What is the Dutch Bucket Hydro System — A Step By Step Guide

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Added 22 March 2022

Growing cannabis for the first time can be scary for anyone — the technical terms, various growing methods, and everything associated with it can sound like mumbo jumbo at first. 

It takes quite a bit of patience too. But, like everything else in life, you really gotta work hard to grow the best buds. 

In times of desperation, it may seem like you can wing it by throwing a few seeds in your backyard and hoping for the best. However, that's not true. 

There's more to growing cannabis than that, isn't it?

If you're looking for a simpler way to grow cannabis, you need to start with simple techniques. And, the dutch bucket hydro system (DB), no matter how complicated it sounds, is actually very simple. 

It is an easy, forgiving way to grow cannabis, making it ideal for novice growers. What more, you can create a DIY dutch bucket hydro system in just a few hours!

So, let's take a look at what it is and how you can make one yourself. 

About Dutch Bucket Hydro Systems

The method gets its name from the dutch buckets used to grow the plants in. These dutch buckets, patented by RoyalFlora Holland, are essentially five-gallon buckets in a square shape with an indentation at the bottom to run a pipe under.

The DB system, also known as the bato system, is a simple drip-feed hydroponic system. A single irrigation line runs over it, feeding the plants via drippers, and a drain line at the bottom directs the runoff water back to the reservoir. And the best part? You can add multiple buckets to this system.

Yes, DB is very similar to deep water culture (DWC), but one significant difference is the presence of grow medium in DB. DWC does not use a growing medium.

For this system, you need to choose a growing medium that can retain enough moisture while enabling oxygenation at the root zone — your best choices are perlite, hydroton clay pebbles, or coco coir (explained more below).

Advantages of DB Hydro Systems

DB advantages

Dutch bucket hydro systems have various benefits that make them ideal for beginners and even experienced growers looking for a straightforward hydroponic system to grow cannabis. Below are some of the top benefits of DB hydro systems:

1. DB Systems are Forgiving

Imagine a DWC system — if you make a mistake or the water levels drop, you only have a little time to save your plant. On the other hand, DB systems are much more forgiving. Make a mistake, and you will have enough time to fix it before it starts affecting your plant.

This is because DB systems have excellent moisture and nutrient retention and air exchange, which can feed the plant for longer than many other hydroponic systems.

2. They are Eco-Friendly

Dutch bucket hydro systems are a terrific example of recirculating or closed-loop hydroponic systems. The water continuously gets recycled. Here is what the closed-loop looks like:

  • Water reservoir > feed line > emitters > grow medium > drain line > reservoir

Cannabis is a thirsty plant, and this system saves a lot of water, making it a lot more eco-friendly than other growing systems. In addition, this makes DB hydro systems ideal for dry climates.

3. You can Grow Large Plants

Many hydroponic systems are well-suited for smaller plants since they use smaller containers and grow cubes. On the contrary, dutch bucket hydro systems use individual buckets to grow plants and have a growing medium to support the large mass. 

Plus, even if you add multiple buckets to your system, your canopy won't get crowded because the buckets are spaced apart.

These reasons allow you to grow large cannabis plants quickly without investing a lot of time or energy into your indoor hydroponic system.

4. Scalability!

Dutch bucket hydro systems are also relatively easy to expand. First, you have to add more buckets and holes to the lines. So, once you gain enough experience and confidence, you can grow multiple plants using the same system with minor modifications.

5. You can DIY It

To build a dutch bucket hydro system, all you need are essential tools and equipment that you can find in your toolbox, shed, and local hardware store. Plus, these tools and equipment are pretty affordable. As a result, you can build your system within a few hours.

Disadvantages of DB Hydro Systems

DB disadvantages

Like every other system, the bato system also has some disadvantages. Let's look at the primary disadvantages of the Dutch bucket system.

1. Needs frequent maintenance

The main reason why many growers choose hydroponics systems is that they are easy to maintain. However, the Dutch bucket system needs quite a bit of maintenance in terms of cleaning. 

Of course, this is not a disadvantage that exists only for bato systems since every hydroponic system will need to be cleaned occasionally. But, one significant drawback is that you will have to clean all the bato buckets individually. 

For example, if you have about ten buckets, which is possible even in standard grow rooms, you will have to clean them frequently to make sure the plants grow well. Many commercial growers avoid the bato system for this particular reason because they may use more than 200 buckets at once, and cleaning them all can result in significant manpower and cost, which is not feasible in the long run.

2. Irrigation lines could get blocked

The second disadvantage occurs with nutrient delivery. Although Dutch bucket systems are reasonably easy to use, you will have to watch the irrigation lines as they could get blocked easily. 

Many growers love drip irrigation systems as they efficiently deliver nutrients to the plants without manual intervention, but they get clogged even while delivering only water. Small amounts of contaminants, including soil particles and nutrient solids, can quickly clog the system.

Clogged irrigation systems are a problem with many hydroponic setups. This is not a disadvantage for Dutch bucket systems alone; however, since bato systems depend entirely on the irrigation lines, it could cause significant problems to growers. 

