The British culinary world has been revolutionised in the last 60 years. Gone are the bland meat and two veg staples, replaced by more adventurous dishes bursting with flavour. Granny’s corner herb garden, propagated with a sparse offering of mint, parsley and rosemary (if you were lucky!) has become a thing of the past, made obsolete by a growing demand for a wider variety of aromatic plants to add depth to meals.
Dried herbs are readily available nowadays, and are relatively inexpensive. However, they are a poor substitute for the penetrating lingering aroma of their freshly picked counterparts. Planting herbs outdoors conventionally is an option, but for plants that are accustomed to warmer climates, it can be difficult to recreate the optimal soil and environmental conditions.
Benefits of Growing Herbs Hydroponically
Growing herbs hydroponically has countless benefits, including-
Hydroponics allows you to tweak and tailor the growing environment, meaning your plants get the exact light, nutrition and temperature that they need to reach their full potential. The result? Bigger, healthier plants that reach maturity faster. Job done!
Hydroponically propagated herbs receive the precise balance of nutrients needed for them to thrive, so naturally there will be an improvement in flavour. Studies conducted by the University of Michigan found that herbs grown hydroponically contained 20%-40% more aromatic oils than herbs grown traditionally in soil.
No Chemical Pesticides
The strictly regulated conditions of hydroponic systems make them almost immune from the pests and diseases that are rife in regular gardens. Because of this, delicious herbs are produced without using harsh chemicals or pesticides. Good for you, better for the environment!
They Can Be Grown Anywhere, Anytime
Hydroponics doesn’t stop in the wintertime. Your herbs will grow year-round, regardless of the climate you live in or the size of your living space. Ready-to-use home kits come in all shapes and sizes, including stylish countertop models that will complement the décor of your home.
What Herbs Can Be Grown Hydroponically?
Hydroponics is an ideal growing method for many herbs, including-
What Is the Best Hydroponic System for Growing Herbs?
N.F.T is the most popular system for growing herbs commercially on a large scale, with Ebb and Flow being the most common method used by amateur hydroponic enthusiasts.
In N.F.T systems, plants sit in net pots with their roots suspended in the root zone. The grow tray is set at an incline, and nutrient solution is pumped continuously in a circuit from the reservoir into the grow tray and back again.
With Ebb and Flow systems, the plant roots are supported by a growing medium. A timer controls the pump which activates regularly throughout the day. When the pump initiates, the nutrient solution is flushed into the grow tray in large volumes, flooding the growing medium. When the timer shuts back off, the nutrient solution is left to drain back into the reservoir, where it will be used again during the next cycle.
Different systems suit different gardeners, so it’s worth doing your homework before diving in and making a purchase. Your decision will hinge on a number of factors, including what you plan to grow, how much you expect to yield, and how much money you’re willing to spend.
Keep Your Herbs Happy
Nutrition, temperature and light are the three main elements that influence the growth of your plants. Tweaking and optimizing these to meet the needs of your herbs guarantees a verdant, flavourful harvest.
Most herbs have similar nutritional requirements, so growing them side by side in the same system shouldn’t pose a problem. However, some have specific requirements that need to be monitored. Basil needs an additional magnesium supplement. Marjoram and oregano are prone to phosphorous deficiencies so keep a close eye on levels. Be sure to research the nuances of what you are growing.
Herbs favour a temperature of between 20-25 degrees, and a humidity level between 40%-60%. Low temperatures will stunt their growth, so place your system in a warm, bright spot. Avoid draughty areas as the fluctuating temperature could hinder progress.
At the very least, your herbs need 6 hours of good, uninterrupted sunlight per day. South facing windows usually get the most amount of light so are an ideal spot for placing your hydroponic system. However, if you really want to maximize your yield, consider investing in a grow light. This will enable you to give your plants the full 12 hours of sunlight that they crave.
Hydroponic Herb Garden Maintenance
Contrary to popular belief, hydroponic systems aren’t high maintenance. The bulk of the work lies in preparation and research, and after that, it’s plain sailing! However, there are a few small details that should be checked regularly to guarantee that your system is running optimally.
Electrical Conductivity (EC) and PH
The concentration of salts in the nutrient solution is determined by the EC level. This can be measured using an EC meter. Most herbs grow best at an EC of 2.5. Basil is the exception to the rule, instead preferring an EC of 1.0-1.5. This can make it difficult to grow it in a system with other herbs using communal nutrient solution.
The PH of your nutrient solution needs to be monitored regularly. This is done using a PH tester kit. The majority of herbs favour a PH of 5.5-6.0. PH is easily restored by adding a PH adjustor to the nutrient solution.
Hardware and Plant Maintenance
Checking that your hydroponic setup is in full working order will save you problems in the long run. Any failure in the system could be detrimental to your crop within a matter of hours.
A reliable electricity supply is imperative so check that all sockets, fuses etc are operating properly. Timers also need to be examined regularly. Roots and other organic matter often clog the tubing between the grow tray and reservoir, so your system should be cleaned and flushed at least once a month.
Herbs grow best when they are kept lush and bushy. Snipping stalks before they reach 12 inches prevents the plant growing tall and narrow with sparse leaves.
At first glance, hydroponics appears to require a lot of forethought and upkeep. The truth is, once you have done the initial legwork and studied the optimal growing conditions of the herbs you wish to grow, there is subsequently very little maintenance involved. Well worth it for a continuous harvest of fast growing, deliciously potent herbs!