Imagine eating a Margherita pizza or Caprese salad without fresh basil on it. It would taste pretty boring, right? Thankfully, growing basil indoors is easier than ever.
This aromatic herb has been cultivated in Asia and the Mediterranean for thousands of years, but it only became popular worldwide around the 16th century. With spice traders making it available across Western Europe and early European settlers bringing it to the Americas and Australia.
Aside from becoming the heart of dishes in southern Italy, the basil plant also has medicinal properties that can aid with digestion. Its aroma is used to calm mental fatigue and as a natural repellent for fruit flies and mosquitoes.
Today, this delicious plant is easier to grow than ever. Even if you live in a small house or apartment with no yard or direct sunlight, you can still enjoy top-quality, home-grown basil. Keep reading our guide to find out how.
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Why Growing Culinary Herbs Indoors is Important in 2020
We are living in a world of transition. At the time of writing this blog post, a global pandemic is making us rethink how and where we work. Protests are taking place in cities all over the world, expressing discontent for systemic inequities. The effects are causing anxiety about essentials that we’ve been taking for granted for three-quarters of a century, such as easy food access, consistent potable water availability, and fair wages that cover the cost of our homes.
Growing a substantial amount of food at home is not new culturally. It’s not even all that old of a practice either. Those who were alive during World War II will remember victory gardens.
Victory gardens helped reduce demand for produce needed for the production of canned foods sent to troops worldwide. Homegrown food in the United States supplied nine million tons of fruits and vegetables during the war, equal to all of the commercial products produced in the U.S. during that time.
If the home gardener succeeded once at rivaling commercial produce production, they could do it again, and this time better, with 21st-century methods.
So, how can you grow basil indoors in the winter or summer that not only feeds your family but also leaves enough harvest to share or sell in various ways around the community? Read on, and we’ll show you how to start and maintain a hydroponic garden with simple and cost-effective methods that will give you, and perhaps your neighbors, a consistent supply of healthy homegrown food.
How to Grow Basil Indoors with Hydroponics [A 4-Step Guide]
Pick a Seed Variety
Ocimum basilicum comes in many varieties that you can choose from. We recommend starting with one of the following:
Organic Genovese or Sweet Basil. The king of basil with its bright green medium-sized leaves. This plant produces pretty white flowers and pairs perfectly with tomatoes, ideal for signature Italian and Greek dishes.
Organic Thai Basil. This attractive variety can be used to brighten up any room in your house. Purple stems and leaf veins are accompanied by lime green medium-sized leaves. This basil is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine.
Organic Purple Basil. This type is another decorative and aromatic variety. Leaves can get bigger than most other varieties, and they range in colors from bright violet to dark eggplant. The whole plant has a perfumed scent and flavor that is especially good with rice dishes.
Organic Cinnamon Basil. The name says it all. The leaves are olive-brown-green with hints of purple and pink, with flowers that are light pink. It’s especially used in Mexican cuisine to add a cinnamon flavor to spicy salsas and salad dressings.
Choose a Growing Container
Because this guide is about how to grow basil plants hydroponically, we recommend using a countertop hydroponic garden system with an LED light like our Farm Culture Grow Pad Mini.
Alternatively, you can grow basil in ceramic or plastic containers on the windowsill inside your home or apartment. But please know that most basil varieties are not comfortable indoors unless you have a proper LED lighting setup or a windowsill that receives 8 to 12 hours of bright, yet non-direct sunlight.
Planting and Taking Care of your Basil Seedlings
First, connect your Grow Pad Mini or other countertop hydroponic garden system to a power source, place the pot on the base, and add the substrate that comes with it into the pot. If you are growing inside a ceramic container, make sure to use the best available organic potting soil mix for herbs and vegetables available at your local garden store.
Next, add a couple of seeds onto the substrate and add clean, purified water. Now, watch it grow! Basil does very well in a hydroponic system and is one of the most common hydro plants. It is best suited to a nutrient film or drip system. But keep in mind that it will not produce ample or large leaves without at least 12 hours of light daily. It prefers a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
Outdoor native plants thrive in hot weather, and they sulk in cool or cloudy weather. The average room temperature inside our homes here in the U.S. is generally good enough for basil to adapt.
Most basil seeds will germinate in 7-10 days, and the leaves are usually ready to harvest in 20 days. Keep pinching off the leaves of young plants to promote new growth and to prevent flowering. The plant will continue to generate leaves until the end of its life cycle.
Harvesting your Basil leaves
Pick leaves when young and always from the top to encourage bushy new growth. You can use scissors or simply pinch the plant with your fingers. Basil has a unique flavor, so if you are a newcomer, we recommend that you use it with discretion. It is one of those herbs that can easily overpower other flavors in your dish, and it also has a more intense aroma when cooked, unlike a lot of other culinary herbs.
To freeze, brush olive oil on both sides of each leaf to keep it from sticking and to seal its flavor. If drying, do it as fast as possible in the oven. Basil leaves are not easy to dry without proper equipment, so we do not recommend it.
Growing Basil Indoors in the Winter and some Culinary Ideas
So you were wondering if you could grow basil inside your home all year around? Absolutely! With the proper hydroponic setup you can enjoy the culinary benefits of this fragrant herb, whenever you need it!
Because basil leaves are used widely in gastronomy, the possibilities are endless. Here are some hints and ideas that can help you with your home-cooking:
- For best results, add basil to dishes at the very end of the cooking process.
- Tear the leaves with your hands, rather than chopping them with a knife.
- Basil combines really well with garlic and creamy salad dressings.
- For pasta or rice, heat some olive oil in a saucepan and add some torn purple basil leaves. Toss the pasta or rice in the olive-basil mix and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Mix with natural Greek yogurt or cream cheese and use on top of baked potatoes.
- Basil does not go well with strong or gamy meats, such as lamb or venison. However, Thai basil is delicious with stir-fried pork.
- Sprinkle on fried or grilled tomatoes while still hot, or serve in a mini skewer with cherry tomatoes and fresh bocconcini dipped in balsamic glaze.
- Mix the tiny leaves of lemon basil with room temperature butter and spread over a loaf of French bread for a delightful alternative to garlic bread.
Classic Pesto Sauce for Pasta (15 min)
- 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
- 1 cup of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 garlic cloves
- 6 tablespoons of olive or grapeseed oil
- 4 tablespoons of your indoor-grown basil leaves
- Pepper and salt to taste
- On a cutting board, roughly chop the garlic cloves and basil leaves
- Blend the pine nuts, basil, and garlic using a blender or a mortar and pestle
- Once smooth, start adding the olive oil in a very low stream to emulsify
- Continue to blend or mix, slowly adding oil until a thick paste is formed
- Mix well and season with salt, pepper, and shredded cheese to taste
- Add to your favorite freshly cooked pasta for a classic Mediterranean dish
Growing your own basil and other culinary herbs indoors is easier and more important than ever!
With a little help from new technology and the right organic nutrients, the question of how to grow your own hydroponic basil indoors is an easy one to solve. It is sustainable, nutritious, and budget-friendly!