Cascade hydroponics, the application of the circular economy concept in greenhouse hydroponic crops, may be considered as an alternative means to increase water and nutrient use efficiency in greenhouses. In such systems, the drained nutrient solution from a crop may be used as input in a second crop. However, the second (secondary) crop in the loop must be a crop that is less sensitive to salinity than the first (primary) crop.
In the present study, the salinity tolerance of basil plants grown in rockwool and nutrient film technique (NFT) systems was investigated in order to study the potential of using a basil crop as a secondary crop in a cascade hydroponic system. In total, 4 electrical conductivity (EC) levels of the irrigation nutrient solution were tested (2, 4, 6, and 8 dS m−1), and salinity was imposed by NaCl or by macronutrients. Plant growth varied across the different substrates, with those grown in the NFT system being less affected as opposed to the rockwool-grown basil plants, which showed a significant growth decrease with EC values higher than 4 dS m−1.
This relatively low growth pattern was associated with a decrease in water use efficiency (WUE) in the rockwool system. On the contrary, in the NFT system, the continuous flow of the nutrient solution in the root zone of the plants contributed to the alleviation of negative salinity effects, yielding up to 30 kg FM m−2 WUE even for the plants irrigated with the highest salinity treatment (8 dS m−1). The majority of macro- and micronutrients in the leaf tissue of basil were positively affected by the higher levels of conductivity in the nutrient solution. Therefore, basil cultivation could be efficiently incorporated as a secondary crop in a cascade NFT cropping system. This would contribute to drainage management in hydroponics, as the crop could be irrigated through moderately saline drainage from a primary crop due to either NaCl or high nutrient accumulation in the leachates.
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Faliagka, Sofia & Elvanidi, Angeliki & Spanoudaki, Stella & Kunze, Alexander & Max, Johannes & Katsoulas, Nikolaos. (2021). Effect of NaCl or Macronutrient-Imposed Salinity on Basil Crop Yield and Water Use Efficiency. Horticulturae. 7. 296. 10.3390/horticulturae7090296.