Limited Indoor Growing Space? Make a Space Bucket!

Happy belated New Year, everyone! One of my goals this year is to grow more plants from seeds, which until later in the year, needs to be done indoors. That has its own set of challenges for me.

Originally, I didn’t think growing plants indoors would be an option for me. I live in a small apartment and have a cat that dominates the one good windowsill! When I tried growing seedlings inside out of the cat’s reach, they almost immediately started growing mold, eww! There was no good air circulation in that room, but I couldn’t put them anywhere else where I could have enough light and the cat couldn’t reach.

Space Buckets: a DIY indoor garden
Lookin’ pretty spacey!

My awesome husband read about space buckets online soon after I moved my seeds inside, and built me one for Christmas! If you can fit a five-gallon bucket near an outlet in your home, you have plenty of space for this DIY indoor growing setup! If you or someone you know is a little handy, I highly recommend building one of these! Clearly, I was a good girl this year. 😀

Space buckets require a bit of research and planning, depending on what kind of plants you’re growing in them. By and large, they are used for growing marijuana, so many guides are tailored towards that. Mary J is not my plant of choice, as you might have guessed! My main purpose for it would be starting seeds and possibly keeping small, tropical carnivores (ie: drosera or cephalotus).

To make any kind of space bucket, a few things need to be considered:

  • Keeping light in, which ensures the plants get as much light as possible. This usually involves covering the entire outside of the bucket in black duct tape, and covering the inside with reflective Mylar.
  • Light itself. Your choices are essentially LED, compact florescent lights(CFL), or a mix of both. LEDs produce less heat, cost less energy over time, but tend to be more expensive up front. CFLs get hotter, are cheaper up front, but may cost slightly more over time than LEDs. Like with any indoor lighting, you should research what light color temperature works best for the results you want. I keep it simple and aim for 6500K, which is equivalent to outside daylight from the sun.
  • Placement of lights. If you are using compact florescent lights on the lid for example, your plants may need to be elevated on some kind of platform in order to get the most photosynthetic benefit they can. But a few strings of LED lights can be wrapped around the inner walls of the bucket, and are therefore already closer to the plants. If you want, you can use both!
  • Air circulation. The bucket needs areas cut out for two fans, an intake and exhaust fan. The intake is placed in the side of the bucket, while the exhaust is placed on the lid or near the top. Most often, CPU cooling fans for computers are used.
  • Power supply. Space buckets need power for the lights and the fans, which sometimes can be bought with their own power supply. The power supplies then need to plug into a power strip that will plug into an outlet, which powers up the whole thing! You can decided if you want to control power to lights and fans independently of each other.
  • Keeping everything in place! You will need some heavy duty zip ties and strategically drilled holes to keep everything firmly attached to the bucket and to minimize light leaks.

So here is mine! It’s pretty basic, as far as space buckets go.

A space bucket is DIY indoor garden that fits in compact spaces!
Here you can see the main power strip, and power supplies to the fans on either side.

 

Many building guides use two buckets stacked within each other. The outer bucket serves as a drainage tray, and the inner one is the actual “pot” with holes drilled into the bottom. Mine does not have a drainage tray or holes drilled, as of yet. My current plants are just sitting at the bottom of the bucket. Currently I have a pot of drosera omissa x pulchella grown from gemmae in its own pot and tray. My two pots of Venus flytrap seedlings are in there as well, with no trays.

For this build, we decided on two sets of LED strips wrapped around the inside to provide side lighting with minimal bulk and less chance of overheating. You can’t really tell this photo is underexposed. This thing is BRIGHT! It actually hurts my eyes to look at directly. Don’t stare at the sun in the bucket, kids!

Starting seeds in a five-gallon bucket
LED string light for top/side lighting. Drosera omissa x pulchella grown from gemmae, and Venus flytrap seedlings.

So how well does it work? 

