How To Grow, Harvest and Use Basil
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most popular herbs in the garden. It is a member of the mint family and closely associated with Italian cooking, although it is originally from India. Basil adds fine flavour to tomato dishes, salads, and pesto. It is great in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and ratatouille. It’s also excellent for fish or meat dishes, combining well with lemon thyme, parsley, chives, or garlic. Try it in stir-fries or in vegetable casserole dishes. Fresh basil leaves are also delicious in salads.
By far, the most common cultivar of basil is Sweet Basil or Genovese Basil, but there are other culinary options — such as Thai, Lemon, Globe, and Cinnamon. One of the main differences between basil and other herbs is the fact that it is a tender annual. It is very sensitive to the cold, so harder a bit of a challenge to grow in temperate climes! To be honest the greatest benefit of living in a warm climate is being able to grow monster basil plants! Sweet basil, can grow 60 cm high with gorgeous glossy leaves and little white flowers. Many cultivars are available with different nuances of taste, size, and appearance, including cultivars with cinnamon, clove, lemon, and lime overtones, as well as purple-leaved types such as Dark Opal and Red Rubin.
How to Plant Basil
Where to plant Basil: Basil is a wonderful addition to a container garden. It thrives in well-drained soil, positioned in a sunny window. In a larger garden, plant basil among your tomatoes. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil enriched with compost, aged manure, or other organic materials.
When to plant basil: Basil is incredibly easy to start from seed and is relatively quick to germinate. Plants will germinate for 5 to 10 days. Transplant carefully when the plants have 3 to 4 sets of leaves. Basil is super sensitive to the cold, so whether you are transplanting seedlings from indoors or have plants in the ground, watch for low temperatures and cover if necessary. If you are planting a cutting or transplanting a seedling or smaller plant, make sure the ground temperature is warm. Grow a few basil plants in containers so you can bring them indoors.
Propagating Basil: In addition to sowing basil from seed, a cutting of basil will easily root when placed in water. Select a 10 cm section of basil that has not yet flowered. Roots will form within a week. Transplant the basil directly into the garden or container once a healthy root system is apparent.
How to Cultivate Basil
Soil for Basil: Basil does its best in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. Add rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the season but do not over fertilise. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavour intensity.
Water: Basil needs ample water, but it doesn’t like to be too dry or too wet, basil doesn’t like to dry out completely. To get the picky wet/dry balance right you should always plant basil in a large pot. Mulch your basil plants to retain moisture after the soil has warmed. Pinch plants frequently to encourage bushy growth, and pick off flower heads regularly so plants put their energy into foliage production, it is best to water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.
Spacing Basil Plants: Depending upon the variety, basil grows anywhere from 30 to 60 cm in height. Space basil plants 30 cm apart.
Common Issues with Basil: Aphids are the biggest basil pest – beetles and slugs can be a nuisance outdoors, creating holes in the leaves. Basil can be subject to various fungal diseases, including wilt, mold, and black spot, as well as damping-off in seedlings. Avoid these problems by waiting to plant outside until the soil has warmed and by not overcrowding plants.
Basil Companion Planting: Plant basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Basil is traditionally planted alongside tomato plants. Also consider planting basil alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano.
How to Harvest Basil
Basil is ready to start harvesting in about 60 to 90 days, from seed. It is important to pinch your basil back often for it to grow bushy instead of tall and lanky. Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves. Basil is a pick-as-you-go kind of herb. You may harvest only what is needed, or if you have a glut on hand, you could clip a mass harvest. Harvest basil as you would mint, snipping a stem just above the point where two large leaves meet. Regular clipping encourages a more rounded, less leggy plant.
It’s always better to harvest basil before the plant flowers. If you don’t have time to harvest any leaves, just pinch off the flowering portion. The flowers are actually edible, but if you pinch them off, the plant can now direct its energy on growing tasty leaves. Also be sure to only harvest up to 2/3 of the entire plant, so it can continue producing.
You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches, but it keeps most flavourfully when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water or olive oil as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labelled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto.