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Low-Cost Indoor Hydroponic Gardening Using Space Buckets and SNAP Hydroponics

Inside the classic space bucket

For gardening enthusiast in urban areas, finding a gardening space that receives sufficient sunlight to support plant growth can be a challenge. In addition, pests and other environmental factors can ruin plants with ease. Growing plants indoors is an excellent solution but the space requirements and cost of an indoor gardening rig can be a problem. Worry not because a cheap and space saving do-it-yourself indoor gardening solution is available.

Space bucket is a simple DIY indoor gardening rig. It has enough room to grow one plant, provides enough light to support plant growth, provides sufficient ventilation to keep temperature and humidity under control, has a small footprint and can be made from materials you can find locally. In this post I’ll discuss the materials needed, where to get them and how to assemble your very own space bucket.

A space bucket with three spacers and an optional LED strip lighting.
A space bucket with three spacers and an optional LED strip lighting.

Materials for the Classic Space Bucket

There are a number of ways to put together a space bucket. In this post I’ll discuss how to assemble the most ubiquitous configuration the classic space bucket.

Five Gallon Buckets

You’ll need  five-gallon buckets similar to the one pictured below. You can find these types of buckets in depots and hardware stores. Price varies. The color doesn’t matter. Although white is recommended as it makes the space bucket look clean and sanitary and also helps keep the temperature down. At least one lid is required. Some buckets have spouts similar to the one pictured but that is not required. A spoutless lid is easier to work with.

a white round plastic 5-gallon bucket.
A white round plastic 5-gallon bucket.

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)

Plants require light in order to grow. Indoors, where the sun doesn’t shine, we can meet a plant’s light requirement using artificial lighting. A cheap and effective option are compact fluorescent lights (CFL).

Cool daylight and warm white CFL bulbs.
Cool daylight and warm white CFL bulbs.

At least 100 true watts is recommended. For best results use a mix of cool day light and warm white. This will be explain in a future post about indoor plant lighting.

Philips 24w compact fluorescent lights.
Philips 24w compact fluorescent lights.

You’ll also need light sockets for your CFL bulbs. Weatherproof rubber sockets works well.

Fans for Ventilation

Your space bucket requires ventilation. Proper air circulation keeps the temperature and humidity inside your space bucket under control. Without it heat can build up inside your bucket and kill your plant. Lack of air circulation also weakens the plant’s stems and makes them susceptible to fungal and bacterial growth.

80mm computer case fans for space buckets

Find quiet and efficient fans. Twelve-volt computer case fans 80mm in size works well. Get four of them. You can power them with 12V cellphone charger with sufficient amperage. Most spare cellphone chargers you have at home should be able to power all 4 of them. Be sure to check the current (amperage) requirements of your fan and compare that to the current that your cellphone charger supplies.

Twelve volt cellphone charger.
Twelve volt cellphone charger.

Power Strip

The space bucket has a number of electrical components that must be plugged in and supplied with electricity. A quality power strip will make maintaining your space bucket and managing your plant easier.

Electro-Mechanical Timer

To simulate night and day cycles you must regularly turn the lights on and off. Although this can be done manually it is impractical to do so. You can use an electro mechanical timer to automatically turn the lights on and off on a preset time of day.

Electro-mechanical timer switches is a low-cost yet effective way to automate your plant’s light schedule. Please see this guide on how to use electro-mechanical timer switch for more information on how to use them.

You may also opt to use a digital timer. Although it is more expensive than an electro-mechanical timer.

digital timer switches
Digital timer switches

Screw on Wire Connector

Also known as wire nuts. They make splicing wires together easier and safer.

pack of screw on wire connector
A pack of screw on wire connector.

Tools and Other Supplies

As with most DIY project, the tools you have at your disposal will make be a huge factor on how your space bucket will turn out. You will be working with plastic and electrical components. I suggest you go through this guide to learn how the space bucket is assembled to give you a general idea on what tools you need to complete the project. Use your creativity and DIY prowess. The entire build involves cutting and boring holes through plastic. A regular hand saw cuts through plastic with ease. To make holes a soldering iron or a heated cutting implement can be used. I use a Dremel for DIY projects and it works well for building space buckets too.

Dremel tools with useful attachments for space bucket construction.
Dremel tools with useful attachments for space bucket construction.

Some essential DIY supply and equipment such as the following may come in handy:

  • Zip ties
  • Duct tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Mounting tape
  • Super glue
  • Wire stripper
  • Sand paper

Space Bucket Assembly

With tools and materials ready, we can now proceed to assembling the space bucket. But first…

Safety First

Please make sure to take all necessary precautions to ensure your personal safety when assembling your space bucket. Wear eye protection when cutting or boring through plastic because small bits of plastic can easily make their way to your eyes.

Work in a well lit and well ventilated area specially if you are using heated implements to burn through plastic. Avoid breathing in the fumes. Use face a mask.

