Here’s how to get your moneys worth out of a 5 gallon bucket and an aquarium air pump. You’ll also need a piece of pvc pipe, some tubing, and a couple hole saws. You could do it with just a drill bit to make the holes if you are careful and patient.
Airlift technology has been around since at least the 30′s. Scanning through old aquarium books from that era as a kid I saw the airlifts running sponge filters. I now have some hydroponics set up and the airlift came to mind. I grabbed a couple pieces of pvc, and off I went.
I had a 5 gallon bucket with a lid already, so I used that. I took a 4 inch hole saw that I already had and made 3 holes (thats all that would fit) around the outside of the lid. I made a hole the size of the 1/2 pvc pipe (check yours as schedule and sizes vary from the outer diameter). I slid a piece of pvc pipe in the center hole and cut it so that it was off the bottom of the bucket by a couple inches.
Next I drilled 4 quarter inch holes in a pvc cap that fit the standpipe that I just made. One of them the tubing goes almost all the way down the stand pipe. The other three are short from the inside and snake out to go to each pot that you have in the lid.
Hook the airline tubing to the aquarium pump. The other three tubes go to the pots to supply a steady flow of water.
Place three plastic cups, pots, or whatever fits in the holes (you can buy hydroponic net pots for 30 cents each in many hydro places). I used lava rock as a substrate as it is cheap, easy to find, is porous, and allows plenty of air throughout the net pot. I have used lava rock for a while and for the money it is good.
Fill the 5 gallon bucket 3/4 of the way full. Check that the pots are almost filled with lava rock, that the 3 feeder tubes are in the lava rock securely, and that the water and airpump are situated well. It is good practice to never let the airpump be below the water level. If is stops it could possibly make a siphon and suck water back into the pump. That or get a one way check valve from the pet store. They are cheap enough.
Plug int he pump and the airlift should take a second to get water moving along the tubes. It will shortly look like a coffee pot percolating water through into the plant pots.
You can put seeds in the lava rock or you can put in starts after the roots are washed to clean off the soil.
Peters Fertilizer makes a 10-10-10 with micronutrients that you can use for hydroponics. Use only qabout 1/4 tablespoon per gallon of water. And then only a cup of that a week or so depending on what youa re growing. You can add more or less as you get used to how the plants grow.
Hydroponics grow much faster than in dirt. Many specualte it is the constant supply of fertilizers, some say its the oxygen the roots constantly get, others have their reasons. Regardless it works, especially in small spaces.
Keep the water level up periodically by adding tap water. It is best if the tap water is aged to allow the chlorine to dissiapte from the water.
Watch your plants thrive and grow quickly and economically. This can be bought and made for under 15 dollars if you are thrifty.