My First Deep Water Culture Kit

By: Chris | Last Updated: December 22, 2020

My foray into hydroponic gardening started with a cheap deep water culture kit from Amazon. I don’t even know who the kit came from. Presumably, a friend must have sent it as a gift at some point in time. The poor kit collected dust in the back of a cabinet for years before seeing the light of day again.

Spring cleaning caused me to ransack a few neglected cabinets in the mudroom. That’s when the forgotten kit was unearthed, and that’s also when I got bit by the indoor gardening bug. The kit, touted as a hydroponic herb garden cleaned up nicely.

Thumbing through the thin set of instructions, I decided to give it a shot. Tearing open the “sealed” seed bags, I remember laughing at how ridiculous it was to try planting seeds that had been in a bag for YEARS. To my surprise, a few days later, the seeds began to sprout!

I ended up with 4 or 5 nicely growing basil plants that grew wonderfully for about 45 days before my next lesson in hydroponics was learned. One day I walked in to find my beautiful basil plants had all taken a nose dive onto the top of the container. It was at that point I remembered I was supposed to monitor the water level in the container. Whoops!

That was my long-winded way of saying these cheapo kits work and are totally worth trying out if you’ve never dabbled in hydroponic gardening before.

Cheap DWC Kit – Should You Buy One?

If you don’t want to find individual components to make your own deep water culture system, sure it’s only 30 bucks. Like I said above, the kit works and is a great way to learn about hydroponic gardening.

Is it perfect? Short answer, no. There are things about the kit I don’t like.

My biggest complaint about the kit is the number of holes in the lid. The kit I have originally had 12 holes, which means twelve plants growing in an incredibly cramped space. This makes no sense. A quick search revealed similar kits that have smartly gone with only 6 holes, which is a lot more sensible.

Aeration is another problem any of these cheap kits will have. The aerator pump that ships with this kind of kit is a joke. It’s tiny, and mine started to burn up after 3-4 months of use. Check out the picture below.🔥😱

Small Aerator Pump That Started to Burn Up
That’s NOT safe.

The aerator on my kit burnt up, but that may have been a fluke. Like I said at the top, if you don’t want to piece a kit together, buy one of these. If you’re more of a DIYer, you can build a much better DWC system for around fifty dollars.

How to Setup a Deep Water Culture Kit

Deep Water Culture Kit Assembled

Deep water culture kits are among the easiest hydroponic systems to assemble and use. This how-to will show you how it’s done!

Total Time: 1 hour

Step 1: Drill Holes For Air Lines

Photo of modified deep water culture container

Using a 1/4″ drill bit, drill the holes for the aerator pump air lines to pass through the container lid. Placement is up to your preference.

Step 2: Connect Aerator Air Lines

Connect air lines and soapstones to dwc kit

Push the aerator pump air lines through the container lid, and then connect the soapstones to the ends of the air line that will be inside the container.

Step 3: Connect Check Valve to Air Line

Aerator check valve orientation

Connecting the check valve is a simple but important step to perform correctly. The easiest way to orient a check valve is to blow through it. If you can blow through it, the end you’re blowing on connect to the aerator. The end air escapes from connects to the air line going to the container.

The check valve prevents water from entering and destroying the pump.

Step 4: Connect Check Valve to Aerator

Check valves connected to aerator

Cut a 2-3″ piece of air line, and use it to connect the check valve to the aerator pump.

Step 5: Fill Container with Water

Container filled with water to just above the bottom of the net cup

Continue filling the container with water until the level reaches just above the bottom of the net cup. This will enable the grow plugs or rockwool to wick moisture without oversaturating young plants and seedlings.

Step 6: Add Nutrients to the Water

4-18-38 3-Part Nutrients

Add nutrients to the water until you reach the proper EC level for your plants. My pH & EC charts for hydroponic vegetables & herbs will give you a good starting point.

The nutrients shown in the picture were purchased from a local hydroponics store, but there are tons of options available online.

Step 7: pH Balance the Solution

pH balancing nutrient solution

After adding nutrients to the water, it’s time to pH balance the solution based on the needs of your plant or plants. Understanding and maintain pH in hydroponic systems isn’t incredibly hard, but it is important.

Step 8: Grow Hydroponic Plants

Crowded deep water culture system

Congratulations! You’ve successfully setup your deep water culture kit. Now it’s time to plant some seeds, and grin widely as you watch them grow.

Note: Most deep water culture kits under $30 are small, like the one shown in the top-left of this picture. You can see from the picture that a system this small is not really ideal for lettuce.

Estimated Cost: 30.00 USD

Supply:

Tools:

Materials: Hydroponic Nutrients

Where is that DWC Kit Now?

I’m glad you asked! I still use it from time to time, though I’ve made a few modifications. It looks like a chopped up Frankenstein, but it works great!

New holes cut into deep water culture container
I’ve tried several different configurations in the container over time.

As I said earlier, the original aerator was tossed because it started to burn up. Beyond that, it was way too small to be effective in the container.

Uniclife 4w Aerator

The aerator was replaced with a Uniclife 4w aerator. The box says it’s ultra-quiet, but that’s not very accurate. It’s still pretty dang loud. I went with this aerator as a test because it’s cheap. I paid $14.99 for the pump. I also like that it has larger soapstones and can fit 2 air hoses.

Comparing the old soapstone to the new ones
The old soapstone is tiny compared to the new ones.

Beyond that, I cut 2.5-inch holes for larger net cups. Probably overkill based on the size of the container, but I have a bunch of them. I went with 4 holes so a soapstone could be positioned between each of the two sets of plants.

The blue top in the photo below is an insert I made from an old plastic container lid. This insert covers all the old holes, because direct light on nutrient solution is a recipe for bacterial growth.

Photo of modified deep water culture container
The new holes were cut using a razor knife. The blue lid was cut from an old plastic container lid.

These deep water culture kits are really easy to assemble, modify, and build. I continue to use this container because it’s a great size for herbs. I’ve also used it to grow spinach and lettuce.

DWC Kits – A Great Way to Get Started

If you’re new to hydroponic gardening, deep water culture kits are a great way to learn without spending a ton of money. Invest in a slightly better aerator, and you’ll be well on your way to growing happy healthy plants!

If you have any questions about this kit or anything I’ve talked about above please contact me. I always love to hear from other hydroponic gardeners, and I’d really enjoy having the opportunity to help you get started on this adventure!

Chris Cook started Happy Hydro Farm to share his passion for hydroponic gardening! Growing your own food is incredibly rewarding both physically and mentally. His mantra - "Take excellent care of your plants, and your plants will take excellent care of you."