Hydroponic Herb Garden

I set up a hydroponic herb garden for my latest CRAFT Video, and had blast doing so. It’s fun and just my kind of geeky to maintain the proper pH and nutrient levels, all the while nomming delicious home-grown herbs. I had a bit of a scare with my arugula at first (it went into shock from the transplanting), but it’s all good now. Lots of pictures are on my Flickr, and don’t forget to go check out the video and the herb risotto recipe I made to go along with it.

Hydroponic gardening uses water more efficiently than traditional soil gardening, and is also a lot less messy for urban apartment dwellers. It’s easier to get set up than you might think! The basic idea is that you have a reservoir of water with all the nutrients the plants could want, being circulated close to the roots of the plants. Because the water is recirculated, the plants have more than one chance to grab the nutrients in the water, so they grow faster.

Thanks to Nathan for filming, helping, and taking most of the photos. Thanks to my friends at General Hydroponics for their advice and guidance!

A few weeks later:

Today I changed out the nutrient solution, which gave me the opportunity to pop the top and take a quick peek at the roots.

Holy cow! I was totally blown away by the cilantro roots, which extend all the way to the bottom of the reservoir. No wonder it’s growing so fast! I’ve been using all the fast-growing herbs (cilantro, thyme, oregano, sage) in my cooking lately, and let me tell you, they are tasty. I’ve been holding off on using the rosemary, basil, and tarragon to let it get a bit bigger, but they’re on their way!

At first, the arugula caused me the most worry out of all the seedlings I planted, since it went into shock from the trauma I caused to the roots. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the arugula is the biggest plant in the garden by far! I recently used a big handful as a bed under a filet of wild salmon, and it was fantastic. I served it up with sauteed (non-hydroponic) collard greens and shiitake mushrooms.

Herb Risotto Recipe

I was inspired to try cooking with the herbs in my new hydroponic rooftop garden, so I whipped up this garden herb risotto to share. This vegetarian recipe is very flexible, so use the herbs you like! You can even include other veggies like fennel and bell pepper. It’s perfect for showcasing your hard work in the garden as a treat for your guests.


2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp fresh chopped herbs of your choice
 I used a combination of rosemary, sage, orange mint, and oregano.
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine (optional)
2-2½ cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Makes 4 side-size servings


Step 1: Heat the oil and butter together in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions are translucent, fragrant, and softened, about 3-5 minutes. Reduce the heat if the garlic starts to brown.

Step 2: Stir in the rice and half of the herbs and sauté until the rice is coated in oil, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and 2 cups of vegetable stock. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer, covered with a lid tilted to vent steam, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender but not mushy, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently, adding more stock if necessary.

Step 3: Remove from heat and season the risotto with salt, pepper, and the remaining fresh chopped herbs. Garnish with a leafy twig from your favorite herb plant, and serve.

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