the air hose through the 1/4″ hole

 

Fill

  • Fill the reservoir with filtered water (Make sure the water  level touches the bottom of the net cups when the styrofoam is placed on top of the reservoir)
  • Add nutrients
  • Check pH

 

Connect

  • Connect the air stone to the section of hose in the reservoir
  • Connect the check valve to the outside section of the air hose. (Make sure it is flowing in the correct direction- OUT goes to the airstone)
  • Connect a small cut piece of hose from the check valve to the air pump.

 

Plant

  • Put your plant into the net cup
  • Fill each cup with the medium of your choice 

 

 

Learn more 

Deep Water Culture Designs

Buy this system

Build this system

 

Install your Accessories

Set up your system

 

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Bobby

HI! I'm Bobby, an entrepreneur, inventor, green builder and urban farmer. I've been a custom home builder since a kid and an avid gardener. The critters, bugs and climate outside our new home forced me to check out some new ideas in gardening. I found out about Hydroponics and have spent years learning the best techniques to build the best, most efficient, home hydroponics systems. I built one of the first ever, small scale, mobile hydroponic systems. Would you like to know how I did it?