Have you ever bought herbs from the grocery store or your farmer’s market that still had the roots attached? Chances are they were grown hydroponically. This means they were grown in a soil-less medium. Their roots were submerged in water with a form of soluble plant nutrients added. In most systems these are synthetic or organic granular nutrients. In one neat system, though, water cycles between a fish habitat and the plant roots. The nutrients from the fish habitat are enough for the plants to grow from!
How does this all relate to you? Well the neat thing about hydroponic systems is that the herbs, like basil, cilantro, rosemary and thyme, can be taken out with their roots unharmed when harvested. That means when you bring those herbs home you can replant them in a pot and continue to grow them! If all goes well, you could buy one bunch of basil and not have to buy it again for years or until it bolts (goes to seed.)
Here are some steps to follow for planting your hydroponic herbs:
- Find a nice pot at least 4-6” wide and fill it with quality potting soil
- Check to see if there is more than one plant in your bunch of herbs. If so you will need to split them! Look to see which roots are connected to each other and to the same stem and separate all plants. You should give each plant at least four-six inches on either side when planting them in a pot (so two plants would need about a ten inch pot).
- Prune! If your plant is small and manageable, this step is unnecessary. If your plant is huge with tons of stems and leaves, cut back some of the stems leaving no more than the first 6-8 inches of green growth. This will make the transplanting less stressful for the plant because it only has to transport its water and nutrients so far.
- Poke a hole in your soil and plant! Make sure the ENTIRE root system is covered with soil up to the bottom of the stem.
- The following is the most IMPORTANT step. Water every day for five to seven days! Hydroponic herbs are acclimated to a wet environment. When plants change conditions they can go into shock. These plants might not even have the smaller root hairs that are meant to absorb moisture from a soil medium. We therefore want to keep them wet while they are adjusting to their new soil home. After a five to seven days, start to wean them off the heavy watering. Eventually you want to get to regular watering. This means watering heavily all at once and then only watering when the soil is dry up to your second knuckle when you stick your finger into the soil.
- Place your pot in a window that gets the most light (preferably south facing) or outside (when temperatures are warm). If you are going to put your pot outside, wait at least a week after transplanting so the plant doesn’t have to deal with the shocks of harsh sun and wind. This is called “hardening off”.
- Watch your herb grow! Once it looks established and healthy… harvest leaves and add to your favorite dishes!
By, Devorah Ketai