Friday, February 17, 2012

The Beauty of Growing Basil

Basil is possibly one of many people's favorite herbs. Not only is it fun to grow, it has so many uses. As a member of the mint family, Basil is added to salads, sandwiches, and dishes. With its many varieties including Sweet Basil, Lemon Basil, Chocolate Basil, Lime Basil and Cinnamon Basil, those who love the taste of Basil have many tastes to choose from.

When growing Basil, whether indoors or outdoors, the first step is to make sure you have adequate drainage. If putting Basil in a pot, line it with coarse gravel. If growing outside, make sure your soil is well dug, leaving the ground beneath the plant loose and fluffy. Placing compost beneath your plant can help with this.

Basil loves sunlight, at least six to eight hours of it a day. If you are planting this herb inside, be sure to place it in a windowsill. Not only does Basil like sunlight, it doesn't like the cold, so if you are planting outside, try and avoid spots where cold winds come through. With that said, one shouldn't even plant Basil until daytime temperatures remain in the 70s F. and night temperatures are above 50 degrees F. Seeds can be started indoors 3-4 weeks before last spring frost date. Unlike many Mediterranean herbs, Basil likes a somewhat rich soil and doesn’t like to be kept dry.

Keep your basil plants at least ten inches apart, if placing outside, Basil likes to bush out. You can thin your plants by harvesting them simply in pinching the tops off once the plants reach about 6" in height. If you don’t pinch or harvest, the plants will grow tall and gangly, with few leaves and will bolt to seed. You can continue harvesting as long as there are leaves left on the plant to keep it going.

With outside plants, try and keep weeds away from your Basil plants. You can add organic mulch around the plant to help steer weeds away - the compost will also help your plant retain moisture.

If growing Basil in containers or indoor pots then add a small amount of fertilizer every month or so. Be sure to maintain the moisture level on your Basil if grown indoors. When watering, add to the base rather than pouring water over its leaves and stems.

Basil will put out flowers if you are not cultivating it often. Be sure to pinch out any flowers that appear as this will help preserve the flavor and promote more leaf growth. Simply picking a few leaves off here and there as needed will also keep your Basil producing for you. If you are saying, I don't eat Basil that often, you can harvest the Basil for future use. Basil can be used fresh or dried. To dry Basil, cut the stems at soil level and dry them in a dehydrator or hang bunches of stems up to air dry in a warm room, this should take about a week. Once the leaves are dried you can remove them from the stems and then store them in a dry airtight container for up to 12 months.

If using your Basil fresh, harvest the most vibrant green leaves that do not have dark spots or decay. You can layer your Basil leaves in damp paper towels and place them inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to four days. For Basil with stalks attached, place in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag secured to the glass. Store in the refrigerator, changing water daily, and use within a week. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them.

Another option is to put whole or chopped fresh leaves in an ice cube tray and cover with water or broth before freezing. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into an airtight bag. Use the cubes in soups, stews or sauces.

Basil is one of those diverse plants that not only spices up your dishes but just smells good to grow, attracts bees and is pleasant in appearances. Playing with its varieties just adds to the enjoyment of growing basil. If you haven't tried your hand at growing Basil, maybe it is about time to do so.
About the Author: Pamela Ravenwood is a freelance writer, journalist, and writing coach who lives in the desert. In addition to spending her days writing, she also loves to tend to her organic garden where she grows as much of her own food as possible. In this, she counts on her cord reel to keep her hoses from drying out from the desert heat.

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