The powerful properties of herbs have long been recognized for their health benefits, and hydroponic basil is no exception. Whether stirred into a pesto or strewn atop a salad or a pizza, basil can lower your blood pressure and triglycerides. Hydroponic basil is known as Ocimum basilicum and a member of the mint family.
Basil has a storied past, as anthropologists have found basil in ancient Egyptian tombs, a remnant of ancient burying and embalming rites. Basil has been linked to mourning in Greece and ancient religious celebrations in India. And because basil is so fragile, it is expensive to ship, so growing your own basil hydroponically is a great way to enjoy more flavorful and healthy food.
Deeper than Flavor: Hydroponic Basil’s Storied Past
Basil, an herb in the mint family, has been used for thousands of years in order to flavor food, but also for a variety of reasons. Holy basil, Thai basil, and lemon basil are featured in Asian-inspired dishes, and sweet basil is the star of the show for many Italian dishes.
Basil has held much cultural significance and has great symbolic meaning in various cultures. For instance, it is an herb used for embalming in ancient Egypt and used in the ancient medicine of Ayurveda from India. Beyond the medicinal value, basil was given as part of a lover’s bouquet on important religious holidays in Portugal and gave Jews who were fasting additional strength. The rich history of basil helps to demonstrate its importance, and hydroponic gardening offers an easy and money-saving way to grow it.
What are the most popular hydroponic garden systems?
There are several hydroponic design systems in which you can grow plants. Hydroponic Basil is easy to grow and is not picky about which system you choose. Hydroponic systems, like anything else, can be as simple or as extravagant as you desire. If you buy a specialty set-up from the store it could cost you $1,000s of dollars, while you can build your own for under a hundred dollars. The most popular systems can all be used for basil, as it is a light, easy-to-grow herb. Popular systems for hydroponic gardens include DWC, NFT, and the ebb and flow system.
- DWC, or deep water culture, is the simplest of systems and features a styrofoam raft, which floats on the nutrient-rich water, with an air pump dispersing the bubbles throughout. Leaf lettuce, for instance, grows very well in this system.
- In the nutrient film technique (NFT), the nutrient-rich water is pumped through channels where the plants are dangling in baskets. The channels are tilted toward the middle so the water re-circulates. This is nice because the flow is constant and does not require a timer.
- Finally, the ebb and flow system floods the growth tray with water, which then recedes back into the reservoir. This works well with a variety of growing mediums, and a wide variety of plants.
How do I get started?
The choice of hydroponic systems is truly up to you because hydroponic basil will grow well in any system. There are several steps to the process of growing basil, as outlined below.
1. Choosing the seeds
Since hydroponic basil grows so quickly, choosing organic seeds from a reputable company is your best bet so as not to pass on any seed defects or diseases to your basil. Experts suggest buying a small amount until you know you like the variety, and then go back and order in bulk.
From the plethora of basil varieties you can choose from, Genovese and Elindra have the most luck for growing hydroponically. They are both broad-leaved varieties that work well in many recipes. Another type of basil to try, for its elegance, are varieties of purple basil including Purple Ruffles, Basil Bicolor, and Purple Rubin.
2. Soak the seeds
Soaking your seeds overnight in warm water will help prepare them for growth and will set you up for success for a faster-growing time.
3. Germinate the seeds
In order to germinate the seeds, you will need a covered tray and a preferred growth medium, such as Peat Moss, Coco Coir, or Perlite. Insert the grow medium into the tray, plant the seeds, and water them thoroughly. Put a lid on the seeds as they germinate in the dark. Use a water mister to water them every 12 hours. It will generally take 3-7 days for germination to occur.
4. Plant the seedlings in your system
When the seeds have germinated and are about 2 inches high, it is time to plant them in whatever system you have chosen. Do not worry if they look pale or spindly. The light will take care of that. Plant the seedlings about 7-9 inches apart in your system, making sure to leave room to prune them.
5. Basics of daily care
In order to grow basil effectively, consider the amount of light, temperature, nutrients, and filtered water. Basil will grow well with whatever artificial light you have and needs about 14-16 hours a day. Make sure to also give your basil 6 hours of complete darkness, so that it can complete the photosynthesis process. As for temperature, basil grows best between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Basil is susceptible to pythium, so make sure that you do not overwater your basil in the first week during germination. These fungi are very difficult to get rid of and could ruin your entire basil crop. Once the basil is growing in the water, you will need to add a nutrient solution, and basil needs potassium and calcium as its nutrient base.
As far as caring for the basil plants while they grow, consider that they are the type of plant that can bolt prematurely, meaning that the flowering stem grows long before the basil leaves are ready to harvest. Basil is also prone to flowering, and removing the flowers is a good way to keep basil healthy and strong. Prune your basil often to make it healthy and delicious.
6. How to harvest
The basil will take about 3 weeks to mature. When harvesting basil, understand that it is a cut and regrow kind of crop. If you harvest one-third to two-thirds of the healthy leaves, the rest of the plant will regrow for further production and a later harvest. Use a sharp knife and cut above the root line. You should be able to get another cutting in a few weeks.
Post-harvest, basil is very fragile and has a limited shelf life. It cannot be stored under 50 degrees Fahrenheit or it will turn black. However, placing basil in a glass of water at room temperature can prolong the shelf life. If the basil cannot be used immediately for cooking purposes, it can also be made into salsas, vinegar, or infused oils for later use.
From an embalming herb in ancient Egypt to a strawberry basil margarita on your dining room table, basil is a prolific herb that has earned its place in history. To grow basil hydroponically requires a bit of ingenuity and a few simple tips, and you will be well on your way to improving your health and the taste of your food.