There’s nothing better than fresh herbs to add to your dishes. Maybe you need fresh basil for your Margherita pizza, or add some mint to your cocktails, or pesto to make pasta sauce? While dried herbs are easily found in any supermarket, the aromas and flavors of freshly picked herbs are unmatched.
A herb garden is the best way to experience fresh herbs for your drinks and dishes at home. But, if your space is limited or you don’t want to start a backyard herb garden, growing hydroponic herbs is the best option.
Though it takes time to learn and upfront expenses may be high, once you’ve mastered growing hydroponic herbs, you’ll never want to go back to using dried herbs bought from a store.
If you’re here to learn about starting a hydroponic herb garden, then you’re in the right place. We’ll talk about the basics of growing your herbs indoors, as well as a few other things you should know.
What are Hydroponic Herbs?
Let’s begin by defining what hydroponic herbs are. These are herbs grown without soil and instead use nutrient-rich water in a hydroponic system. Hydroponics is an ideal plant growing method that uses nutrient-rich water and a garden system that allows indoor gardening.
Research done at the University of Minnesota reveals that hydroponic herbs are more aromatic, have more flavor, grow faster, and produce more yields than herbs grown in soil. Data shows these herbs have 20 to 40% more aromatic oils.
Growing herbs hydroponically also allows it to enjoy year-round yields instead of harvesting only at certain seasons.
Pros and Cons of Growing Hydroponic Herbs
Before we begin to teach you a simple method to grow herbs hydroponically, let’s first talk about the benefits and drawbacks of starting a hydroponic herb garden:
- No need to use soil
- Can grow herbs indoors and even in minimal space
- Limited need for watering
- Clean and self-contained garden system
- Fresh herbs that grow all year round
- The initial investment can be costly
- It has a steep learning curve – it takes time to learn and master
A hydroponic system for a herb garden is simple and straightforward. Though starting takes time to learn, the investment may be costly, and it may take some trial and error on your part; once your herbs start growing, you’ll be able to enjoy freshly picked herbs that add full flavors and aromas to your dishes and drinks.
What Herbs Can You Grow Hydroponically?
Most herbs can grow hydroponically, but the following are best suited for this growing system.
- Lemon Balm
These herbs thrive in water, and in fact, mint was one of the very first ones to be grown in a hydroponic system.
If you grow herbs outdoors, or you usually buy fresh herbs grown on soil, you’ll notice that hydroponic herbs look slightly different. They have fuller stems and leaves, and yield is generally more prominent than soil-grown herbs.
Related: How to grow hydroponic tomatoes
Type of Hydroponic System You Can Use to Start an Herb Garden
There are many systems for growing herbs and plants hydroponically, but we’ll discuss 3 of the most commonly utilized methods. However, if you don’t want to start from scratch, you can buy pre-built systems that do it all and have all the materials you need to get started.
Indoor gardens like Rise Gardens are easy, simple, and effective systems that use hydroponics to provide users with actual herb and vegetable gardens they can grow indoors. These systems are equipped with self-watering tanks, growing lights, seedpods and can even be managed and controlled through a Smart app.
These are all-in-one indoor garden systems that you can set up in minutes, and they come with simple instructions on how to grow your very own edible gardens at home. But they can be pretty expensive, and if you’re still on the fence about making it a serious endeavor, then starting a simple hydroponic system from scratch may be the better option for you.
There are 3 types of hydroponic systems you can use for an indoor herb garden, and these are:
- Ebb and Flow Systems
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Wick System
We’ll discuss each one, and we’ll give you steps to start an herb garden with the Wick System method.
Ebb and Flow Systems
Ebb and Flow systems are simple and one of the most popular ways to grow herbs and vegetables hydroponically. The plants are usually contained in plastic pots placed on a food table, and the water reservoir is found underneath.
A timer turns a submersible pump on, floods the plants’ roots with nutrient-rich water, and expels the waste. When the timer is turned off, the water drains back to the reservoir, giving fresh oxygen to the roots.
Delivery of nutrient-rich water occurs 2 to 4 times a day within a 15-minute duration per flood.
