No doubt about it, fresh herbs add a little something extra to any meal. Whether you’re chopping cilantro for salsa, shredding basil for a caprese salad, or sprinkling dill over your favorite fish dish, the addition of fresh herbs makes a real difference. The idea of growing your own herbs, however, tends to be a little more daunting than simply swinging by the produce section of your local grocery store, especially in the “off seasons” like winter and early spring. The planting, the watering, the trimming – it can be exhausting just thinking about it!
Over the past several years, hydroponic herb gardens have become a hit in many households across the country. Even those who have little to no green in their thumbs have been raving about how easy (and cheap!) it is to grow their own herbs right at home. The hardest part? Knowing how to get started. That’s why we’re here to help.
Hydroponic vs. Soil Herb Garden
Before we dive into the benefits of hydroponic herb gardens, let’s first go over the difference between hydroponic and traditional soil herb gardens.
Unlike standard herb gardens, which utilize soil for growth and nutrients, in hydroponic gardens, the herbs are grown with their roots in water. This provides a consistent water source at all times, rather than relying on rain or manual watering.
And because of this consistent water source, as well as nutrients that are added directly to the water, herbs produced with a hydroponic system tend to grow much faster than those planted in soil. Which, of course, means you have access to those delicious, aromatic herbs that much sooner. We can already smell the freshness!
So, now that we have a basic idea of what a hydroponic garden is, let’s get into the benefits of growing your herbs hydroponically.
Because your plants are actually living in water, that means said water (as well as the nutrients your plants need) is being delivered directly to the roots 24/7. Herbs grown in traditional gardens have to exert more energy to find water and nutrients within the soil, which also means that you have to be responsible for consistently delivering that water to them to prevent things from drying out…hence using more water, especially if rain isn’t in the forecast for awhile.
Speaking of responsibility, remembering to water/care for plants is a huge reason why many people don’t even bother trying to grow their own. You may have the best of intentions at the start, but inevitably your own life tends to get in the way of the life of your herbs, leaving you with a lot of sad, dried out plants surrounded by weeds. One of the best parts about hydroponic herb gardens is that they’re incredibly low maintenance. No muss, no fuss, no weeding. Add water and nutrients, and the garden itself takes care of the rest!
Lower Risk of Disease and Pests (Which Means Fewer Chemicals)
One of the hardest things about growing herbs the traditional way is avoiding outside hindrances like animals, insects, diseases, etc. There’s nothing worse than checking on your plants and seeing them eaten to bits by the friendly neighborhood deer or covered with those dreaded lantern flies. Sure, there are pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and weed killers to help take care of those issues, but who wants all that junk in their food? Plus, if you have pets or children, these types of chemicals are a definite no in your yard.
Bottom line: no matter what type of plants you grow (hydroponic or not), there’s always a chance they’ll attract some sort of pests and be at risk for disease, but with a hydroponic system, the odds are definitely lower. Because they aren’t exposed to the types of pests and diseases that outdoor environments can bring and aren’t planted in soil, which can definitely harbor more diseases, hydroponic herb gardens let you skip the toxins and focus on growing fresh, tasty food.
Another benefit to growing herbs with a hydroponic system is being able to easily test and adjust the pH level (or acidity) of the water. Because a pH level that is too low or too high can wreak havoc on your plants (i.e. shocking and killing them), testing, tracking and changing the level can be the difference between a hydroponic garden that flourishes and one that flounders. From test strips to liquid kits to electronic meters, there are a variety of ways to easily check pH, as well as plenty of solutions available to modify the level either up or down to ensure the water is as healthy and nourishing as possible for your herbs.
Great for Small Spaces
One of the challenging things about wanting to grow your own food while living in a smaller space is, of course, finding the room to do it! Because of their low-profile design and added benefit of not needing an outdoor area to thrive, hydroponic gardens are the perfect option if you live in an apartment or smaller home in the city – or anywhere, really! They don’t require a ton of room to grow, which gives you so many more options of where to set up shop. Plus, even if you do have outdoor space, depending on where you live, not all seasons are ideal for growing, so dedicating a small section of your home to cultivate a garden provides year-round convenience no matter the weather.
A Variety of Garden Options
And while we’re talking about convenience, it’s important to note that the sheer amount of options for hydroponic gardens pretty much ensures that you’re going to be able to find the one that works best for you. Let’s check out the six basic types of hydroponic systems and a few benefits of each:
o Ebb and Flow System
o Plants are inserted into a bed of perlite or rockwool
o Timer is used to flood/drain water regularly into/out of the grow bed
o Won’t overflow
o Ideal for most plants
o Water Culture System
o Roots are inserted right into nutrient system for easy absorption
o Utilizes a diffuser/air stone
o Quick grow times
o Works well with all sorts of plants
o Wick System
o Nylon wicks go around the plants, then down into the water
o Incredibly simple to maintain
o The only hydroponic system that doesn’t utilize electricity in some way
o Great for smaller plants/herbs
o Nutrient Film Technology
o Nutrients are pumped from a reservoir into sloped channels
o Channels allow nutrient solution to flow over roots, ensuring the perfect amount is given to each plant
o Leftover nutrients get pumped back into reservoir
o Ideal for small plants; net pots are recommended
o Aeroponic Systems
o Plants are suspended above water reservoir
o Nozzles below the plants mist roots with water
o Extra water falls back into the reservoir
o Uses less water than other hydroponic systems
o Great for all types of plants
o Drip System
o Nutrients are pumped to the plant base through a tube
o Drip emitter controls the amount of nutrients each plant receives
o Drip flow can be adjusted depending on the plant
o Great for all plants
And A Variety of Herb Options
While most any herb can easily be grown with a hydroponic system, there are a bunch that do incredibly well, making them more common choices, especially for beginners. For a variety of reasons, herbs like basil, dill, cilantro, rosemary, and oregano are just some of the most popular and/or successful options; however, you really can’t go wrong giving your favorite herb a go! For example, more unconventional herbs like chamomile and catnip also have a great reputation as being easy to grow hydroponically.
Whether you’re looking for a new hobby or want to have more control over the food you’re eating (or both!), hydroponic herb gardens are an excellent, low-stress choice for anyone to try. So, come on, what do you have to lose? Besides the fear of growing your own herbs at home, of course!