Hydroponic Herb Garden Guide

Everyone Loves Fresh Herbs. But Growing Them...

I’m willing to bet that you love using fresh herbs in the meals you prepare for yourself and your family. Herbs are a fantastic way to add flavor and zest to any dish imaginable…but there’s a problem. Most of the time, we settle for dried herbs for a couple of reasons:
  • Dried herbs save money.  Fresh, organic herbs are expensive!
  • If we buy fresh, we might not use everything before it goes bad

If you do decide to buy your herbs fresh from a grocery or farmer’s market, they are going to cost you. A pre-packaged container of fresh organic basil can cost up to $3.99 at most grocery stores. Other popular organic herbs like chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano all cost around the same amount.

Price isn’t the only concern. One of the strangest things about buying organic herbs is their plastic packaging. Almost all of the companies that sell organic herbs use plastic disposable packaging. I might be on my own here, but part of the reason I buy organic is to tap into a more natural way of growing and consuming food. Plastic doesn’t fit into my picture of organic food very well.

If you decide not to buy organic, you will certainly pay a cheaper price, but you won’t be able to guarantee the quality of the herbs. Because we don’t eat huge quantities of herbs in one sitting, the flavor is extremely important.

We use them to delicately flavor our food, so buying herbs that aren’t grown in the best of conditions will harm the flavor of your dishes.

Cheap, Fresh Herbs Year Round

Wouldn’t you love it if you had a source of fresh herbs throughout the year? You’re in luck – that’s why I’ve created this guide! Here at Epic Gardening I like to focus on growing plants in easy, affordable and unique ways.

I’ve decided to put together a Mini Hydroponic Herb Garden plan for all of you who wish you could have fresh herbs year round but don’t know where to begin when it comes to growing your own. The goal in this guide is to make it as cheap and easy as possible for you to construct your garden using materials you can find at most home improvement and pet stores.

From seed, to sprout, to harvest, I’ll teach you a way to build and maintain a hydroponic herb garden that thrives – for free!

Here’s a sneak peek:

Shopping List

This garden is designed to hold eight plants. If you want to expand it, feel free to do so – there’s plenty of room to grow more herbs. Eight plants allow you to grow a lot of different types of herbs. Basil, sage, oregano, thyme, parsley, chives, tarragon and cilantro are among the most popular herbs, but they aren’t mandatory by any means.

Plant whatever you like in your garden, as long as it isn’t an herb that grows to a massive size. The entire shopping list comes out to around $80 or so depending on where you get your materials.

That might seem like a lot of money to start out your garden but remember – you’ll be harvesting fresh herbs year round. In basil alone you’re saving around $50 just by growing it yourself!

Category

Item

Amount

Location

Price

Reservoir

Plastic Tote

1

Amazon / Home Depot

$5.50

Spray Paint

1

Amazon / Home Depot

$7.00

Air Supply

Round Airstone

1

Amazon / Pet Store

$6.00

Air Pump

1

Amazon / Pet Store

$12.00

Airline Tubing

1

Amazon / Pet Store

$3.50

Airline Tubing Holders

2

Amazon / Pet Store

$3.50

Nutrients & Water

pH Testing Kit

1

Amazon / Pet Store

$8.00

General Hydroponics FloraGro

1

Amazon

$12.00

Growing Media & Plants

2" Net Pots

8

Amazon

$4.00

Herb Seeds / Seedlings

8

Home Depot / Garden Store

$10.00

Growing Media

1

Amazon / Pet Store

$5.00

Optional

2" Hole Saw w/ Pilot Bit

1

Home Depot

$15.00

Total

$76.50

Total w/ Optional

$91.50


Plastic Tote

tote

Price: $5.50

Location: Amazon / Home Depot

A container of some kind is needed to house the water and nutrient mixture. It’s important that this be opaque, because any light that enters the reservoir has the potential to encourage algae growth. Too much algae can interfere with the herbs’ root systems by blocking the amount of nutrients they can absorb. Too much light can also warm up the reservoir, stunting our plant.