Also, leaking lines can overwhelm other buckets with extra nutrients and cause nutrient lockout and toxicity. Or, the plants can suffer from a shortage of nutrients with blocked lines. In addition, the buckets are sized just right to hold the root volume, which means they don't have a lot to depend on if an emergency arises. 

That said, some companies offer bato buckets with small reservoirs in the base to offer irrigation for a while, but it may not be enough if the plants are big. Therefore, keep an eye on the irrigation system and check if everything is frequently working — you don't want surprises! Or, you can install sensors to detect problems. Sensors can trigger alarms as soon as something goes wrong. 

This doesn't mean that the bato system is terrible — it's far more efficient than other hydroponic systems. Drip irrigation lines do not get clogged all the time, but it's simply a matter of being prepared if that ever happens. 

Can you germinate seeds in DB hydro system?

Yes, you can germinate cannabis seeds in the dutch bucket hydro system, making it easy for the grower to raise plants from start to finish in one single system. However, there are a few problems you should be aware of.

Typically, most growers don't use DB or bato systems for germinating their seeds although it's possible. Why? It's because germination is easy and takes very little space. Despite being cost-effective, the DB system will take up lots of space that's not necessary during the germination process. The grower will be better off germinating seeds in small containers and then transplanting the plants into the system. 

Even if you decide to grow other crops in this system, it's not a good idea to germinate seeds in the system. Any crop, whether herbs or vegetables, or cannabis, will germinate easily in small pots or containers, and you won't need the DB system to grow from start to finish. 

If you decide to germinate the seeds in the DB system itself, you will have to make some adjustments for cannabis, in particular. For example, the germinated seedlings will not need lots of light at first. Therefore you have to start with one light that's not too powerful for the small seedlings and make sure they are all grouped closely together. 

Grouping the seedlings together could be a problem with the Dutch bucket system. Of course, you can group them very close at first and spread them later, but you'll need more than one light to achieve that, and you can also run into problems with the irrigation lines.

If you decide to use the bato system to germinate the seeds, ensure you carefully select the growing media. For example many growers struggle to germinate cannabis seeds while using only perlite as the growing media. Mix some Coco peat so the seeds are hydrated adequately. In short, take care of the seeds like you would with any other system. Or, you could use Rockwool which works well to germinate seeds. 

In addition, maintain the humidity so that the seeds germinate easily. You can make your humidity system by placing plastic bottles on the top of the seeds on your bato buckets to maintain adequate humidity. The plastic bottles will need to be transparent to allow the seeds to get enough light.

Another issue is that the bato system will not be very cost-effective if you decide to grow the plants from start to finish. For instance, the nutrient delivery works at full capacity, although you need very few nutrients for seedlings. 

Of course, the seedlings will take up only the nutrients they need. The recycling system will efficiently recycle any unused nutrients; however, you'll waste all the nutrients. Since commercial bottled nutrients are super expensive, you'll be better off germinating the seeds in separate containers. 

Another option is to use minimal nutrients for the seedlings, so you don't waste money. If you have very few buckets in your system, it won't be a huge problem, but if you plan to grow more than four plants, you'll be wasting a lot of nutrients.

In addition, you will waste electricity since the system will run as designed. However, since you don't need to take care of the seedlings like fully-grown plants, you don't have to waste all that power. 

You also get commercial bato buckets designed with multiple containers per bucket that are useful for germinating seeds. These buckets are usually used to grow herbs like lettuce, kale, etc. You can use them to germinate the seeds easily; however, make sure you use them only for germinating the seeds as they will not be suitable for growing large plants.

Cost of setting up a Dutch bucket system

It is pretty cheap to construct your DIY Dutch bucket hydroponics system at home. Or, if it's too much of a hassle, you can simply buy a kit that comes with all components. However, with a DIY system, you can customize things according to your needs. 

Note that the cost can differ depending on the number of buckets and the quality of the materials. Most bato systems available online can cost anywhere from $180 to $200. Mostly, these are 5 gallon systems. If you want bigger buckets, the cost will go higher. 

However, you can make your own at home with even 10-gallon buckets if you wish, but the cost will not be significantly higher. If you're resourceful and search for used buckets in good condition, you'll be able to save more.

Typically, a DIY bato system shouldn't cost more than $150. As you can see, the cost is almost similar to the one you'd buy at the store, so you can buy one if you don't want to bother with all the technicalities. One con of making a DIY system is that you'll need to tweak it to work perfectly. You cannot afford small mistakes, or they will become big problems later. Therefore, it's totally up to you.

One advantage of making a bato system at home is that you can purchase any number of buckets, whereas a kit you purchase online or in your local store will come with a set number of buckets. So if you want to grow more than, say, five plants, then making one at home will be an affordable and easier option for you. 

On the other hand, if you are a beginner with no experience in hydroponic projects, it's best to go out and buy a kit. Then, once you get familiar with how the system works, you can make one yourself.

