Saturday, April 30, 2011

Your Guide to Growing Basil

The top variety of Basil pictured is certainly among the easiest to grow. Feed and water regularly, apply plenty of cuddles, keep indoors at night and presto - a bigger, healthier Basil!

While this furry Basil variety provides plenty of rewards, the green basil varieties that will predominate this blog , require a slightly different growing technique. This herb is easily my favorite (chives being a close second). I should also add, that if you haven't tried fresh basil herb, you don't know what it tastes like (yet!). Most often, when we think of basil, we're thinking of Genovese basil, an Italian herb for bruchetta and pasta dishes (pictured below kitty). And while I strongly recommend this variety, you may also want to look into lemon-basil (third picture) for chicken, steaks, and light pasta dishes or spicy, licorice flavored Thai basil (last pictured), for Asian food of all things!

Once you've decided what variety of basil you'd like to grow, it's time to consider how much basil you'd like... This year, I'm planning to grow more herbs in the ground (because I want more of them!) but you can follow the same guidelines herein for container herb gardening. If you're not sure how much you will like it, feel free to try some in pots first.

You can buy basil seeds from a grocery store or catalog and grow them in a green house before transplanting. But, since the plant is so fast growing, and we're so busy with other plants, we just buy mature basil plants at the store or nursery and put them directly into the ground when it's time.

So...when is it time? One thing to know about basil: this herb likes it hot, Hot, HOT! Some leafy plants like lettuces may not mind cool nights (and can even burn up in the sun) but this is not so with basil. So wait to plant until the soil is good and warm - no nights below 60 degrees or so. Basil also likes rich, well drained, soil. So, when you plant, make sure your basil is in full sun, in well amended soil. Also, when you plant, make sure your little basils are at least 10'' apart. These little guys will bush out fast, given the right conditions.

Water your basil regularly.

Beginner gardeners may not know that herbs flower. When the food you're harvesting is a fruit or a legume (like tomatoes or peas, respectively) the flower is only the beginning. Afterall, the future seed is contained in what you'll be eating. But for other plants, like lettuce, or herbs - a flowering stalk signals the END. Rather than investing energy in new leaves for photosynthesis, the plant will stop investing in itself, and slow down leaf production to invest its energy into developing a bud, which becomes a flower, which in a short time forms "seeds" to start up the next crop. (Hey,the herb doesn't know this won't do any good since it's an annual in Zone 6!). So, as the gardener, you want to post-pone this process for as long as possible. The main way to do this is by pinching off buds. When harvesting, pinch off the top section at a leaf/stem intersection, always leaving a set of leaves at the top of where you pinched. Also, don't harvest more than 2/3 of the plant at a time. If you follow these rules, the basil will regenerate itself until late fall, when it will eventually succumb to falling temperatures.

The cooking opportunities are endless! Last year, Reed bottled his own pasta sauce with fresh basil - which is so good, you could almost eat it by itself (thanks in part to the basil). Thai basil is best in stir fry, but some people don't like the pungent licorice flavor. If you have a great basil recipe to share, let me know, or better yet - post in the comments!

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