Spraypaint

spraypaint

Price: $7.00

Location: Amazon / Home Depot

If you can’t find a tote that is completely opaque you may want to pick up a can of spray paint. I chose a grayish color because black tends to absorb sunlight and heat up the reservoir too much. In my prototype garden, even grey absorbed too much heat – I would recommend buying white spray paint to reflect as much light as possible.


Airstone

airstone

Price: $6.00

Location: Amazon / Aquarium Supply Store

We need an airstone to evenly distribute small bubbles of air throughout the reservoir. Because the roots of our plants will be sitting in water instead of soil, we have to make sure that they get enough oxygen or else they will drown and wilt. The air bubbles oxygenate the water and allow us to fully submerge the roots without any consequences. I like the round airstones – they stay secured to the bottom of your reservoir much better than the 12” long models.


Air Pump

pump

Price: $12.00

Location: Amazon / Aquarium Supply Store

Our air pump will allow us to oxygenate our nutrient mixture. Without fresh air circulating through the nutrient mix, the roots of our herbs will drown. Roots need a constant supply of oxygen in this hydroponic setup, because they will be fully submerged in water. You don’t need a fancy pump – the smallest and cheapest air pump will work. I got the cheapest model I could find at the local Petco.


Airline Tubing

airline

Price: $3.50

Location: Amazon / Aquarium Supply Store

You need this to connect your pump to our airstone. Most packs have around 8’ of tubing which is more than enough for your garden. Be sure to grab a package of black tubing to avoid any algae buildup in the airline. If you get algae, the airline may clog and starve your plants of the oxygen they need to grow.


Airline Tubing Holders

airline-holder

Price: $3.50

Location: Amazon / Aquarium Supply Store

These are going to hold your airline tube down, so the airstone will stay on the bottom of your reservoir. I’ve tried building this in the past without using these and it doesn’t work out too well. The airstone tends to flip over and float around the reservoir, causing an uneven flow of air bubbles. Without the bubbles, our plants will drown.


pH Testing Kit

ph-kit

Price: $8.00

Location: Amazon / Aquarium Supply Store

Our pH testing kit will help us ensure that the pH of the nutrient mixture in our reservoir is at the correct levels. Without a correct pH, our herbs will not be able to absorb nutrients at optimum levels. Most tap water has a pH of 7.0-8.0 and our plants require a pH of 6.0-6.5. This is one of the most crucial items that we need for our garden.


Hydroponic Nutrients

floragro

Price: $12.00

Location: Amazon / Hydroponics Store

Without adequate nutrition, our herbs will starve. We need to mix a nutrient solution into our water in the appropriate amount for them to absorb through their roots. For beginners, General Hydroponic Flora Gro is by far the best nutrient to start with. Because we are growing herbs, we only need the nutrients that stimulate growth. We don’t want to bloom our herbs because it tends to make them bitter. This makes hydroponic herb gardening very cost-effective.


2″ Net Pots

netpot

Price: $4.00

Location: Amazon / Hydroponics Store

These are what we’ll be placing in the holes that we drill. They will hold the plants in place and, in combination with a growing medium, will give the roots something to grab onto as they make their way into the reservoir. You can find these at any hydroponics store or you can shell out five bucks and buy a 10 pack on Amazon.


Hydroponic Growing Media

hydroton

Price: $5.00

Location: Amazon, Aquarium Store, Hydroponics Store

The root systems of your herbs will need something to grab onto before they make their way into the nutrient reservoir. The cheapest option is aquarium gravel, found at any pet or aquarium store. If you want to purchase a better growing medium, feel free to take a look at my hydroponic media guide to get a feel for what growing media you want to use. *Pictured: Hydroton Expanded Clay Pellets


Herb Seeds or Seedlings

The final ingredient is the most crucial – the plants! It’s up to you whether you want to start your herb garden out from seed or buy some seedling starts from your local Home Depot or garden center. I’ve done it both ways. Starting from seed is cheaper over the long term, because the cost of a pack of seeds is close to the cost of one herb seedling. However, some of you might want to give your garden a head start. For you, seedlings are the way to go. There’s something satisfying about building your hydroponic system and then planting it right away.