You will be working with electrical components. If you never worked with these before I suggest you find someone to help you. Extra precautions must be taken because you will be working with water in close proximity with electrical components. Always unplug your space bucket when watering your plant or tinkering with your hydroponic system.

With that in mind let’s get started.

Build the Main Container

The main container will hold your plant and this is where most of the remaining components attach to. Pick the the best bucket among your collection. Make holes at the bottom of this bucket for drainage. A heated metal rod works well for this purpose.

Drainage holes at the bottom of the main container of a space bucket
Drainage holes at the bottom of the main container of a space bucket

Intake fans needs to be attached to the sides of the main container opposite to each other. Please refer to the picture below. Make a hole large enough for the fan.  You can use a marker to make an outline where you will be making the hole.

You can use zip ties to tie the fan in place. Make sure the fan is blowing air inside the bucket. The frame of the intake fan has arrows indicating the direction of the airflow.

Next, add reflective materials to the walls of the main container. This prevents light from leaking. The walls of five gallon buckets are thin enough to let light shine through which can be an issue and makes lightning less efficient. You can buy silver plastic sheets from stationary stores and stick them to the walls of the main container using two-sided adhesive strips. Another option aluminium foil tape which you can buy from hardware stores.

Inside the classic space bucket
Inside the classic space bucket. The walls are made reflective with aluminium foil tape.

Build Spacers

Spacers are stacked on top of the main container to add height to your indoor garden.

To make them simply cut off the tops of your extra 5-gallon buckets. Make sure to leave enough of the bucket so that you can still stack them on top of each other well. Pick the best one and set it aside for now. This will be constructed into a light-top for your space bucket. Add reflective material on the inside walls of the rest of the spacers.

As for the rest of the bucket you can fashion them into plant pots enough to hold 3 gallons by adding drainage holes and optional handles.

Three gallon plant pots
Three gallon plant pots.

Build the Light-Top

This is one of the most complicated part of the build. Take the spacer you set a side for the light top and add holes on the side here the light sockets will fit.  You will also need holes for the fans. Be sure to double check you measurements before you start cutting holes through your the spacer.

With proper spacing and appropriately sized CFL bulbs you should be able to arrange the lights and fans similar to the picture below.

Light-top assembly with one of the spacer attached.
Light-top assembly with one of the spacer attached.

Add the lid and add reflective materials. Make sure the fans are blowing air towards the outside of the bucket. With this fan configuration, your space bucket will be able to suck in cold and fresh air from the outside and blow cold and fresh air through your plant while at the same time pull out hot air from the lights keeping the interior of your bucket cool and well ventilated.

Wiring the Lights and Fans

If you are not familiar with wiring (voltages, amps, series/parallel configuration)  I strongly suggest you recruit the help of some who is. Improper wiring can cause electrocution. You can even burn your house down.

The lights and fans should be wired in parallel. Use solder or wire nuts to splice the wires together. Use zip ties to tuck wire neatly.

For convenience and additional safety precaution, attach the power strip to the side of your space bucket. As a rule of thumb all electrical components should be off the ground.

Optional LED Lighting

Additional lights can be added using LED strips. This can be constructed on one of the spacers.

Final Checks and Finishing Touches

Almost done! Double check your wiring. Screw on the CFL bulbs. Plug in the lights and fans to the power strip. Plug in the power strip and turn it on. You are now ready to grow indoors!

Space bucket in operation.
Space bucket in operation.

Space Buckets and SNAP Hydroponics

You can use space buckets with SNAP Hydroponics to conveniently grow plants indoors. Find a fitting container to hold the nutrient solution and let it grow.

Growing Tips

To lessen the heat inside your space bucket specially during summer you may opt to turn on the lights during the night and turn them off during the day. Twelve hours of continuous lighting should be enough for most tropical plants. You may opt to remove some of the lights when your plant is small and doesn’t need that much light.

Be sure to unplug the space bucket before working with your plant or the nutrient solution reservoir. Water and electricity is a dangerous combination. Be extra careful.

Use topping, pruning and plant training to keep your plant short and bushy. It’s very easy for your plant to outgrow your bucket if you don’t manage the foliage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Neat! Did you come up with this?

No, I did not. This is the brainchild of u/Ekrof. He built a community of DIY indoor gardeners at r/spacebuckets.

Is it worth the electricity consumption?

That depends on who you ask and how they use it. For a hobbyist who just want to start growing indoors the cost maybe worth it.


More space bucket pictures.

2 thoughts on “Low-Cost Indoor Hydroponic Gardening Using Space Buckets and SNAP Hydroponics

  1. Thanks for the article. Btw why do you recommend mix of warm white and cool daylight? Supporting studies?

    1. You’re welcome.

      There are studies about color temps and plant growth on the web. Hopefully I can write a post about indoor lighting soon. But long story short having a mix of color temps mimics the sun’s light better.

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