Dutch bucket systems are relatively cheaper compared to other hydroponic systems because you don't require a stand for the buckets. Most other hydroponic systems rely on stands that need to be sturdy and need to support the weight of the plants, which turns out to be expensive in the end. You can let the buckets sit on the floor or use a mat if you are concerned about water flooding, and it will work just fine.

Step-by-Step Guide to Building Dutch Bucket Hydro System

Keeping it simple for novice growers, let's focus on a single-bucket DB hydro system. The method is easy to follow even for scaling — just add more buckets. Here is how you can build your own DIY dutch bucket hydro system.

Materials Required:

Parts needed

  • Four dutch buckets (Can use more if you want)
  • A large water reservoir (ideally, 15 gallons)
  • 1.4 inch PVC pipe (depending on your table's length)
  • Water pump with timer
  • ½ and ¼ inch poly tubings
  • ½ drain valve
  • Drip emitters
  • Drain valve
  • Drain fittings
  • Zip ties
  • Pipe end caps and elbows 
  • Pipe clamps
  • Clips

Setup Procedure

Cut your PVC pipe according to the table's length. Ensure that it fits the table perfectly. Leave some space at the end for the elbows. 


Now is the time to make some decisions on the spacing. Carefully mark the drain placements on every bucket. 

Mark placement

Drill holes on the previously marked placements using a saw and a drill. 

Drill holes

Attach the elbow and end cap using some PVC cement and primer. Ensure that the elbow faces downward, but the holes you made on the PVC should be upward. 

Attach end cap and elbow

Next, drill some holes on both PVC sides. To keep the PVC firmly in place for a long time, use zip ties or clamps. 

Attach zip ties

Next, fasten the tubing using clamps on the middle line but leave some space at the very end.

Fasten tubing

Drill holes on the poly tubing to attach the drip emitters. 

Drill holes on tubing

Next, attach the release valve after cutting the end of your irrigation line. Attach a clamp after you cut it. 

Add release valve

This step will depend on the number of buckets you choose to have. For one bucket, cut one 5-inch strip. For four buckets, as shown in this example, cut eight 5-inch strips of your ¼ inch tube. Next, attach the drip emitters to supply nutrients to the plants. 

Attach strips

Attach the pump to the tubing end and fasten it with pipe clamps. Finally, place your pump in a clean reservoir. 

Attach tubing and pump

Once everything is done and ready, test your system to ensure everything is working fine. Fill the reservoir with plain water and do a test run to ensure the water circulates properly. Looks for leaks and fix them immediately. 

Test the system

Add your choice of grow medium to the dutch bucket. It's time to transfer the seedlings to the system.

Transfer the seedlings

This is what the system should look like:


Figuring out how much water your plant needs can be tricky because each strain requires different water supply levels. However, we recommend using a 30/10 cycle of water supply, i.e., the water must flow into the bucket for 30 minutes and drain for 10 minutes. 

Begin here and fine-tune it according to your plant's needs. Your plant will let you know. Look for symptoms of over or under-watering.

All the other cannabis growing rules stay the same — give your plant enough nutrients and light, maintain the proper relative humidity and temperature levels, and keep an eye on your plant for any signs of distress.

Lastly, always ensure the reservoir and grow medium has the correct pH levels. Ideally, your cannabis plant grows best at a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, so stick to this. Use a pH meter to measure the reservoir water and runoff water to accurately measure the pH. 

And remember, even the most inert grow mediums can sometimes alter the pH. So, keep an eye on that and fine-tune it accordingly.

Best Grow Medium for DB Hydro System

You can use various growing mediums for your dutch bucket hydro system, but whichever one you use, ensure it has enough moisture retention, air pockets, and structural integrity to hold the plant upright. Here are the three best grow mediums for your DB hydro system.


Perlite is perhaps the most common grow medium used for DB hydro systems. This medium acts as a natural filtration system, allowing excess water to simply drain away. At the same time, it retains moisture and nutrients from the water for your plant to consume.

Perlite also has excellent airflow, allowing the roots to breathe easily.

Hydroton Clay Pebbles

Another great medium, hydroton clay pebbles, are made from 100% natural clay. They are known for having a stable pH and EC. Plus, clay pebbles are relatively heavy, making them ideal for holding big plants upright.

Clay pebbles also drain quickly without retaining a lot of water. So, the moisture and oxygen levels in the root zone remain stable and adequate for your plant to consume.

Coco Coir

Coco coir is a renewable grow medium made from ground-up coconut husks. It is another excellent growing medium for dutch bucket hydro systems. It allows adequate moisture retention while holding big air pockets — the perfect environment for the roots to thrive in.

Additionally, coco coir is rich in natural Trichoderma, which acts as a bioagent to fend off harmful pathogens that may otherwise damage the roots. They also provide a healthy environment for friendly bacteria and fungi to grow.

Summary: What is the Dutch Bucket Hydro System?

If you plan to get your foot into the cannabis growing scene, you cannot go wrong with dutch bucket hydro systems. They are easy to set up and maintain, affordable to make, and forgiving enough to let you make minor mistakes in the beginning.

Plus, they are quite popular in the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) sphere, so they are also good for the environment.

Use this system to grow big plants and scale easily. Happy growing!


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