With this post we’ll be covering how to grow basil with hydroponics.
Basil is one of the most popular and aromatic herbs around, and it is well-loved in different international cuisines, from Italian to New England. It suits so many different dishes and is a crowd favorite especially when used with pasta, soup and meat dishes.
It is firmly embedded as an aromatic herb and has been around for a total of two centuries – and counting!
Hydroponic basil is simply basil that has been grown in a soil-free system and the best thing about this type of basil is you can be assured that it has virtually none of the problems or defects associated with soil-grown basil.
If you are interested in growing your own basil at home with the help of a hydroponics system, you’re in luck: we’re going to teach you the essentials of growing hydroponic basil today, as well as all the things you need to remember to keep your basil healthy until harvest. Let’s begin.
1. The first step is picking the cultivar that you’d like to grow in your hydroponics system. All of the popular varieties of basil can be grown hydroponically, so the choice to make is more associated with the flavor of the basil itself.
The most popular and visible type of basil is the sweet, Genovese basil that has large, succulent leaves. This type of basil is used widely for a variety of dishes and food preparations, including salsas and pastas.
There are hybrid cultivars that have curled and colorful leaves and you may be interested in raising some of these cultivars just to give your hydroponics setup a splash of color and to give your customers some choice (if you plan to bring your produce to market).
People have been commercially growing basil for a long time so if this is your dream, you’re not far off from realizing it after a few months of cultivating this type of crop at home. The most appropriate varieties for indoor hydroponics systems are the Genovese Compact Improved and the Elindra.
If you want cultivars that are more resistant to fungal disease and grow robust and disease-resistant root structures, opt for the Nufar and Aroma 2 cultivars.
And finally, if you are interested specifically in basil that tastes good when used for preparing pesto, then the varieties that you need are the Napoletano, the Italian Large Leaf, and the Lettuce Leaf Basil. The Italian Large Leaf cultivar, specifically, grows huge leaves that outgrow the Genovese Sweet variety easily.
2. The most common method for growing basil in hydroponics setups is through the germination of seedlings.
It’s also possible to clone mature basil, and you can expect robust root structures to emerge from the cuttings in about ten days. Cloning is perfect for replicating mature basil from nurseries or previous batches that have desirable traits, like resistance to diseases and better flavor.
If you happen to have access to n nurseries or other growers that offer superior cultivars and they’re selling cuttings, you can experiment with these as you will be reducing the cultivation time and you will also be able to start off your batch of basil with mature cuttings instead of seeds.
3. To germinate basil seeds, you will need grow trays, starter plugs, your choice of soaking solution, and a heating mat to ensure that you will be able to maintain an ideal temperature.
This applies most especially to growers who are cultivating their crops indoors. First, soak the starter plugs in the soaking/starting solution and allow to drain. Make sure that you do not over-soak the plugs as too much moisture can rot the basil seeds.
You will be germinating multiple seedlings per starter plug so you can thin them out later and leave only the best-looking ones, which will send your basil patch off to a good start.
If your hydroponics system is indoors, make sure that after sprouting the seeds, you will expose the grow tray to enough light to encourage robust growth and to maintain 75 degrees Fahrenheit (ambient temperature).
4. The most appropriate grow media are rockwool, perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir, and sometimes even sand culture can be used.
The problem however with sand culture is that sand tends to accumulate throughout the system, and this may cause obstructions that are messy to clean up later. You can use sand as grow media as long as it has been sterilized, otherwise – don’t.
As for grow media like coconut coir, it is highly recommended that you combine them with perlite or vermiculite to increase the oxygen-water ratio, which also directly improves the tenability of what you are cultivating.
5. During the germination phase, water the starter plugs only when the surface of the plugs appear dry.
Otherwise, let the starter plugs be. Basil seeds are prone to fungal diseases associated with “dampening off,” and this means your seedlings might be in trouble if there’s too much water in the starter plugs.
6. When the basil seedlings have grown to two or three inches, it’s time to transplant them to the main hydroponics system.
At this point in time, check the water’s properties to ensure that the EC level is at 0.5 mScm and the pH level is between 5.8 and 6.2. Mild pH fluctuations are normal, just make sure that your system doesn’t have severe salt build-up as too much nutrients can also cause this.
7. A wide variety of liquid fertilizers or nutrient solutions can be used for crops like basil and cilantro. However, keep in mind that this crop absorbs a fairly high amount of potassium and calcium, so the K:Ca ratio has to be fairly high.
Simply check the back label of the liquid fertilizer you want to purchase and compare with other brands so you can make an easy comparison.
8. The most common systems used to cultivate hydroponic basil are: nutrient film technique (NFT), deep flow technique (DFT), and many more. As long as there is sufficient water flow and there’s little chance of water stagnation, you can plant basil in almost any type of hydroponics setup.
If you are interested in aeroponics where the roots of plants are sprayed instead of submerged partially in water, you can definitely opt for that too.
Just keep in mind that eventually, timed or automated spraying systems for aeroponic setups will eventually fail when the power is cut or if something mechanically impedes the delivery of the sprays. In such situations, there has to be a back up spray system, as plants can easily wither when the timed sprays are interrupted for a long period of time.
Hydroponic basil can be spaced five to six inches apart to allow for excellent airflow and to ensure that fungal diseases are kept at bay.
Neem oil application is also recommended if your greenhouse is normally very humid as this will protect the plants and prevent fungal problems that can spread fairly quickly throughout the system.
This crop only requires ten to twelve hours of light per day, per five week cycle. For people propagating during winter time, you may need to support your crops with large LED grow lights to help control the ambient temperature and provide sufficient light to your basil crops.
Germination of basil takes seven to ten days, and the transplant will require three to five weeks to stabilize and mature sufficiently in the main hydroponics system. You can harvest your basil at the tenth week.
Do not pinch off your basil during harvesting. Use a pair of scissors to snip off at the second “Y” from the bottom of the stem, leaving one or two pairs of leaves. The basil will reconstitute itself after harvesting.
Hydroponic basil can taste better than soil-grown basil as the type of nutrients you are going to be using can be modified depending on your needs. Some liquid fertilizers provide an added boost as they improve both aroma and taste.