Walking through Oracle’s Broomfield, CO office, a visitor may never run into the building’s hydroponic herb garden. Tucked away in the café’s empty 10×10 ft. store room, it has an almost secret garden feel. But just ask Bon Appétit Executive Chef Evan Symmes about the garden and he will gladly show guests what’s growing.
Evan and the Bon Appétit team first started the Oracle Hydroponic Herb Garden in 2012 when he purchased a small ebb and flow hydroponic system from a local garden shop, Mile Hydro. The system is composed of two, 2×4 ft. trays that hold the plants, two grow lights, a water reservoir, timers, and a few pumps. Plants are positioned in the trays, which the pumps flood with water and nutrients a few times each day. From seed to harvest, many culinary herbs are ready to pick in three to four weeks.
Over the years the team has experimented with a variety of herbs to determine which plants best suit their needs. They discovered that by focusing on solely basil and dill—the two herbs they utilize most—they can produce enough for the café (which serves about 1000 guests each day). Evan approximates that in high-producing times, their small garden can produce six pounds of basil a week. Since the garden began there was only one time that in-house production did not meet their menu’s needs for basil.
The compact hydroponic garden not only produces a lot of fresh product, but it also does so without a lot of time or energy from the chefs. Weekly maintenance takes between one and two hours in total, and the reward is vibrant, just-picked flavor in every meal.