The Dutch Bucket System

Dutch Bucket Hydroponics Grow systems are perhaps the simplest hydroponic system to put up and a preferred choice of growers all over the world.

Dutch Buckets are one of the most popular ways to grow big plants using hydroponics. They are affordable, versatile, reusable and are easily connected together; making a Dutch Bucket system endlessly expandable. They can also be used with a large variety of different growing mediums, whether filling the whole bucket with hydroton clay pebbles or using lids with 4″ net pots. Dutch Buckets offer the greatest versatility in growing different crops due to its customizable features and flexibility in arrangement and can be used for both hydroponics and aquaponics.

What is a Dutch Bucket?

Dutch Buckets (also known as “Bato Buckets”) uses a series of small media beds (in buckets) with a drip irrigation emitter delivering nutrients directly to the rootzone. The buckets are typically arranged in a straight line with one main drip irrigation and one drainage line for each row. This simplicity in design makes using Dutch Buckets one of the simplest techniques in cultivating crops.

Dutch buckets can be used in both hydroponics and aquaponics (although hydroponics is easier and more popular). The technique has been commonly adopted in areas with non-arable land or where conventional or sustainable field agriculture is not appropriate, and offers several benefits to gardeners and farmers.

A trellis net can be suspended vertically above each Dutch Bucket row to allow vining plants, such as tomato, cucumber, or melons, to be trained upwards. This makes it easier to prune off suckers on tomato plants while providing good support to the fruit bearing trusses.

Advantages of Dutch Buckets
  • They work well in controlled environments for year-round growing
  • Most set-ups decrease labor for many crops
  • They save space compared to conventional techniques, especially for large and vining crops
  • Well-managed systems can conserve huge amounts of nutrients and water, even in a flow-to-waste set up
  • Great for fruiting plants, bushy, and vining plants like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers.
  • Flexible in size and setup. Can scale to any size growers want
  • Convenient for pest management in case it occurs in one bucket because each bucket can be replaced easily without affecting the whole system.
  • Recirculation system. All the drained water and nutrients are not lost but return to the reservoir if you set up the dutch bucket with the return line.
  • Great hydroponic technique for beginners. It is easy to set up. And unlike other simple hydroponic systems like the Kratky, wicking, where you should only grow green vegs, the Dutch Bucket allows starters to grow harder plants like tomatoes, peppers and enjoy great results.

How do Dutch Buckets Work?

  • Each bucket can carry one plant or up to four smaller plants.
  • The buckets must contain growing media (perlite, hydroton, coco peat, etc) to keep the moisture, ventilation as well as supporting plants to stand upright.
  • There should be a sub-surface reservoir that serves as the water and nutrient mixing tank.
  • A submersible pump is placed into the reservoir to pump the nutrients into the drip irrigation line and delivered to the plants through drip emitters.
  • The drip emitters are set to the irrigation line and are pointed to each bucket to feed the plants.
  • The siphoning elbows inside the Dutch Buckets allows draining the excess nutrient solution to the return line and then flow back to the reservoir.
  • Nutrient solution are not lost during the watering because of the closed-loop configuration. This feeding process makes this method an effective recirculation and water conservation technique.
  • You can turn on the pump and let it run 24 hours a day uninterrupted. Unexpected brown outs will not impact the system as the roots are submerged into a low level of nutrient solution at the bottom of the Dutch Bucket.

Which Grow Media Should I Use?

When you have decided on growing large or vining plants in the Dutch Bucket, selecting a suitable media to support the growth of the plant. You want a great growing material that is able to hold water but does not retain too much moisture and is able to ventilate well enough for the roots to respire. Plant support consideration is essential as well. That’s why the most popular grow media for the Dutch Bucket system consists of Perlite, Hydroton, and Cocopeat.

These various grow mediums all have a good air to water holding capacity and are environmentally-friendly, sustainable solutions. You can use each of these materials as a stand-alone or mix together in different ratios.

Perlite

It is a natural filtration system, allowing excess water to easily drain away while retaining a little moisture and catching nutrients that plants need to grow. Airflow in the soil is greatly improved in a bed amended with perlite, and that’s necessary both for your plant’s roots to breathe. Because it’s a mineral glass and thus harder than the soil around it, it also helps to slow down compaction, and keeps your soil fluffy and lightweight.

Hydroton Clay Pebbles

Extremely stable in both pH and EC. And it is made from 100% natural clay. Strong structural integrity means that they are less likely to break and compact, which helps to prevent dripper systems from getting blocked. It drains freely and do not hold any excess water, providing good oxygen levels around the root; suitable for flood and drain systems, multi-pot and drip feed systems.

Cocopeat / Cococoir

It is a renewable media and is extracted from the husk of coconuts. Coco peat contains natural trichoderma which acts as a Bio agent against harmful pathogens. It provides a great environment for beneficial fungi and bacteria to grow. It can be pressed into a variety of shapes and sizes to suit all growing applications.

What Can I Grow?

Selecting crops is a difficult choice based on your individual growing situation. The plants selected for your Dutch Buckets will greatly influence your space, maintenance, and harvest strategies. Some seemingly straightforward requirements like ceiling heights, power demands, and media choice can all have major outcomes for your Dutch Bucket operation. The trick to any successful Dutch Bucket operation will be pruning and trimming the plant into your available space. Be sure to consider how much space will be occupied by the particular breed of plant.

With these qualifications in mind, here are some of the more popular crops that do well in a Dutch Bucket setup:

1. Tomatoes

Growth Time: 4 – 6 months

Space Requirements: 24 – 36 in. between buckets

2. Peppers

Growth Time: 6 – 12 months

Space Requirements: 12 – 20 in. between buckets

3. Cucumbers

Growth Time: 3 – 5 months

Space Requirements: 24 – 32 in. between buckets

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