Hydroponic and aquaponic gardens can be expensive when you buy stuff made for this fun at-home hobby. You can use some crafty hacks though that bring the costs way down.
This video doesn’t requiring buying any actual hydroponic gear or equipment, nor does it require using any special tools. This is pure and raw DIY hydroponic hacking on the cheap!
In a nutshell, you’re going to reuse small, individual sized yogurt containers to create your own “net pots”, which your edible plants will grow in.
The approach we’ll follow is brought to us by Tom at Cheap Homestead. He shows us what’s called the Kratky method, which is basically growing plants in a non-circulating water environment. He explains that the roots of the plant simply get oxygen from the air because you will leave them partially exposed.
- Mason jars (1QT size or larger)
*Any type will do including wide or narrow mouth jars or the bale top types (without the wire hinge)
- Mason jar rings (optional)
- Clean, empty yogurt containers
- Generic plant food (like Miracle-Gro)
One key to note before getting started is to find the right size yogurt cups that will fit into, but not fall down into, the mason jar opening you’re using.
The best cups are those with lips around the top edge, which will catch on the lip of your mason or canning jar and allow your plant to sit above the water with it’s root partially submerged in the water.
01 Cut out the yogurt cup bottoms
Create a series of cut-outs around the bottom of the yogurt containers.
It doesn’t have to be perfect; you just want to create a sort of basket that can both hold the plant but also allow it’s roots to grow through to the water.
View this step in the video below from: 3:50-4:15
After this section your DIY hydroponic “net pots” are ready to go.
02 Add water and plant food to jars
Next, add a level teaspoon to one gallon of water and mix thoroughly. Then simply pour into your mason jar with your cup in place. Fill until the water line is about a 1/4″ above the bottom of the cup.
If you’re going the aquaponics route, there is no need to add plant food.
View this step in the video below from: 7:17-8:00
This will be the last time you need to add water…unless of course you have an accident and spill your jars over!
03 Insert seedlings into cup and cover jar
Tom started his plants from seed about 10 days prior to setting up his hydroponic mason jar project. He used what’s called a jiffy pot.
Once you place the seedlings in the cup, you’ll need to cover the jar with newspaper to keep out the light and avoid the occurrence of algae build-up.
If you’re going to use a fish in the jar, i.e. aquaponics, you won’t need to cover your jar.
View this step in the video below from: 10:25+11:23
View the Full Video
Now that you have a good idea on how to get set up your own mason jar hydroponic garden, you can watch the full video or find the segments you want to learn more about.
Do I need to add water as my plants grow?
Generally no, depending on the size of your mason jar. As Tom explains, you let the plant use the water and allow the water level to drop. The plant will then grow oxygen absorbing roots in places that are exposed to air, and continue growing lower roots in our liquid solution for nutrients.
Keep an eye on it though as depending on temperature and humidity levels, you may need to add a little water if you see your leaves wilting.
What plants can I grow with this method?
Lettuces, Tomatoes (e.g. cherry), Alfalfa, Radish, Broccoli, Lentils and other beans, Clover, Buckwheat, Basil, micro-greens like Parsley and Cilantro, and many more! You might include cannabis here as well but we’ll leave that to some other experts.
Are the plastic yogurt cups I’m using safe?
Yes, you should be fine using this type of plastic. You should check but you’ll find that most cups these days are BPA-free, and will be marked as such. Also, not much of the plant is in contact with the plastic. The most important aspect to this is that you’re using glass mason jars where the roots and water are in much greater exposure. This glass is definitely safe!
What about adding fish?
Aquaponic mason jars can work too – just remove the jar covering to allow light penetration. Of course, don’t worry about adding fertilizer (that’s the fish’s job!) and use larger mason jars to accommodate your fish!
One concern is that using Miracle-Gro is potentially toxic and not something you want in your garden environment. Check out the comments on Tom’s video on YouTube, and you’ll see a few alternative hacks for your fertilized solution, like used coffee grounds, tea bags, epsom salts, egg shells and more.
Cutting your cups can be done with a small wood-burning tool or the end of a hot glue gun. The hot tip will literally burn through like a knife cutting butter giving you greater control and perhaps a safer way to make your cut-outs.
Tom feels the small-mouth jars are the best vs the bigger jars with wider openings. It’s easier to find the right size yogurt cups as well.
Instead of newspaper to block light, you can paint your mason jars with a couple coats of dark paint or wrap in black plastic you might use for weeds in the garden. You could also cover with decorative fabric or paper grocery bags. Really, whatever makes the jar opaque and blocks out the light. I just comes down to how much time you want to spend and how you want your jars to look.
This is a great way to use your old mason jars; one of the most “re-purposed” containers in our homes!
Be sure and check out and subscribe to other videos by Tom at Cheap Homestead. Tom has many great videos related to mason jar hydroponics!