How to Grow Organic Basil Indoors
For those of you living outside of zones [insert hardiness zones for basil], or you wish to grow basil in the winter this section of the guide will walk you through the process from sowing to harvesting.
THE BASICS OF INDOOR GARDENING
In this guide I will present you with a few different methods of gardening indoors, but there are certain aspects of indoor gardening that remain static regardless of the method used.
The ultimate goal of the indoor gardener is to replicate, to their best ability, the ideal natural environment for the plants being grown.
Lights are one of those static markers. While a small number of plants can be grown by the windowsill, growing lights will be required for larger numbers of plants, especially if you wish to grow year round when living in a place with cloudy off-seasons.
Please consult my GUIDE TO INDOOR GROWING LIGHTS to determine what indoor lighting is right for you. Throughout this guide we will be assuming that you are using a standard High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting system, as the type of lighting will not have much, if any, affect on the way your plants are grown.
Organic basil will need to be grown in an organic soil, growing with soil will dictate what other equipment is needed. The upside with organic indoor gardening in soil is that start up costs are cheaper in comparison to a hydroponic setup which uses no soil, and flavor is often believed to be superior in organic, soil grown produce.
SOIL TYPE: Any organic soil with a PH of 6.0 - 7.5, with a nutrient balance of 5-10-5 (5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorous and 5% potassium by weight) is ideal. Bags of fertilizer will be marked with these numbers.
- Any grow light of your choosing.
- Any soil with the aforementioned parameters.
- Square pots, preferably of plastic or peat moss, at least 3.5 inches in size.
- Drip trays with elevated screen to separate plants from residual water drainage.
- Extra organic soil for periodic supplementation.
- A grow tent or white Polyurethane sheets to coat dedicated growing room.
- General gardening/maintenance tools.
- Fans, wall mounted or freestanding, for air exchange.
- Inline fans and ventilation tubing to vent out hot air if using multiple grow lights or using a grow tent.
Before you can begin growing anything you must first establish your growing environment. There are a few options when it comes to where you can grow your plants and will be dictated by a few perimeters, primarily by the size of the desired operation.
Grow tents are like stand alone closets, usually made of heavy, fireproof fabrics, that encapsulate your plants allowing you to more easily control aspects of the plants environment, such as humidity and temperature. The downside to tents is that they're usually small, so if you are growing a large number of plants you may need many tents, however, this can be seen as ideal if you're growing various different plants with varying environmental needs.
In order to setup your grow tent please consult its manual, and the growing lights manual as well.
If you're growing a large number of plants that all require a similar environment than you might prefer to forgo grow tents in favor of dedicating a spare room to growing the plants. This can be done relatively easily with nothing more than sheets of white polyurethane plastic. The room is covered from floor to ceiling in this reflective material which increases the efficiency of your growing lights by bouncing the light all around your grow space. During the conversion anything that may be predisposed to rotting in high humidity, such as carpet material, should be removed from the growing environment to prevent mold and rot, which can spread to your plants.
Please be advised that growing in larger rooms may require more than a single growing light and may require the aid of an electrician. Be sure to isolate the power circuit your light is connected to and remove any other electrical objects from the circuit to ensure you do not trip your breaker. If you believe that multiple lighting systems will exceed the amperage allowed by your houses electrical circuit please consult an electrician. Growing rooms can be dangerous to set up and the last thing you need is to burn your house down via faulty wiring, or by exceeding your circuits ability.
Setup lights, fans and other equipment up according to their individual instructions.
Now that the growing environment has been setup I can walk you through, step by step, the process of growing basil in your controlled environment.
Fill your pots with fertilizer leaving at least one inch of space from the rim of the pot so as to allow room for later fertilizer supplementation. Depending on the wattage of your grow light, the top of your plants should always remain at least 12 inches away from it. A good measure for determining if a plant is too close to its light source is to place your hand right over the top of the plant, if the light is too hot for your hand it's too hot for your plant. Your basil needs at least 6-8 hours of light each day, so you can set your light on a timer that is connected to your outlet.
Initially water heavily, drenching the soil. Insure that the soil remains moist, watering heavily every 7-10 days, but be sure not to waterlogged the soil. If too much moisture is present in the soil for too long the seeds may rot, or initial growth may be stunted or drowned out.
Germination should take place withing 5-7 days.
Use a temperature gauge to monitor the temperature in your growing environment and try to keep it in the range of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity is not a huge concern as basil prefers a dryer climate. However if the humidity climbs above 70% you may want to take measure to lower it to prevent mold and fungi growth. An ideal humidity range will be around 30-50%.
After germination has taken place you will want to adjust the lights periodically as the basil plant will begin to grow rapidly and develop its first leaves.
The first two leaves to appear are called the Cotyledon, or seed leaves. Injury to these leaves may result in plant death, so do not mistake these for true leaves, which will appear some time after. Seed leaves cannot and should not be harvested for any reason.
Once the plant has developed 2-3 pairs of true leaves, the basil leaves, it's time to transplant them into their final pots if you haven't already planted them in their final pots to begin with.
To train basil in order to develop more branches and leaves, pinch off the flower bulb just above the 3rd set of small, developing leaves. The 2 smaller leaves growing just below the bulb will later grow into main branches. This is called topping. Top each main branch of your plant for every 3 sets of true leaves it develops. The main branches can be allowed to grow for some time prior to topping to allow leaves to develop so that you can harvest basil from the topped branch.
Remember to keep adjusting the lights so the plants do not grow too close.
Once your basil plants are full mature and trained you can begin harvesting basil leaves by clipping the leaves directly from their branches. Be sure to only harvest leaves from the top half of the plant, this will stimulate growth and expose the lower leaves to light.
If growing purely for commercial purposes than you may desire to harvest all leaves from the plant and discard the plant afterwards. If doing so be sure to plan ahead by starting seedling 6 to 8 weeks before harvesting. This will ensure that you have plants to immediately supersede the ones that will be harvest and discarded.
Once you're ready to harvest your organic basil you may use it all yourself and dry what you cannot use fresh, or you can sell off the excess at the farmers market, or local grocer.
If you're growing to sell to a grocer you will require special licensing and will likely need to pass an inspection of your facility. You will also need to submit an application for organic status if you wish to advertise your basil as organic. The basil can be harvested and sealed in airtight, heat seal-able plastic food bags and slapped with a label to make them look more appealing to a grocers produce manager. You may also transplant basil plants into peat-moss pots and package them whole to be sold in the produce isle.
If selling at a farmers market in the warmer months one selling tactic would be to sell both whole plants and offer to harvest leaves fresh from the plant in front of the customer. You may also dry and grind leaves you were previously unable to sell and place a heap of the dry herb in a bowl on your stand to attract customers.
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