Bato buckets or as they’re popularly known “Dutch buckets”, are a popular way of growing plants using hydroponics. In case you’re not familiar with the term, hydroponics is simply the process of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil.
This type of hydroponic system is a favorite for both hobbyists and professional gardeners, and it’s easy to see why. It’s economical, versatile and reusable. Best part is, it’s easily expandable; you can add as many buckets to the chain as you want.
If you’re thinking of trying this approach of growing plants, this post is for you. We’ve explained how Dutch bucket hydroponic system works, how to build your own from scratch and essential factors you should take into account.
What is a Dutch Bucket Hydroponic System?
As the name suggests, this cultivation technique involves using a series of media beds, which are set up in buckets. The system can contain just a single bucket or more. Each bucket has a drip irrigation emitter, which channels nutrients directly to the rootzone.
The buckets are usually lined up in a row. What’s good about this approach is that there’s no limitation to the type of bucket you can use. You’re free to use the regular 3 to 5-gallon buckets or the unique square-shaped containers known as bato buckets.
While the Dutch bucket is mainly used in hydroponics, it can also be employed in aquaponics (a cultivation method that uses wastes from farmed fish and other aquatic creatures as the main nutrients for the plants).
Usually, bato bucket hydroponic systems are used in areas that don’t have arable land or in instances where conventional or sustainable field agriculture cannot be practised.
How does a Dutch Bucket Hydroponic System Work?
To understand how the Dutch bucket hydroponic system works, you simply need to learn the main components it’s made of:
Every bucket can have a single plant or several small-sized plants. The buckets are also filled with some sort of growing media. We’ll look at this in a more detailed way in a bit, but simply put; these are the materials used for growing greenhouse crops.
With this hydroponic system, the most common growing media used are: perlite, hydroton and coco peat.
Every bucket also has a siphon elbow, which serves to drain any excess nutrient solutions to the return line.
This is the component that holds all the necessary compounds required by the plants. The solution added to this reservoir mainly consists of water and nutrients.
The reservoir is equipped with a submersible pump, which is responsible for pumping nutrients into the drip irrigation line that transports them to the buckets. The drip irrigation line is used in conjunction with drip emitters (one for each bucket), which ultimately transport the nutrient solution to the plants’ root systems.
This is not a must-have component for your hydroponic system. However, it comes highly recommended because it boosts the amount of oxygen in the nutrient solution. Oxygen is also vital for facilitating the germination and healthy growth of plants. Increased amounts of oxygen means that your plants not only grow healthily but faster.
How to Build a Dutch Bucket Hydroponic System From Scratch
Tables and Benches
This hydroponic system doesn’t necessarily call for the use of tables and benches. This means you can place the Dutch buckets on the ground and just position them correctly. However, using one of these makes cleaning and maintenance a whole lot easier.
Wet or Dry Hydroponics?
Liquid hydroponics are easier to use but come at higher prices. They’re more suitable for small-scale projects, home-growers, and beginners.
Dry nutrients need some experience and skill. They are much cheaper than liquid nutrients and have a longer shelf life. So they are more utilized by seasoned growers and large hydroponic farms.
- 1Start by cutting the PVC so that it’s the same length as that of the table (in the example, the PVC is reduced to 8 feet to fit the table). Leave a bit of room on the end for attaching the end cap and silphon elbow. Verify that the PVC you’ve cut actually fits on the table.
- 2Line up the Bato buckets on the table, and determine what spacing you’ll use. On the drain line, mark where the drain system for each bucket will go through (in this case, you should mark off 8 points, leaving an interval of about one foot between them).
- 3Use a hole saw to drill 1-inch holes at the points where you marked in step 2.
- 4Connect the PVC end cap and the siphon elbow using primer and PVC cement. When performing this step, ensure the siphon elbow is pointing downward and the holes upward.
- 5Make holes in the table on each end of the PVC for connecting the zip ties. Ensure you hold the PVC in place when adding the zip ties. If you don’t want to use the zip ties, you can use 1.5-inch electrical conduit instead.
- 6Take the ½-inch ply tubing and connect it along the middle line of all the buckets. Make sure you secure it using clips or clamps. Leave a small distance on the end so that it reaches the pump in the mixing tank.
- 7Create holes in the ply tubing using an ⅛-inch drill bit. The holes should be drilled on each side of the clamp. These are the gaps where the drip emitters will go through.
- 8Cut out a small section of the irrigation line on its end. Connect the release valve at this point. Incorporating this element is vital because it helps to flush the entire system and drain the reservoir. Once you’ve connected this release valve, secure it in place using a pipe clamp.
- 9From the ¼-inch tubing, cut out sixteen strips, each about 5 inches long. Connect these to the drip emitters. Doing so helps to position the irrigation centrally so that it’s directly above the plants.
- 10Take the end of the tubing and connect it to the pump. Secure it with a pipe clamp before putting the pump inside the reservoir.
- 11Put the entire hydroponics system to a test to determine if each drip emitter is working as it should. There shouldn’t be any leaks.