Optional: 2″ Hole Saw w/ Bit

holesaw

Price: $15.00 Location: Home Depot This is optional – you can definitely cut out the 2” diameter holes on the top of the container with an exacto knife or some scissors. I just prefer the hole saw because it makes the whole process a lot easier. With a pilot bit and the 2” drill bit you can bang out eight 2” holes in less than five minutes. Cutting takes a lot longer and potentially looks worse if you don’t know your way around a knife.


Construction

Step 1 – Wash and Tape Reservoir

step1

You need to spray paint your tote if it isn’t already opaque to avoid algae buildup in the reservoir. The tote needs to be perfectly clean before you paint. Make sure to wash and dry it completely to get ensure a smooth, dry surface.

Once your tote is dry, take a net pot and place it parallel to the top of the tote. Make a mark on your tote at the bottom of the net pot – this is where our water line will be.

step2

Take a piece of tape and tape off the area from the mark to the bottom of the tote. After we spray paint the tote we’ll peel this off to reveal a perfect water level gauge.

Trust me – you’re going to want this little feature. Without it you’ll have to keep opening the top to check on your water levels, which gets to be a hassle once your herbs start to thrive.

Step 2 – Spray Paint Tote

step3

Throw down some old newspaper or paper towels and place your tote on top. Make sure the top is fastened tight. Use broad strokes with a can of spray paint to cover the top and all of the sides except for the bottom with a light coat of spray paint.

After ten minutes, give each side a heavier coat. You want to make sure that as little light as possible penetrates the reservoir. Let it dry for 45 minutes.

Step 3 – Drill / Cut The Holes

After the paint dries, take your net pots and align them on the cover of your tote. Make sure that you space them out evenly. I wanted to leave room to add an additional six net pots in my design, so you can definitely space yours out better if you are sticking with eight net pots.

Once you’re done with the layout, start drilling eight 2” circular holes into the cover in an X pattern. Be sure to scrape off all of the extra bits of plastic so you have a nice smooth set of holes with no debris.

step6

Drill a hole slightly larger than your 1/8” airline tubing in the short side of your tote, just below the top edge. This will be the airline feed hole. It’s important that this hole be drilled above your water line, or you’ll have a constant leak and never be able to maintain adequate water levels in your reservoir.

Step 4 – Install Air System and Add Water

step7

Feed your airline through the hole you just drilled. Use a suction cup on the side and bottom of your tote to secure the airline and then connect the airstone to the inside of the tote.

step7b


If you bought a 15 quart tote, you’ll need around 2.5 gallons of water to fill the reservoir to the water line. Regardless of how much water your reservoir requires, be sure to write it down. We need this number for later when we add our nutrient solution.


Step 5 – pH and Add Nutrients

step8

Now that we have built our reservoir and filled it with water, we need to pH the water and add nutrients. Most tap water is in the 7.0-8.0 range. The herbs you will be growing need water with a pH in the 6.0-6.5 range, so you will need to use some pH down. The picture above shows the forest green color of average tap water in the 7.0-8.0 range.

step9

pH down is highly corrosive, so be sure not to get it on any part of your body. You don’t need much to adjust the water – try a few drops to start. Mix it into the water thoroughly and then test again. When the color on the strip matches the 6.0-6.5 range like the picture on the right, you’re ready to mix the nutrients.

It can take a while to get the color just right – try not to get frustrated. This is one of the most important steps in making sure that your plants get all of the nutrients that they require for vigorous growth. If you don’t correctly adjust pH, you will prevent your plants’ roots from absorbing certain nutrients. Click here for more information about how pH interacts with nutrient uptake.

step10

Now we need to remember how much water we added to the reservoir. Take a look at the nutrient mixing chart on the back of your bottle of General Hydroponics FloraGro. This will give you the exact amount to mix into your system. If you’re starting from seed or cuttings, use ¼ tsp/gallon and if you’re starting from established plants you’ve bought from a garden store, use 1 tsp/gallon.