Nutrient Film Technique
This method uses a pipe to pump and drain nutrient-rich water to and from your plant trays. The plant trays are placed at an angle, allowing the water to be flown down and sent to the roots of the herbs. The roots absorb the nutrients, and the excess water is pumped back into the system. Unlike the Ebb and Flow system, where there is a duration of flooding of nutrients, the Nutrient Film Technique is a continuous flow of nutrients.
The Wick System is the most straightforward hydroponic method that uses mechanical techniques as there are no moving or electrical components. It works best for herbs and microgreens.
Steps to Starting A Hydroponic Herb Garden Using the Wick System
- Basin for water reservoir
- LED grow light
- Growing or plant tray
- Hydroponic nutrients
- Growing medium
- Cotton or nylon cords
- Drill or screwdriver
Step 1: Set Up a Water Reservoir
Fill the basin with water and nutrients.
Step 2: Connect Cotton or Nylon Cords to the Tray
Make holes in your tray using a drill or screwdriver. Connect one or two wicks through the holes at the bottom of the tray.
These cords act as wicks to soak up the nutrient-rich water from the reservoir and draw it to the tray’s growing medium.
Step 3: Set Up a Growing Tray
Place the growing medium containing a seedling on the tray. Growing mediums that are ideal include perlite or vermiculture.
Place the growing tray above the water reservoir.
Step 4: Set Up a Grow Light
Place your LED grow light above the growing tray at about 6 to 12″ from the plants. If you want to use natural light, you can skip this part.
The Wick System is a simple and easy way to set up a hydroponic herb garden at home. However, this system is designed for small herb gardens in small spaces. We suggest the Ebb and Flow or the Nutrient Film Technique to create an extensive herb garden.
How to Create a Healthy Hydroponic Herb Garden Environment
Setting up a hydroponic system and choosing herbs that thrive in hydroponic systems are not enough to start a thriving indoor herb garden. A healthy and suitable environment must be created for your herbs to grow.
Here are some tips for creating a suitable hydroponic herb garden environment:
- Herbs and other edible plants require at least 6 hours of sunlight, and the most ideal is 12 to 16 hours of sunlight or light exposure. You can use a timer on your lighting system, which automatically turns on for 6 to 12 hours every day.
- Your herb garden environment should also have the right temperature. The ideal temperature is between 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the climate is too hot, it can cause your plants to become stunted.
- Your herb garden’s humidity level also needs to be ideal. A suitable humidity level is between 40 to 60%, and high humidity levels can lead to mildew and fungal problems. Consider placing a humidifier near your herb garden.
- Suppose you live inside an enclosed space, such as a condo or studio unit with minimal windows. In that case, you might need to have an oscillating fan to provide an ample supply of carbon dioxide around your garden.
- Your water reservoir also needs to have the ideal pH level, and your water should be slightly acidic with a pH level between 5.8 to 6.2.
- Your hydroponic nutrients can be dry or liquid and must have the essential macro and micronutrients for your herbs to thrive. Macronutrients must include potassium, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Micronutrients must consist of iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, chlorine, and molybdenum.
Tips for Harvesting
As soon as your herbs grow to 3 to 4 inches, start trimming the tips of the plants to encourage branching. Wait for some growth after you cut your plants before harvesting.
The more you trim, the more you’ll encourage better growth, as regular trimming keeps the herbs living longer and healthier.
Having your very own herb garden at home means you get to enjoy fresh herbs all year round, as long as you care for your plants. If you’re limited on space or don’t want to start an outdoor garden, you can use hydroponic systems to grow herbs indoors.
Though starting an indoor herb garden from scratch may seem intimidating, once you get the hang of it and experience your first harvest, everything will be smooth sailing. You’ll get to benefit from year-round harvest, as well as yields that are larger and fuller than herbs that grow on soil.
If you want to try the most straightforward hydroponic system to get started, the Wick System is ideal for beginners. Or, if you want a pre-built hydroponic system, you can also take advantage of indoor gardens like Rise Gardens, complete with everything you need to have a thriving herb garden at home.
Related: Starting your first vegetable garden