If you cook and spend even a little time in the garden, then you simply must try growing some basil. Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs. People have treasured and enjoyed the unique taste of its leaves for thousands of years.
While basil is easy to grow, the plant will only grow outdoors in the summer when the soil is sufficiently warm. As a general rule, you should plant basil in a spot that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun a day. But the herb will do well under the partial sun, too, if need be.
How to Grow Basil from Seed
Since you will probably cook what you grow, don’t use insecticides. Grow your basil in moist but well-draining soil away from busy streets so that no particles from exhaust fumes settle on the plants.
Here’s how to grow basil from seed in your garden.
Planting Basil Seeds
Plant your basil seeds about ¼-inch deep in the moist soil. Allow 10 to 12 inches between the seeds. Keep in mind that the plants will grow to about 12 to 24 inches tall. For larger varieties, plant farther apart – about 16 to 24 inches.
If you live in a hot area, mulch the bed to suppress weeds and help the soil retain adequate moisture. The seeds should germinate within a week. Water the small plants vigorously during the dry periods of summer.
Once the seedlings have produced their first six leaves, prune these to above the second set. Pruning encourages the plants to start branching. This will mean more leaves for harvesting later on.
Caring for Basil Plants
Basil requires regular pruning. Each time the plant sprouts 6 to 8 new leaves, cut the branches back to the first set of leaves. After about 6 weeks, pinch off the center shoot to prevent early flowering. If flowers do grow, simply cut them off.
If the weather is going to be cold or if a sudden frost is imminent, be sure to harvest your basil early. The cold weather will destroy the plants.
You can begin harvesting the leaves when the plants are around 6 to 8 inches tall. Collect leaves from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Basil will usually start producing an abundance of leaves once the temperatures hit 27°C.
Make sure to pick the leaves regularly. Regular harvesting will encourage growth throughout the summer. You should harvest even when you don’t need the leaves. Pick them to keep the plant going.
If you pick regularly, twelve basil plants can produce 4 to 6 cups of leaves each week. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves.
Storing Your Harvest
You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches. However, the leaves will retain more flavor when frozen. Simply puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree.
Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze. You can then pop out the frozen basil cubes and store them in labeled freezer bags to use as needed in soups, sauces, and pesto.
Are you ready to grow basil in your garden?