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What is a Bato Bucket?
(Dutch Bucket)

Much like traditional methods of farming, the new techniques for more alternative architecture are numerous.

One could spend weeks researching thousands of ways to raise plant life indoors, pouring over countless guides, trying to sift through and comprehend overwhelming amounts of information. Sometimes, terms can be unhelpful and downright confusing.

What could possibly be the difference between “aquaponics” and “hydroponics” (each prefix means “water” in Latin and Ancient Greek respectively)? What’s a Dutch bucket? The names oftentimes say nothing of the object’s function.

Fortunately, this article is going to touch on the latter gadget (maybe another article can tackle aquaponics versus hydroponics at a later date. Stay tuned for that).

For anyone curious to solve the mystery of its undescriptive name, the first buckets were invented by a now defunct Dutch company in 1989 that decided to grow roses in a perlite mixture instead of soil on an indoor farm so as to grow roses all year round and to decrease waste and necessary input to grow.

American inventors several years later further tweaked the design and coopted the new and improved device for the burgeoning hydroponics movement. For what it’s worth, no one at Urban Vine Co. could find the etymology for the word “bato.” That remains a mystery even to us.  

A rose by any name would smell as sweet—whether it’s grown in perlite and water or soil. Unimaginative name or not, the Dutch bucket has some rather important features.

This appliance can accommodate larger plants in large volumes and works best for plants that vine, such as cucumbers, peas and beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and even grapes—given proper support of course, which can either be of a horizontal or vertical nature. In fact, horizontal “plant walls” as a rather common way of connecting vines in the Dutch bucket system since it makes harvesting easier.

The largest plants will require not just one dripper, but two, and larger ones at that. Please, please do not try to set up an indoor vineyard and not give the vines an adequate way to take in much needed water and nutrients. That would be a quick way to kill off a whole nursery of plants fast.

Any version of the Dutch bucket is going to use a growing medium as a stand in for the soil. Perlite is the most common, but hydroton (a type of expanded clay), vermiculite, and even the fibers of coconuts (coco coir) are perfectly viable media to work with here.

The bucket itself is really just a square planter with nothing special about it, but what makes the bato/Dutch bucket unique is that a single water line connects each bucket to each other along with a single drainage line.

There’s no specific place that the buckets need to be placed per se—on the floor, on a table, or even a bench would all make adequate places of refuge for the buckets. What does matter is the buckets’ arrangement. The series of buckets must be staggered so that the drain ports of each bucket alternate and face inward so as to ensure that a central drain line serves each of the pails.

Dutch buckets can accommodate two plants so don’t be afraid to double up, and are usually three to five gallons (11 to 19 liters) in volume.

The collective water line can either send a continuous flow of water to each bucket or be calibrated with the right technology to only release a constant drip. Nutrients are mixed into the water and rush through the piping with the help of a pump where it mixes with the growing medium and nourishes the roots.

The drain in each bucket sends water down into the drain pipe where it returns to the water supply. Dutch buckets usually leave roots exposed to air, which unfortunately is one of its very few cons.

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