DIY Hydroponic Mason Jar: Herb Garden

Lindsey has been desiring to have a kitchen window herb garden for the longest time.  The requirements were simple too, it had to be able to handle five or more different types of herbs, it can’t be “dirty” and mess up her clean kitchen or attract bugs – which means no soil, it must look pretty (this is always a requirement for Lindsey and something I appreciate about working with her on projects.  While I focus on functionality and efficiency, she always helps to make the end product look refined and presentable).  The growing system would also need to be self contained, no draining into the kitchen sink.  When I tried to find the level of importance she placed on this design constraint, the first solution she raised was to drill a hole in the wall so that the garden would drain into the planting bed outside.  Point taken, this requirement is very important to her, as well as a nice clean white sink.  I always enjoy a good challenge but adding in my requirements that the system had to be cheap, it seemed like an impossible task.  I knew of some hydroponics systems on the market, but they are fairly pricey, not that growing your own food is always the most cost effective…but that’s not why all of us backyard farmers do it to begin with.  I also wanted to take advantage of the natural light coming through the window, not having to use electricity when I already had an abundant source.  I ended up stumbling upon a DIY aeroponic bin system, much larger than what I was looking for, but believed I could scale it down and use a small condensate or water fountain pump, and low pressure drip system sprayers.  Still some disadvantages with this system would be that you would have to run electricity to the pump, and the noise from the pump kicking on every 30 minutes or so would probably earn me some disapproving looks from the wife during the final presentation.  Finally I stumbled upon some DIY using wicks instead of sprayers, and others using wicks inside of mason jars, so I starting reading up on them and realized this was the solution I was looking for.  The main issue was that the information I found on most websites was hard to follow and lacking details on what exactly is needed.  So here it is the culmination of hours spent researching, shopping and building the system with my wife and kids.  FYI, this is a fun and easy project to do with kids.  My two oldest kids pretend to be uninterested in the project and in my farming passion for that matter, but I know deep, deep down when I talk about how miraculous that natural world is I can see it on their faces that they are truly, truly…not interested at all, even the slightest.  I do have a glimmer of hope, as after we finished this project and planted the seeds my oldest daughter has been checking daily to see if the seeds have sprouted.  That’s progress!

What you will need:

Reservoir: Mason Jar (Regular Mouth). With the lid screwed on the diameter is 2.25″
Grow Basket: 2″ Diameter (Make sure you buy the 2″ grow basket.  This one has an extra wide lip which is what you need as it extends to 2.35″, just enough to catch and hang on the lip of the mason jar.
Seed Starter:  Jiffy-7 36mm Peat Pellet These fit nicely in the 2″ grow baskets, while allowing air to circulate.
Wick: 750 Nylon Paracord or 550 Paracord which are synthetic and resist mold and mildew.  It’s easy to find and wicks moisture well (See my test at the end of this blog).
Paint: FolkArt Acrylic Paint for Glass This will help block the light, we used five coats of white, which still allows some light through.
Protective Overcoat: Clear Acrylic Sealer Spray Paint This is to protect the paint and make it easier to wipe down.
Herb Seeds:  Non-GMO Herb Seed Collection Pick you favorites, store the extra seeds in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator.
Nutrient Solution: General Hydroponics MaxiGro I chose this because we are looking for vegetative growth from our herbs, if you plant something else that flowers, you might try a mix of MaxiGro and MaxiBloom
Decorative Stones: 0.5″ to 1″ Decorative Stones These help to prevent moisture loss from the peat pellet, and make it look much nicer.
Interested kids: (not required)

Putting it all together:

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Paint your mason jars, we used a brush to give it an unfinished look.  We stopped at five coats of paint, and two coats of sealer.
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Drop in your peat pellets and dip them in water until they expand fully.  Cut your paracord wicks to about 18 inches and thread through the baskets, leaving the center open for the seed.
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Mix and fill your mason jars with nutrient solution, 1 tsp MaxiBloom per Gallon of water.  Fill mason jar to about 750ml.  You will need 1 gallon per 5 mason jars.
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Add the seeds and or cuttings to the center of the peat pellet.  My wife had the clever idea to wet the tip of a toothpick, which helps to pick up the tiny herb seeds.  The featured image is that of a mint cutting we took from the neighbors yard.
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Lastly cover the exposed peat pellet, but not the seeds, and put them in a bright warm location and wait.  Within a week or two you should start to see the seeds sprouting. If you are using a cutting instead of seeds, cover the mason jar to increase the humidity and place the jar in a bright location, but out of direct sunlight.

Behind the Scenes:

You can see how well the paracord wicked the colored water, I should have used a longer wick, as the water reached about 9 inches above the surface in about 15 minutes.

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This is the prepared cutting we planted in one of the mason jars.  I trimmed off the lower leaves and made the final cut just below one of the leaf nodes.  I covered this mason jar and put a wet paper towel around the bottom to prevent the cutting from drying out while it roots.

For more information see the mason jar hydroponics page here.

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