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Getting started with your first deep water culture hydroponic setup is a bit trickier than planning a traditional garden (in the soil), but it isn’t REALLY as complicated as it seems.

Take the DWC hydroponics system we made for this article, for example. Hydroponic gardening doesn’t get much easier for beginners than starting with something like this easy-to-build system.

Read on below and discover everything you need to know about deep water culture hydroponics, including what it is, how to build and use a DWC system, and more!

What is Deep Water Culture Hydroponics?

An infographic depicting the components for a  DWC hydroponics system.

Deep water culture hydroponics, commonly referred to as DWC hydroponics, is a basic hydroponic growing method wherein plants are anchored in place with their roots submerged in a container filled with “deep” water. The water of the system contains oxygen supplied by an air pump and air stone, as well as liquid nutrients that are manually introduced to the system by you.

DWC systems work both inside, and outside. That said, using a DWC hydroponic system indoors calls for grow lights and other possible add-ons to the system like grow tents, ventilators, and more. There is also space availability, temperature regulation, humidity levels, and other factors to take into consideration before you invest in a DWC hydroponics system.

This video is shared from the GrowAce YouTube channel.

How to Build a Simple DWC Hydroponic System

1. Gather Proper Supplies and Take Measurements

For building a basic DWC hydroponics system, aside from a utility knife and the possibility of a drill, you need:

  1. A lidded bucket, tote, or another suitable continer with a lid
This is a 5-gallon bucket (or close to it) with a lid we chose for a DIY reservoir, we cut a hole out for the grow site to fit inside.

2. An air pump

The RS-390 is an aquarium air pump we found on eBay and bought for the DWC system we built for this guide.

3. Air hose

The air hose that came with the air pump we bought for this hydroponic system is around 6 feet long.

4. Airstone(s)

The air pump came with two air stones that slid right into the ends of the air hose.

5. Netted pots

Instead of using hydroponic pots, or netted pots, we opted for making DIY grow sites from regular flower pots.

6. Liquid nutrients

A 1.5-liter mixture of powdered nutrients and flower food that we use for LECA plants.

7. Timer

A digital time that we purchased to help run our DWC system and all of its components on auto-pilot.

8. Surge protector (optional)

A heavy-duty power bar/surge protector is highly suggested for any sort of hydroponics system.

9. Lights (optional)

You may or may not need lights for your DWC system, we purchased a couple in order to grow a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and house plants indoors.

2. Set up the Primary Reservoir

One of the primary reservoirs one this DIY DWC hydroponics system we made for this article.

Take your bucket, tote, or container and clean it with hot soapy water. Disinfect it, sanitize it, and otherwise prepare it for being used as a hydroponic reservoir.

You also need to cut a hole(s) in the lid. The holes need to match the outer rim of the netted pots or cups you plan to use so they sit in place rather than fall through the hole.

You can use a sharp knife, razor, or utility tool to cut a rough circle out of the lid. Keep in mind it doesn’t need to be perfect, the growing site will cover the eyesore.

3. Set Up Grow Sites (Including Air Pump, Hose, and Stone)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_1919-1-1024x768.jpg
We took brand new flowerpots and drilled holes for the air tubes (and for the plant’s roots) for our DIY grow sites.

Creating grow sites may be as easy as ordering netted cups from Amazon or eBay. We chose to make our own, and so can you if you have plastic flower pots and a drill.

Set your air pump up by attaching the air hose to the output and plugging the device into a power outlet.

Connect the other end of the air hose to the air stone(s), but only after you’ve fed it through the grow site. That way the growing medium goes in that much easier.

4. Prepare Growing Mediums

After soaking the LECA (our growing medium of choice) we added it to the grow sites we created.

Whatever growing medium you decided to work with, now is the time to prepare it. If you picked LECA, or something similar, you may soak it for up to 24 hours before adding it to the grow sites.

Some growing mediums also need sanitizing, like LECA. To do so, simply boil them for several minutes. Afterward, soak them for a few minutes, rinse them off, and you’re good to go.

With your grow site in place, including air hose and air stone, add in growing medium up to an inch or so from the top of the pot or cup.

5. Connect All the Electronic Components to a Timer

After connecting the air pump and lights to a surge protector (shown above), we plugged them into a digital timer.

At this point in the project, your DWC system is almost complete. More or less, all you need to do now is plug it in.

We suggest using a power bar (with built-in surge protection) and a timer. Your equipment will be safe in a power outage or lightning strike.

That way your components are safe in the case of some other sort of electrical malfunction, and your system may run on auto-pilot, including the lights as well.

6. Test and Tweak the System

These two DIY DWC systems run with a dual air pump, one hose feeding oxygen to the root zone of each grow site.

Once it’s all set up, your new DIY DWC hydroponics system is ready for growing anything from lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, to small dwarf fruit trees and blueberry bushes.

