DIY Hydroponic Herb Garden: A How-to Guide

Large Succulent Basil Leaves
Large, succulent hydroponically grown basil leaves

It’s always been easy to dream of the perfect herb garden. The culinary-minded imagine meandering down the garden path, shears in hand one step away from a world of hard-earned flavor. Those who are in it for the aesthetics, picture patio furniture, ice tea and, the gentle calming of a fragrant breeze. But what of those of us who don’t have the time or worse, lack the space. A hydroponic herb garden might be the answer they’ve been searching for all along.

Hydroponic farming has curved into the zeitgeist of late although the concept has been around for centuries. The idea that plants might grow in water – providing that water is infused with nutrients – dates back to the experimental tinkering of that great English polymath Francis Bacon.

His posthumous, 1627 book, Sylva Sylvarum, set out the basics and experimenting continued apace over the next few centuries. But it was the move towards sustainability that kickstarted the current trend.

After all, there are many benefits to the hydroponic method. When utilized on a larger scale, hydroponic production levels tend to spike. Indeed, if used in tandem with a technique called vertical farming, hydroponics offers a ninefold increase over soil-grown counterparts.

Hydroponic Vertical Farm
Hydroponics system as part of a vertical farm

Of course, it’s probably best to leave the large scale farming to the professionals. But that does not mean that a delve into the world of at-home, DIY hydroponic herb garden application is out of reach. It isn’t. 

The only real question then, is which method to use?

Because there are a multitude of hydroponic growing techniques to choose from and no one method is better than any other. Still, in the interests of keeping things simple, for this hydroponic herb garden guide at least, we’ll stick to one we know well.

It’s called the Kratky Method, and it is delightful in its simplicity.

Developed by Dr. Bernard Kratky at the University of Hawaii, it’s perfect for beginners thanks to its noncirculating nature (meaning it does not require a pump or an external device).


To get started, you will need the following materials:

  • One 5-Gallon Bucket
  • One Piece of 1.5” to 2” thick sheet styrofoam cut to fit your bucket (Your styrofoam circle should match the circumference of the bucket 6 inches below the lid)
  • A 2.5” hole saw (A serrated knife will work)
  • Two Basil Seedlings (Or any other preferred leafy herb)
  • Hydroponic Fertilizer (any general hydroponic fertilizer will do)

Step 1: Set Up

Remove the seedlings from their starter containers. Shake off excess soil surrounding the roots, but make sure to keep enough attached to the roots to provide buoyancy and reduce wash away within the bucket.

Hydroponic Vertical Farm
Basil Seedlings ready to be placed in styrofoam raft

Cut your styrofoam into a circle so that it matches the circumference of your bucket 6 inches below your lid. Now, within the circular styrofoam raft, cut holes on opposite sides barely large enough for your seedlings. There should be an even amount of roots above and below. Do not place your raft into the bucket just yet.


Hydroponic Plant on Raft
Seedling placed inside of raft (container is not required)

Step 2: Fill and Mix

Fill the 5-gallon bucket close to full. Mix in the recommended amount of hydroponic fertilizer based on your instructions (The pH level of your solution should remain between 5.5 and 6.5). Take the styrofoam raft with plants inside and rest it gently on top of the solution in the bucket.


Hydroponics in a Bucket
Styrofoam rafts with herbs floating on the hydroponic solution

Note: If you are having trouble transferring the starter herbs and maintaining a solid combination of roots and soil, worry not. There is a quick fix for that: Take a clear party cup and drill lots of small holes in it (the more, the better). Fill the container with a bit of soil and your starter plant. Adjust the aperture in your raft to accommodate for the cup size, and place the cup inside. That should solve the problem!


Step 3: Enjoy Your Hydroponic Herb Garden!

Make sure you place the bucket in a spot likely to receive ample sunlight and that as they say, is pretty much that! All you need do is sit back and watch your herbs grow. For a plant like basil, you will not have to add any more water to the bucket after set-up. Plants that require higher quantities of water, such as tomatoes, however, may need multiple refills.

Harvesting basil is as simple as cutting the stem to just above a pair of leaves, and the good news is that in doing so, you also encourage the growth of additional branches. Alternatively, you can always wait until your plants have reached full maturity and then remove them entirely from the container.


Fully Grown Basil Plant
Fully Matured Basil Plants

As the roots increase in size, they will also start to take in more water. Because the styrofoam raft catches around 5 inches below the lid, it should create an air pocket beneath the plant. Do not fret; this is essential for the growth of the herbs. Feel free to check on your herbs but remember to be gentle!

All that is left is to do is to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your (minimal) labor. Be warned; you may notice that these herbs taste and smell slightly different than the ones your friends have grown outdoors. Indeed, they are probably going to feel and smell fantastic. That’s because hydroponic herbs contain more aromatic oils than their -ground counterparts.

A fun and surprisingly cheap project, the Kratky hydroponic herb garden is perfect for gardeners of all experience levels. Try this inside of your home and let us know how it goes in the comments below!

Happy gardening!


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