Low-Cost Hydroponic Technology: Drawing the Line Between Cost and Function

By Keith "Tree Frog" Bouchard
Published: July 3, 2019 | Last updated: April 30, 2021 12:32:50
Key Takeaways

For growers who would like to get into hydroponics, cost or complexity need not be an issue. Treefrog explains focusing on plant basics is key when purchasing your hydroponic equipment.

There are the basics any plant needs to survive, which are broken into four major categories: light, air, water, and food.


Whether soil, hydroponic, or aeroponic, all gardens must provide these necessities, which can be met regardless of budget. Low cost and equipment quality won't affect crop yield or quality, so long as there is system functionality and the basics are met.

Major Components

The major components of any hydroponic system provide plants with each of the basic necessities mentioned earlier. Components should include such things as lighting or a greenhouse, a water pump, an air pump, and the appropriate tubing and fittings. These four major components can provide plants with everything they need, so long as there is a container for support and delivery of water and nutrients.


To begin growing with hydroponics, gardeners only need to build a reservoir for mixed nutrients and a container for the plants out of repurposed and recycled products such as plastics.

Pre-built Systems

If startup cost isn’t an issue, the easy way is to purchase a pre-built hydroponic system. There are plenty of grow systems on the market and many have the major components worked into their design to provide a complete working hydroponic grow container and reservoir. However, these pieces only need to provide functionality, which can be achieved by repurposing virtually anything such as a storage bin or recycled plastic bottles.

DIY Systems

Low cost doesn’t mean low functionality, so don’t let high costs prevent you from starting or expanding your own hydro garden.
By using components that provide the basic necessities such as light, air, nutrients and water to the plants as needed, inexpensive DIY gardens also deliver plants everything they need to thrive. Functionality can be built into any system with these major components as long as the right balance of air and water is given to the plants. In other words, roots should not be over- or under-watered. Providing enough air is critical to prevent overwatering. An example can be seen in raft (a.k.a. deep water culture [DWC]) hydroponic systems where plant roots are submerged in water and nutrients at all times, with ample aeration provided through the use of air pumps and air stones. Finding this balance between air and water is critical to the performance of every hydroponic system, regardless of cost, design, or complexity.


Any good system design provides the right mix of air and water, which should be tweaked and perfected for the best results. Another example is a flood and drain (a.k.a. ebb and flow) system, where a table resting above the reservoir is flooded periodically on a timer. These parts can be built using your own materials, just be sure to provide the accessories. High functionality is not only possible, but easy to achieve by thinking through your system and the plants you are growing.


Be sure to start your own hydroponic garden off right by purchasing the basic necessary components such as water and air pumps, drains, and clean tubing. When given the proper functionality and environment, yields and quality are easily maximized without breaking the bank. Most plants want somewhere around a 6.0 pH and a nutrient mix density between 400 and 1,000 parts per million. Be sure to keep the system and components disease-free by thoroughly cleaning between crops.

Don’t let costs deter you from exploring or expanding your garden into hydro. The market is full of high cost systems that will work well, but price and complexity should not intimidate you. Simply giving plants their basic necessities can be a simple way to grow great hydroponics.


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Written by Keith "Tree Frog" Bouchard | Founder & Co-inventor at Multiponics

Profile Picture of Keith "Tree Frog" Bouchard

Keith is the founder and co-inventor at Multiponics, an indoor gardening manufacturer and online boutique. Multiponics has a passion for pushing innovative ag-tech forward and is a consultant to the NASA-funded X-Hab project via the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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