I haven’t started actual seeds in the bucket yet, but the pygmy drosera gemmae germinated super quickly! In less than a week, they were producing carnivorous leaves. When I first sowed them, I put a plastic sandwich bag over their pot to keep humidity up. I took it off after each baby plant had about 4 carnivorous leaves. I keep water in their tray and spray the surface every other day to keep them moist. They look nothing short of happy and dewy! This week I’ll be moving them to the outside greenhouse to enjoy the cooler weather.

Drosera omissa x pulchella. Pretty little pygmy sundews!
Pygmy sundews growing from gemmae in my space bucket!

Pygmy Drosera omissa x pulchella

Quick note: I have to credit Devon of Sundews Etc. for the original idea of adding a top layer of silica sand for the pygmies. Definitely looks much nicer than the flytrap pots!

As for the Venus flytrap seedlings, the mold is totally gone! The previously stunted seedlings seem to be happier and are producing actual full traps now. However, I’ve also noticed some leaves dying back. I tried acclimating these to the LED light slowly, but it still may have been too much at once. There is still enough new growth though that I’m confident the strongest seedlings will bounce back. With the pygmy drosera pot needing a tray, I unfortunately can’t fit trays for both of the dionaea pots in the bucket. So I am top-watering them as carefully as I can, about once a day. The fans can dry out a pot pretty quickly if it’s not covered for humidity, or doesn’t have a tray.

A dark red Venus flytrap seedling putting out a new trap!
Several dead ends, but new growth looks good! The future is bright.

 

We decided against UFO lighting and placed the exhaust fan on the bucket lid, though my husband would still like to add a few more LED strips to the inside of the lid. I actually wouldn’t mind a CFL or two in there if we can fit them. A slight increase in heat would help with faster seed germination. Current high temperature in my bucket is around 74 to 76 degrees F, and low temperatures are between 63 and 65 F. Once I take the pygmy sundews out, I wouldn’t mind bumping it into the low 80s for the Sarracenia seeds going in there next!

DIY indoor growing setup for under $100
Looking through the exhaust fan on the lid.

You will most likely need to do some shopping, but you can easily build a bucket for under $100. It’s way cheaper than most indoor growing systems out there!

Useful resources

 Ultra basic shopping list

  • five-gallon bucket (this black bucket may give you an edge with controlling light leaks)
  • Light (either an LED UFO, or LED strip, or Compact Florescent or a mixture! These lights linked are 6500 K daylight balanced, but your specific needs may vary)
  • Mylar blanket for maximum light reflecting inside the bucket
  • Two cooling fans for air circulation
  • Humidity thermometer (I love this thing! Nifty tool for checking your high and low temperatures and humidity)
  • Power strip (this puppy needs power after all!)
  • Light timer (I still need one of these! I keep the bucket on during the day for roughly 14 hours, and just turn off the power at night.)

I’m excited to show updates throughout the year of my various bucket projects! If you have any further questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer! I did not do any of the building though, so if you have building or tool-related questions, give me some extra time to consult my handy handsome husband! 😉

 

8 comments

  1. Megan says:

    This is amazing and such a good idea!!!! I may look into it because limited space for me too! Your gemmae look great I just started growing some too 😀 They’re so fun to watch grow!!!

    • Maria says:

      Thanks Megan! I love gemmae because they’re like seeds but so much faster. You don’t need to be as patient with them, lol.

  2. Rich says:

    Very cool idea! That’s really neat to see you adapt that for growing carnivorous plant seeds. Looks like you can have a constant batch of seedlings in production year-round! haha

    • Maria says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rich! A constant batch of seedlings in production is exactly what I’m hoping for! 😀

  3. Mike says:

    Thank you very much for your article. I will be using mine for my own personal medical grow. I was having a hard time finding an article that actually had what I needed.

  4. Ely says:

    How do you know a light strip will be powerful enough? I want to use LED strips to light a terrarium, and all the watts, lumens, and other gibberish gets confusing.

    • Maria says:

      You do have to do a bit of experimenting and see what works for you. Generally for weaker, low-wattage lights, you’ll need to keep them on for a long time, at least 16 hours to keep the plants happy. With the striplights in the above post, I kept them on for 14-18 hours.

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