In my example system I added 2.5 gallons of water to the reservoir and bought some herb starts from the local Home Depot, so I added 2 ½ tsp of nutrients to my reservoir.

We’re almost done! On to the final step…

Step 6 – Add Growing Media and Plants

step11

Now you need to add a bit of your growing media to the bottom of each net pot. This will provide a little base support for the root structure once we begin to plant our herbs.

step12

If you’re not starting from seed but instead decided to get some herb seedlings, then you’ll need to wash away the dirt from the root systems. You want to start out with as clean a plant as possible to avoid any contamination in your reservoir.

Gently wash the dirt away from the roots, being careful to damage your plant as little as possible. When it is about as clean as shown in the picture to the left, you can go ahead and place it in your net pot.

If there are long roots that you can pull through the gaps in the net pot, go for it! This helps the root system hit the water sooner and flourish in the rich nutrient bath. If not, that’s okay – just cover the rest of the root system up with your growing media and plant the rest of your herbs.

Finished Product

Congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of a really awesome looking hydroponic herb garden! Barely takes any work to maintain and produces year-round!

step14

Which Herbs To Grow?

Here’s a list of all of the herbs that do well in a hydroponic environment. I’ve listed the most popular five at the top. I’d be wary of planting mint or tarragon because they need to come from a cutting, but you can buy seedlings if you want – it’s up to you! I made this chart to give you an idea of when you can expect your herbs to be fully grown.

Typically, hydroponically grown plants mature much faster than their soil counterparts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the times listed here could be sped up by a few weeks.

Herb

Germination (days)

Seedling (weeks)

Harvest (weeks)

Basil

5-10 days

8 weeks

5 weeks

Chives

15-21 days

12-16 weeks

11 weeks

Oregano

8-14 days

6 weeks

6 weeks

Thyme

8-20 days

6-8 weeks

4-6 weeks

Sage

10-21 days

8 weeks

4-6 weeks

Mint

12-16 days

Cutting

4 weeks

Tarragon

10-14 days

Cutting

7 weeks

Marjoram

8-14 days

6 weeks

2-4 weeks

In my example garden, I planted Sweet Basil, German Thyme, Greek Oregano, Common Sage and Cilantro, doubling up on a few of the herbs that I use all of the time.

I would recommend all of these herbs if you’re new to hydroponic gardening. They transplant well and thrive in a hydroponic environment. It’s your garden though, so get creative – it’s up to you to plant your garden however you wish!


Taking Care of Your Garden

Lighting

Place your garden in an area that gets as much natural sunlight as possible. Ideally, you want an area that’s getting at least six hours a day. If you can’t find a spot in your home that fits these requirements, you may want to consider lighting it artificially. A compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) will do wonders for these plants. Make sure that your plants get no less than six hours of sun per day, supplementing with lights if you can’t get this much light naturally.

Watering

Taking care of your hydroponic herb garden is simple. All you have to do is make sure that you keep the water at the correct level. To save time, just pH and mix a few gallons of the nutrient solution to keep on hand when the water levels dip.

Harvesting

Harvest your herbs whenever you need them. By only using FloraGro, we are keeping them in a permanent vegetative state. If some of your herbs start to “bolt”, which means put out flowers, then you should pinch off these flowers and let them continue to grow. Once these herbs put out flowers they tend to lose some of their taste, so be sure to pinch off the flowers and harvest continually!



Thanks for checking out my first hydroponics guide. Hopefully you’ll use this and some of your own creativity to build an indoor herb garden that fills your kitchen with fresh herbs throughout the years!

About the author

Kevin

Kevin is the creator of Epic Gardening, a community dedicated to teaching urban gardening, hydroponics, and aquaponics. He enjoys skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!

Free Hydroponic Herb Garden Guide - Fresh Herbs Year Round!

Sign up to the Epic Gardening newsletter and I'll send you my Hydroponic Herb Garden Guide for free - 22 pages of illustrated, step-by-step instructions on how to build your very first hydroponic system and grow fresh herbs year round for under $80 bucks in materials.

  • Diana

    When will this tutorial be available, and how can I download it?