- 12Finally, add your preferred plants to the growing medium. In this example, the media used was a combination of perlite and hydroton.
Which is the Best Growing Media for Dutch Bucket Hydroponic Systems?
If you’re planning to grow various plants using this hydroponic system, one of the things you need to think about is the growing media you’ll use.
The idea is to get a growing material with excellent capacity for retaining water.
Still, it shouldn’t contain excess moisture as this can result in flooding. This also poses the risk of getting through the drainage system and circulating back to the reservoirs, which would lead to clogging issues.
The growing material should also be able to aerate properly so as to allow the roots to respire. Lastly, the right media provides a quality support for the upcoming plants. Here’s a rundown of the main types of growing media that you can use:
This is an inert, permeable and light material, which allows water to drain with ease while also retaining nutrients and a bit of the moisture that plants require to grow. One aspect that makes perlite an excellent growing medium is the fact that it facilitates good aeration. Since it mainly exists in the form of tiny white rocks, it’s also great for decelerating compaction.
Hydroton Clay Pebbles
Light Expanded Clay Aggregate or as it’s often abbreviated LECA is among the best media for hydroponic plant cultivation. The pebbles are able to maintain reasonable levels of moisture and oxygen. They also boast good drainage and aeration capabilities.
Another attribute that makes LECA a suitable growing medium entails their large size. Since they’re quite big, the pebbles don’t penetrate through the drainage channels so you don’t need to worry that your siphon elbow will get clogged.
In areas where potting soil is not available, gardeners prefer using coco peat. It’s also called coir or coir dust, and it’s revered for its water retention, aeration and antifungal properties.
Also worth pointing out is that coco peat is both a natural and renewable source. Plus, it’s slightly acidic, creating a setting that a majority of plants can thrive in.
Which Plants Can Be Grown in Dutch Bucket Hydroponic Systems?
Choosing what crops to plant in your Dutch bucket hydroponic system can be challenging. The truth is, certain plants can thrive in one area and not do well in another. So the best thing is to keep these points in mind when choosing your crops:
The vitality and longevity of hybrid plants make them a great option for hydroponic systems. And while heirloom species look attractive, the well-studied hybrids fare better; hence, giving you the best value for your investment.
If you’re using the Dutch bucket hydroponic system to grow crops for commercial purposes, then you should opt for plants that are guaranteed to give you a high yield.
When coming up with your financial plan for this activity, remember to compare the potential yield against the anticipated demand.
Indeterminate refers to those plants that can flower multiple times over their lifespan. As long as the conditions are right, these crops can continue producing up to the point when an environmental factor triggers them to stop.
Resistance to Pests and Diseases
When deciding which crops to plant, you should also look into their susceptibility to pests and diseases.
Even though Dutch buckets can help you practise gardening in areas where it would otherwise be impossible, it also makes the crops more vulnerable to diseases. To avoid this, you can opt for plants that have better resistance to the potential risks.
Based on these factors, most gardeners choose to plant the following crops using the Dutch bucket hydroponic system:
Duration of germination: 8 to 11 months
Space requirements: 24 to 36-inch spacing between the buckets
There’s no doubt that tomatoes require more work compared to typical greens or herbs. However, many farmers and gardeners still choose to grow this fruit because of its high demand.
If grown in a greenhouse setting, a tomato plant can rise up to 40 feet tall. Often, farmers have to utilize trellising and lean-and-lower systems to support the trailing vines. These crops fare just as well when grown in hydroponic systems. And, you’re guaranteed of getting great bang for your buck.
Duration of germination: 3 to 5 months
Space requirements: 24 to 32-inch spacing between the buckets
If you prefer planting crops that give you a quick turnaround, cucumbers fit this description perfectly. Unlike tomatoes that take 8 months to grow, cucumbers take a minimum of 3 months.
Important to note though is that this crop is available in three sexual breeds:
Gynoecious - A 70 - 30 mix of the male and female flowers
Monoecious - A 50 - 50 mix of the male and female flowers
Parthenocarpic - The female flowering plants
Thus, you have the freedom to plant any of the three varieties. Thanks to their brief growth period, it’s easy to scale your business up or down, depending on the level of demand from your first yield.
Duration of germination: 4 to 6 months
Space requirements: 8 to 16-inch spacing between the buckets
One of the more overlooked crops is the eggplant. The beauty about using Dutch bucket hydroponic system is that it gives you the opportunity to grow even the rarest plants like eggplants.
Keep in mind that eggplants require a bit of work. The ideal conditions are high temperatures and plenty of space between each crop.
But like cucumbers, these have a reasonably quick turnaround. Within 4 to 6 months, you’ll be reaping the fruits of your hard labor.
If you’re passionate about cultivating crops but lack the space required for this activity, Dutch bucket hydroponics system is the ultimate solution. It involves growing plants in buckets, which are supplied with the necessary nutrients and water through a well-equipped reservoir and irrigation system.
The key highlight of this technique is the ability to scale up or down with ease. If you want to plant just a few plants, simply use fewer buckets. Similarly, if you want to grow more plants, all you need to do is add more buckets to the chain.