Saturday, March 20, 2010

Basil - Easy Herb to Grow From Seed

You just cannot have too much basil.

Grow basil from seed!

The germination rate is high, and it only takes a few days for the seeds to sprout. I sometimes start basil in Jiffy 7s, but I usually sow basil seeds directly into the pots they will grow in. Just cover them lightly with a good potting mix and water gently. The seeds instantly turn a cloudy grey when exposed to water. Sow several seeds in near proximity - basil likes its own company. Keep the seeds moist. Once the seeds have sprouted, put the plants in a sunny south window. Basil needs sun. 

The basil plant is very tender and will die if temperatures drop even near freezing. On warm spring days, put basil plants outdoors for a few hours. I find that basil that is lightly buffeted by the breeze produces a tastier, more turgid basil leaf. But, I still grow lots of basil in the backyard greenhouse, and these more tender leaves are great too. Sow basil every few weeks for a continuous supply.

After the ground is warm and temperatures are well above freezing, you can sow basil directly in the garden, but I find that lots of bugs and birds also adore basil. My best outdoor ground crops of basil were grown under protective white cloth covers,which also keep the temperatures warmer and more even. 

Lately though, I have been growing basil in very large pots in the sunniest part of the garden. It does well sitting a few feet above the ground in a potting mix that is mostly peat. Give it a good 8 inches of potting mix. If it show signs of wilting, be sure to water it. Basil tells you outright that it needs water. In pots, basil is protected from most bugs. It flourishes in light potting soils. In outdoor pots, basil is buffeted by the wind enough to make the leaves thick and deeply green from the sun.  This is basil at its best.

Harvest basil as it grows. Pinch the top leaves before they flower and pinch the big leaves off to use. There is an art to pruning basil. You can grow it as a single plant by pinching just above the second set of leaves.  

Pesto sauce is delicious when made with your own fresh basil leaves. I use almonds instead of pine nuts because they are cheaper and actually quite mellow. Some people have an adverse reaction to pine nuts from China. We had pesto in Rome made with almonds, basil, garlic, olive oil with a little butter, and parmesan cheese. Wow...Sometimes I add parsley or swiss chard to the pesto when I don't have enough basil. By the way, a pesto with walnuts and parsley is also tasty. 

Throw this strong sweet but tangy herb into salads and sauces, mix it into dips and dressings. Chop it and freeze it in ice cube trays with a little water for sauces in winter. 

This year, try growing some basil - you will be pleased to see how darn easy (and inexpensive) it is to grow. 


Maude Dorothy Duncan said...

thanks for the advice , I always have to drive out to Holes to get decent basil plants . It's my favorite herb and I like to grow a lot of it in planters I can move if the weather gets bad. I sure wish I had a greenhouse. Someday when the dogs grow up I'll have my yard back.

artificial lawns said...

The most common method of herb preservation is by hang drying. Another good way to preserve many herbs is by freezing them. This method is quick and easy, and the flavor is usually closer to fresh than dried.

Anonymous said...

What do you use for a cloth cover for your basil? Every year I try to grow basil here in Edmonton, and every year it dies on me. I usually have one or 2 little plants in a pot, but just yesterday I bought a pot overflowing with many basil sprigs, so I'm hoping this is the cure to my basil growing problems - growing in a crowd!