    • http://www.xponics.com Kevin

      It’s launching soon, trust me!

  • Ben Gibson

    Can’t WAIT for this!

    • http://www.xponics.com Kevin

      Thanks Ben, launching it in a few hours!

  • Tom Dwan

    I’m totally psyched to download this!

  • Aunt Cindy

    Nice job, Kevin. Looks like something I may have to try one of these days.

    • http://www.xponics.com Kevin

      Thanks Aunt Cindy – Maybe I’ll make you one and send it up there for you!

  • Seth

    Your website is incredible! I’m normally more of a lurker (I rarely comment) but you deserve to hear how wonderful your site is. We are all very thankful people like you take the time to create this for everyone! Thank you so very much.

    A quick question — Compared to your simple DWC hydroponic setup, would a aeroponic approach be worth the added trouble? In your experience does it make a difference?

    Also, did you ever create that spreadsheet to help people decide which medium to use? (Aug 18th entry)

    • http://www.xponics.com Kevin

      Hey Seth,

      Thanks for the comment – it’s great to hear that someone’s out there checking out my material! I’ll have a lot more coming this year than last, so stay tuned.

      As for your question – the DWC hydroponic setup that I have is slightly aeroponic as well. The bubbles from the air stone actually do hit the roots a bit. From my experience I’ve found that the only real difference between aeroponics and deep water culture is the period where the roots are too short to be submerged in the nutrient solution. This is where NOT having the bubbles or aeroponics will slow down the growth of the plant. Once it hits the nutrient solution, DWC beats aeroponics but before that point it’s good to have some thing spraying on the roots, even if it’s just a little bit of spray.

      I’m in the process of editing up some of my past posts, so I’ll throw up that guide in a new post for you! Again, thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

      Kevin

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  • Daniel

    Hey man, thanks for putting this info out there :) I’m looking into starting my own hydroponic garden at home and this is just PERFECT!

    Last year I messed around with a lot of soil – and a lot of pots. It’s messy and tiresome. Hydroponics sounds just perfect for urban growing :)

    • http://www.xponics.com Kevin

      Hey Daniel,

      Thanks for checking it out! Awesome that you’re going with hydroponics this time around – I still do some soil container gardening, but I agree that it’s just messy. Plus I’ve always been into science, so hydroponics is the perfect blend of science and nature for me. I’ve been a bit slow to put up new tutorials, posts and videos lately, but I’m gearing up for some really awesome experiments soon so stay tuned and PLEASE let me know if you have any questions.

      Kevin

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  • Maria

    Thank you so very much for this tutorial guide. have a used Aerogarden, for the past month and have cherry tomatoes, cucumber,(has 7 leaves and 3 bud…so cool!!!) lettuce started at 12*5*13 and been eating it for the past week. Was looking for more information on the Aerogarden and came across a person that does DWC, just needed to know more. last two years been trying to learn to garden with not much success… hubby says only in pots.

    • http://www.epicgardening.com Kevin

      You’re welcome, Maria! I bought my brother the Aerogarden and he’s loved it. It’s basically DWC with built in lighting. You can use that or get even better results by building your own system. Check out my free hydroponic herbs guide here: http://www.epicgardening.com/hydroponic-herbs

  • sam

    fantastic website. I’ve only just started learning about Hydroponics and this is a great website. Keep it up it up

    • http://www.epicgardening.com Kevin

      Thanks Sam – let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with!

  • Claudia

    Great site! Please add me to you mailing list. Thank you!

    • http://www.epicgardening.com Kevin

      Hey Claudia – Added!

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  • Kinshuk

    Thank you Kevin. I am just getting started and this seems to be the best idea. I love the fact that you explained it so well. Gratitude for the teaching.

    Just curious if the spray paint constituents will interfere with nutrition of plants and if the spray paint poses a health risk when its consumed?

    • http://www.epicgardening.com Kevin

      Hey Kinshuk – you’re welcome, anytime my friend! When you spray, just make sure that it dries completely. Plants, water, or nutrients should never even touch the painted surface, so you should be just fine :)

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