Ahhh basil. Those little aromatic leaves can pack a ton of flavor, and they are the perfect companion to tomatoes (and a must in Italian cuisine). Basil can be a finicky little plant when it is just starting out. It has made more than one gardener scream in frustration. I don't want that for you!
If you are planning your Spring garden, here is a Beginner's Guide to Growing Basil to help you out.
What Kind of Basil Should I Grow?
Lemon Basil is slightly sweet with a hint of lemon. It is much easier to find these days than it used to be and pairs wonderfully with a grilled fish recipe or vegetables.
Thai Basil leaves have a much stronger flavor than sweet basil and a slight licorice flavor.
Purple Basil has an intense clove flavor and turns black when you cook with it. It is good for salads and pesto.
Red Rubin Basil has a very strong flavor and can add plenty of color to salads, but it is mostly used as an ornamental plant.
There are about 10 more varieties of basil, but if you are looking to grow basil that you will use in the kitchen, these are the main ones.
Choosing A Site For Growing Basil
Basil grows best when it gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. If you are growing it outside, it should be planted in raised beds or containers with drainage holes. If you are growing it in a pot in your house, make sure to keep it in a sunny spot free from drafts.
Should You Start Basil From Seeds?
Beginners, don't even think about growing basil from seed. You will be SO excited to see the seedlings sprout up after about 2 weeks and then you will wait, and wait, and wait for them to grow bigger. You will keep waiting. It won't happen. Basil seeds tend to grow a fungus on the soil that stunts their growth and attracts pests. It is due to poor air circulation and not keeping the soil's moisture maintained.
Go ahead and head on over to the nursery and pick out 1-2 basil plants in different varieties. If you live in an area where you can't find many varieties of basil plants, you can always order live plants online.
Tips and Tricks
Basil are heavy nutrient users. So this means two things - grow them in at least a one gallon container (learn more about growing an herb container garden) and feed them every month.
Since basil plants produce edible leaves, they need more nitrogen, making blood meal the perfect soil amendment. Basil also needs a lot of water. It can handle the soil drying out in between waterings, but it really likes to be moist if possible. Basil is also a sun worshipper - give your plant at least 6-8 hours of bright sunlight a day.
You can start to harvest basil as early as 3-4 weeks or once the plant is taller than six inches. Gently pinch all the way down the stem to the union of the next leaf set. You want to remove that stem so that new leaves will grow from that point. Pinch off as much as you need at the time or harvest full stems for freezing and drying. Always remove the flowers the minute that they emerge. If you don't, they will make the leaves turn a bitter taste and make the plant go to seed.
How To Preserve Your Basil
If you follow these tips to growing basil, eventually you might find that your outside crops are producing more than you can use. Never fear - you can easily preserve your basil 1 of 2 ways:
- Freeze it: simply puree your basil with a little bit of olive oil in a blender and scoop the mixture in to ice cube trays. Once it is frozen, remove the cubes and place in a plastic freezer bag. You can use these to add to soups and sauces. The frozen cubes can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Dry it: Preheat your oven to 200F (or the lowest temp your oven will go) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the basil leaves in a single layer on the sheet and bake for 2-3 hours or until the basil is completely dried. Crumble the basil and store in an air-tight container. Your dried basil will be good for up to a year.
Follow this beginner's guide to growing basil and enjoy basil all summer long!
Do you have any tips to add?