Simple and cheap homemade ebb and flow hydroponics system

Though not my first hydroponic system this is is definitely a little more complicated than my last attempt of an fogger system created last year.  This time I decided to go with an Ebb and Flow system, where the concept it pretty simple, flood the planting area with water nutrients and let it drain, wait a defined amount of time and then repeat.  For this build I had a few requirements:

  • Must be inexpensive: Hey this is the cheap vegetable gardener site
  • Must be small: I have a limited space to grow and nutrients can be expensive and given what I am growing is legal don’t really need $20 basil
  • Must be safe from flooding: Though this is running in my garage, I really don’t want to come in with 10/20 gallons of water/nutrients on my floor.
  • Could be adapted for alternate hydroponic system.

Given these requirements, this is what I came up with and how I built it:


  • 18 gallon opaque Rubbermaid container (happened to have one of these around
  • 5 gallon basin — SLUGIS box from Ikea ($5.99)
  • vinyl tape (plumbers tape)
  • 1 inch hole saw
  • 1 inch threaded (diameter) to 3/4 PVC adapter
  • 3/4 inch threaded (diameter) to 1/2 in hose adapter
  • 2 3/4 inch PVC caps
  • Cheap pond/fountain pump (100 GPH)
  • 1 foot of 1/2 inch plastic tubing
  • 2 foot 3/4 inch PVC pipe (only need couple inches but smallest length I could buy)
  • aquarium/food grade silicon (optional I used this to ensure very watertight seal but found not necessary)


Take the 5 gallon basin and drill two 1 inch holes in the middle of each side.  One whole should be drilled from the top and the other should be drilled from the bottom.�

Take both threaded adapters and apply liberal amount of vinyl tape.

Screw in the 1/2 inch hose adapter from the bottom with just barely enough clearance to pop through.  When the pump stops the water will drain through this same hole.
For the overflow pipe, screw in the 3/4 inch PVC adapter in from the top until hand tight.

Take both caps and drill in a bunch of holes slightly smaller than your media.  The basic idea is you don’t want some Hydroton clay balls falling into your pump or reservoir.

Cut about 2 inches of 3/4 PVC pipe and attach to overflow and top with PVC cap with dozen or so holes in it.

Lastly attach the 1/2 plastic tube to your pump and place everything on top of your 18 gallon Rubbermaid tub (which fits perfectly and is very sturdy)  Fill with water nutrients and hook up your water pump to a 24 hour timer (or grow box controller)

Here is the Ebb & Flow system in action, as you can see very simple but very cheap and versatile.

13 Responses to “Simple and cheap homemade ebb and flow hydroponics system”

  1. Robj98168 Says:

    OKay Okay! already between you and Red Dicculus I swear. I will try Hydroponics this year.

  2. Ben Says:

    I went with a DWC setup last year. I found that a pump wasn't really needed, and just submerged the roots in the ferts.These plants exploded in grow after beign transpalnted into this setup, and it could easily be exanded to hold multiple plants in one container.Without the pump not only is it cheap, but also very low maintenance, only needing to change out the ferts maybe once a week.

  3. Red Icculus Says:

    Hey Rob, it’s Mr. “Icculus”. lol. Hope to see you pick it up soon. Let me know if you need any nutrients, buddy.

    Anyways CVG, great build on the ebb and flow. I am sure it will work great. I would love to see this posted on Instructables.

  4. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Robj, it is about time. 🙂 Though I have seen some of your projects you are actually doing some wicking with your self-watering planters, so you are already a pro.

    Ben, I played with DWC and my $20 air pump didn’t produce what I thought was acceptable amount of air even for a small reservoir. Though if you have a good pump I agree DWC is a great system. I think once the temperature gets too hot for the grow box I might play with DWC outside.

    Red, I have thought about instructables though never really got the reason to post in both places, wouldn’t I just be competing with myself for traffic and intructables gets the advertising dollars? Maybe I am missing something?

  5. Ragnar Says:

    Shouldn’t some traffic come back here from interested instructables users, generating advertisement $ for you? Just make sure you wake their interest with announcing lots of other DIY on this page, and further information on plants, lights and fertilizing schemes, for example. Building stuff is one bit, how to use it to the maximum effect is something you can go into more detail on here.

  6. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    You have a good point, I’ll have to think about checking out instructables again.

  7. stewardtz Says:

    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  8. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    As long as you provide this site credit, go ahead.

    As for twitter, I don’t have an account, though my grow box has a twitter account @computergrowbox

  9. Sherwood Says:

    I started this project today. I have a question…

    How do you have the 1/2″ plastic tubing from the pump connected to the PVC?

    I drilled a 1/2″ hole into the PVC cap top and pushed the tubing through that. I drilled a couple small holes at the bottom of that for drainage.

  10. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    I used a “3/4 inch threaded (diameter) to 1/2 in hose adapter” by using a simple clamp. Though probably could live without that since it stays in place pretty well on its own.

  11. Greentheories » Hydroponics Says:

    […] 05 2010 Hydroponics By Todd Back in the Spring time, I came across the Cheap Vegetable Gardener. He had details on making an Ebb and Flow hydroponic sytem So I decided to try it […]

  12. Paul V. Says:

    Excellent instructions! I couldn’t afford to buy a hydroponic system so I started building my own. It’s way easier than I thought. I switched over to Hydroponics a couple years ago and it’s the perfect solution. My garden was always so so, few vegetables and lots of weeds. Anyway, I just wanted to stop by and support another hydroponic enthusiast.

  13. Cheap Hydroponic Bean sprouter - The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    […] hygienic solution but definitely cheap, innovative, and low maintenance.  I’ll stick to my ebb and flow design, but thought I would share for those feeling […]

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