But, you may discover a few bugs that need to be addressed once the system is up and running.

If you need to re-do something, don’t fret. Just tweak the system as needed and move on!

Using a Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System

This video is shared from the Soothing Leaf YouTube channel.

Choose a Good Location

For a hydroponics system of any sort, location is key. The system needs to be placed somewhere it is easy to access but is protected from the elements (and children and pets).

Depending on whether or not your system receives natural sunlight or not, you may or may not need to consider a location that includes lights for your system.

Set Up Lights if Necessary

This LED grow light is consumes less than 50W and gives off the equivalent of 8000W.

If your plants receive little to no natural light, lights will be an absolute necessity if you want anything to grow.

Thankfully, the internet is ripe with various types of grow lights.

You shouldn’t have much issue finding the right sort of lights for whatever species it is that you plan on growing.

Test the Water Regularly

A TDS and EC reader we use to monitor our DIY DWC hydroponic systems daily.

Once you’re up and running with a DWC system, its water needs checked daily (as it is with all hydroponic systems).

For this, you need a pH meter with an EC function or possibly two meters. You can find a combo meter online for less than $15.

Plant Crops

Practice makes perfect, and growing things hydroponically is a lot different than growing them in the soil.

You will need to practice germinating seeds and transplanting them into your grow sites or starting seeds directly in them.

At any rate, plant crops and grow them, and then plant them again, and again, and again. Eventually, it’ll feel just as natural as gardening outside.

Try and Try Again

It isn’t just the planting you’ll need to tray again and again, at first. There are many aspects to the hydroponic gardening technique that you will learn.

You may need to research and practice with proper lighting or get used to dealing with nutrients and testing the water with meters.

Whatever it is that challenges you the most about hydroponic gardening, practice it and just keep trying. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it!

Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Maintenance

This video is shared from the Howling Farms YouTube channel.

Test pH Daily

The pH level of your DWC hydroponic system needs testing daily. This reading gives you an accurate account of how many nutrients the water contains, and more importantly how much it needs to be added to it.

Test EC Daily

As with the pH level, the EC level of the water in your DWC system also needs testing each day. This reading lets you know how easy (or hard) it is for the plant’s roots to absorb nutrients from the water.

Top Off Nutrients Regularly

We are using a local product designed for feeding flowers, in combination with homemade liquid nutrients in our DWC systems.

Depending on your daily pH and EC readings, you may or may not need to adjust the pH levels much between water changes (which should happen every two weeks).

When you do need to add nutrients, do it carefully, and then take readings again and adjust until it is where you want/need it to be.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they can allow being adjusted or otherwise fixed.

Keep Water Topped Off

Aside from taking readings from the water each day, keep an eye on the actual water levels themselves as you may need to add a splash of water to the reservoir sometimes.

The water level is set at the root zones of plants, so don’t let it drop down or the water roots will become exposed to direct air and begin to rot.

Change Water Once Every Two Weeks

Every 14 to 21 days the water in your deep water culture system needs changed (sorry folks, that’s just the way it goes!).

Even if the water is clean, and has nutrients and a decent EC level, you should highly consider changing it out with freshwater anyhow.

It doesn’t pay to slack on changing the water, your plants suffer and you spend more time trying to tweak pH and EC levels than necessary, to say the least.

Scrub, Clean, and Flush the System

When it’s time to change the water, it is also time to scrub, clean, and flush the system out. That includes the air hoses, air stones, reservoir (and lid), as well as any other components of the system.

Quick-Tips for Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

  1. Keep An Eye on the Light
  2. Regulate the Temperature
  3. Provide Constant Airflow
  4. Check Plants for Signs of Nutrient Deficiency and Pests
  5. Don’t Skip Water Changes or Cleaning

Frequently Asked Questions About DWC Hydroponics

How Many DWC Hydroponic Variations Are There?

There are countless variations of deep water culture hydroponic systems, including mini-bubblers, dutch buckets, RDWC (recirculating deep water culture), and any number of hybrid and experimental DIY DWC systems.

A quick YouTube or Pinterest search yields thousands of results, hundreds with how-to instructions for building a simple DWC hydroponic system (like found above).

Are Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Systems Expensive?

Depending on the type and size of the deep water culture hydroponic system, they may cost anywhere from $50 or $100 for a small system all the way up to several thousands of dollars for larger setups.

How Hard Are DIY DWC Hydroponic Systems To Build?

DIY deep water culture hydroponic systems come in all ranges of skill levels, meaning, it’s up to you how simple or complex a DIY DWC hydroponic system you attempt to build is.

Some systems are as basic as the one in this article (above), or even simpler (think mini DWC in mason jars).

However, plenty of DIY DWC and RWDC systems do require quite a bit of detail and attention, if not a bit of skill with hand tools like a measuring tape, razor knife, drill, and more.


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