I have been researching hydroponic systems as I would like to perform some research on plant additives and/or colorants and wish to have a medium-less type growth system so that A) I do not have to account for nutrient content of the soil, etc, and B) hopefully I can achieve faster growth / more experiments with respect to time.

I intend to build this myself as its mainly a curiosity at this stage. I need the system to be very compact with respect to height as I wish to have multiple systems in pods / trays, running different mixes of additives. The majority of information online is geared to a 'specific market', where space or the height of the pot does not seem to be a concern. Regardless I performed quite a bit of reading anyway to avoid asking but seem to find that most of those allude to 10", 5 or 10 gallon containers etc, which are a bit tall for what I am after. In my case footprint is less of an issue than height.

There are soo many types of hydroponics now available, (i.e. DWC, RDWC, continuous flow, flood and drain, etc) and other techniques (i.e. aeroponics, aquaponics etc), that I am unsure what would be easiest to produce on a small scale, DIY.

So my questions are;

A) what would you suggest would be the easiest method to produce and run reliably?

B) what would be the shallowest pot/vessel/container/tank that would work well? - I do have the option for a separate reservoir if that was required, as I would like to avoid daily maintenance if possible.

Any other tips or assistance you can give will be most appreciated, thank you.

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    I have to ask, what crops you are wanting to grow, how much experience in hydroponics, what is your current setup? All plants have an optimum health level and you won't be able to make plants do better than that. Keep that in mind. Anything that grows too fast vegetatively will have issues due to stress and TOO much of something. There is a maximum health for vegetative and reproductive and root crops.
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 22:39
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    Hi Stormy, thank you. There is no specific plants without providing a list as I will test a variety over time, so I want to keep it flexible. I have no real experience of hydroponics other than care taking a flood and drain type system some years back, so this part is what has lead me to ask on here. I DO however, albeit a few (read ten or so) years ago now, have quite extensive experience in growing plants in soil (I used to tend between 90 and 400 plants). I understand there is a maximum growth and health, but I wish to eliminate the soil, with hopefully beneficial effects on the growth. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:51
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    P.S. I do not have a current setup, I am designing it now whilst building it, hence the question. - I have a 22" square (footprint) rack system (each rack, 2 of) with lighting designed thus far, organised into two racks with two levels each (yes compact but enough for my limited experiments/plants and room to work). Height is constrained with 7ft of space per rack, but losing approximately 2ft for the lighting / safe distances etc. I can organise different heights, but maximum of 3ft growing height, including pot.Hope this helps. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:16

1 Answer 1


In my case footprint is less of an issue than height.

MaximumYield explains Shallow Water Culture (SWC)

Shallow water culture is one of many types of hydroponic gardening and is considered “shallow” because it requires the use of around eight to 10 inches of water or nutrient solution.

The deep water culture (DWC) method of hydroponics is that which requires more than 10 inches of nutrient solution. DWC is a more established method because in a shallow water system there are problems of maintaining balanced pH levels. However, the pH issue can be compensated for through constant monitoring and balancing of the nutrient solution.

Shallow water culture is gaining in favor because it’s considered a more efficient use of space and nutrient solution. There is also more oxygen produced by the moving water of a shallow culture system through the air bubbles created as the water flows over the cuttings.

In shallow water culture, plant cuttings sit in a shallow tray with a constant flow of nutrient solution. Once a plant forms roots and matures, it can be moved into its more permanent growing tray or system.

My questions are:

A) what would you suggest would be the easiest method to produce and run reliably?

  1. Soil for beginners, see if you have a green thumb.

  2. A pre-built, well reviewed, ready to use hydroponic system.

  3. Last choice: DIY, be prepared for problems.

B) what would be the shallowest pot/vessel/container/tank that would work well? - I do have the option for a separate reservoir if that was required, as I would like to avoid daily maintenance if possible.

Here's one set of plans: "DIY Hydroponic PVC Pipe System" (use the Aeroponic Conversion for better results, and more difficulty),if you move the resovoir out from underneath and put 4" pipes on 2x4's the height will be less than 6". Let the roots run out of the basket and down the pipes to increase the space available for them.

That's just one example, there are lots of plans, everyone has their own ideas; that's approximately as flat as you can get it, but it won't make growing easier.

  • Thanks Rob. May I ask if yourself, or anyone else knows, why the roots might not be trained to move horizontally, negating the need for 8" of nutrient solution in SWC? I have trained bonsai in the past, and in my case as a primary aim I would like to try and reduce the height. The the PVC pipe system you link would potentially work save the fact I am unsure that they will cope with larger plants? The only reason I ask is that that system will work great for many smaller plants, but I wish to grow a maximum of 4 per level, due to the width of some plants when trained and the available light. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:59
  • P.S. I have prior, albeit a few years ago now, experience with soil growing and used to tend between 90 and 400 plants of varying types, so I am happy that I can grow in soil. and I think DIY is my only option due to budget and available space, really. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:21
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    "... cope with larger plants?" I can see it working for Zea Mays or Sequoiadendron giganteum, but you're not going to be able to use 2" pipe. PVC is quite strong. That particular suggestion is more of an example that you can look at to see that a 'flat system' can be built. Plants are happier when the top grows up and the bottom down (a long distance); but there's no reason both top and bottom can't grow sideways, as long as the light and nutrients are plentiful. The diameter and volume inside the interconnecting sections is going to be a factor of stem diameter and growth rate.
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 11:22
  • Thanks again. Well by larger I am suggesting up to 3ft tall. And yes the root ball will easily plug 2"... Lighting is suitable and I have experience in that part at least, I was wondering if it would be worthwhile to attempt a large flat container around 6" deep with four 3" net pots holding the base of each plant, allowing the roots to expand within that container, but then the liquid level in the container would likely only be around 3" max, which was the concern in this case. I am happy to experiment, but wanted to acertain if I am likely wasting my time, in advance. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 13:29
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    "... large flat container around 6" deep with four 3" net pots ..." - Check out "under bed storage", like this: ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/00130129 (you can find them with a lid). I'd go with 4" container but you can always make the holes bigger, be prepared to trellis/string so the weight doesn't topple everything over. There doesn't have to be 3" of liquid, use sprayers and aeroponics (more difficulty, faster growth). At least you have an idea where to direct your research and see if this is the route you want to go.
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 14:43

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