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How to Start a Hydroponic Herb Garden in Your Kitchen

Growing basil is easy when you start a hydroponic herb garden in your kitchen!

As of late, I’ve been bitten by the gardening bug and decided to start a small terrace garden. The easiest plants to grow, I’ve found, are certain herbs, chief among them basil.

This sweet smelling herb is so easy to grow it’s incredible! You’ll start smelling the sweet fragrance from 5 feet away. So while I grew mine on a terrace, you can grow yours anywhere – as long as you have a nice, well-lit window.

Growing hydroponically is very easy. Hydroponic plants also tend to grow faster, and in the long run, they’ll use up less water because there’s no water lost in the soil. All the water the plant needs is directly near its roots.

Shopping list

  • Mason jar or 1-2 gallon plastic container
  • 2 inch or 3 inch net pots
  • Expanded clay (hydroton)
  • Rockwool cubes
  • Basil seeds (or plant of your choice)
  • General grow formula hydroponic nutrients

What plants need to grow

Plants are some of the most resilient living things on earth, and considering humans have been growing them for thousands of years, it can’t be that hard, right?

Plants need:

  • A place to grow: be it soil, hydroton, or cotton balls, plants need something firm to support themselves.
  • Water and nutrients: plants require a good supply of water and the necessary nutrients to grow.
  • Light: Plants need light to photosynthesize and grow. As indoor growers, light will be our main challenge.
  • Temperature: extreme temperatures will kill plants. Growing indoors in a heat-controlled environment will let you grow in the summer or winter.

Selecting a location for growing

The best place to grow a plant indoors is on a well-lit windowsill. The best window is a south-facing window, since that will receive direct sunlight for the better part of the day.

If you don’t have a south-facing window, an east or west facing window will do, too.

If you don’t have windows at all, you’ll need to use artificial lighting. A simple CFL or LED bulb in an aluminum holder will be enough for growing one plant.

Step 1: Starting your seedlings

This tutorial will mostly be about growing basil, but you can follow the same steps to grow pretty much anything!

Please note that fruiting plants require a little more care and maintenance, so if it’s your first grow, stick to leafy plants.

You can start your seedlings in really anything soft, but the preferred medium of most hydro-growers is coir or rockwool.

You can find rockwool cubes for quite cheap on Amazon.

Moisten your rockwool cubes all the way, and if they don’t already have one, poke a small hole about ½ centimeter deep in the center of the cube. Drop 3-4 seeds into the hole.

You need to make sure the cubes remain moist and in a humid environment. You can put a clear plastic cover over the cubes to help keep the moisture in(make sure there are some holes in it for air to pass through).

Some people prefer to start the seedlings in a dark area and move them to light as soon as the first sprouts come out, but you can leave them in a lit area as well – just make sure the cubes don’t dry out and remain moist.

They shouldn’t be soaking wet, either.

In two to three weeks, you should have sprouts and the sprouts should have 2 to 3 true leaves on them.

True leaves look like proper leaves of the plant. In the initial stages, there will be two or three leaf-like structures – but don’t confuse them for leaves. Those are cotelydons, which are the plant’s food stores. The leaves will sprout on top of them.

Step 2: Preparing your growing container

You’ll need a container to store the water in. This can be a mason jar or a small plastic box. If you’re using a mason jar or a clear/light colored box, consider painting the outside of the box black.

Due to the presence of nutrients and water, even the tiniest bit of sunlight can cause algae to grow in the water and that is bad for your plants and for you.

In the lid of your plastic container, you’ll need to make a hole of either two or three inches in diameter, depending on the size of net pot you bought.

The net pot should go all the way in, and rest at the very top – a couple of millimeters here or there won’t be a big deal.

If you’re using a mason jar, just use one that has a mouth of the diameter you need.

Step 3: Nutrients and water

Fill up your container with water far enough so that when the net pot is inserted, the bottom inch or so of the net pot should be submerged.

You can use tap water, but some people prefer using distilled water(which you can get by filtering it through a reverse osmosis system).

Add nutrient solution to the water – most store bought solutions will have proportions written on the label so you know how much solution to add to how much water.

If you like, you can give it a stir.

Some plants like spinach prefer slightly acidic conditions. In that case, you can add a few drops of pH down solution – or you can just use a couple of drops of lemon juice.

If you want to be a real stickler for measurements, you can use a pH meter to make sure you’re in the right range.

Step 4: Transplanting

Take some hydroton and make a layer one level thick in the bottom of your net pot. Place your seedling(still in the rockwool cube) onto the hydroton, and use more hydroton to fill the gaps around it – you can even cover up the top of the rockwool cube so only the stem is visible popping out.

Place the plant into your mason jar or plastic container, and you’re done! Leave the plant on a well-lit window and watch it grow!

How this works

The system I talked you through is called the Kratky Method, which is the easiest way to grow hydroponically. Plant roots require oxygen. In regular hydroponic setups, the roots receive oxygen through an air pump or by periodically draining and re-pumping the water.

The Kratky method is simpler – you just fill up enough water that the plant will use in its lifetime(if the container is big enough), and as the plant grows, it will start using up more and more water. As it uses up water, the level will drop, and the space will be filled with air, which the roots of the plant will absorb.

As the plant grows, the roots will grow deeper and deeper. You can pick up the net pot out of the container and admire the roots once the plant is a little older.

Using the herbs

Once the stem is strong and there are multiple nodes and leaves, you can start clipping a few leaves at a time to use in your kitchen!

Even as they grow, you’ll be able to enjoy the exquisite smell 🙂