Basil is one of the most versatile plants in herb gardening. As part of the mint family, it has a mildly spicy and peppery flavor, which makes it the perfect match with any tomato-based cuisines. Have you thought about growing and harvesting Basil?
Here is a fool-proof Basil care technique to get you started…
1. Optimal Condition of Sun, Soil and Water
As you may know, all plants thrive on three things: light, soil and water; and it is the same for Basil. Basil in particular loves the sun, so do pick a spot with at least 6 hours of direct sun light (if you have 14-16 hours of sun light it’d be perfect). In terms of soil, Basil much prefers well-drained soil. The best type would be compost soil; but if this is not available, mixing one-part of sand to two-parts of normal soil will improve the drainage ability.
Regular watering is an essential part of Basil care, and overwatering is not advised because root rot is very detrimental to the herb. Having said that, watering should not be a concern as long as the soil is not soggy.
2. Optimal Timing of Planting Basil
Basil can be grown either from seeds or from cuttings, and the best time to plant them is late spring to early summer, when the weather is warm and sunny enough. If you are not sure if the outdoor condition is good for your delicate seedling, you can always grow them in pots and have them replanted outside later.
If it’s already Fall when you still want to plant some Basil seedling, you’ll likely get more success by cuttings. Simply cut a strong stem (with a couple of leaves) with a sterilized cutter, and plant it directly to well-drained soil in pot. It is not necessary, but using rooting hormone can increase your chance of success. Leave the seedling in a warm, shady place and water regularly. If the weather is dry, you can enclose the whole potted Basil in a big zip-lock to create a mini-green house for the herb. New roots will grow in a week to two weeks, depending on the season. In general, Basil growth slows down considerably after summer.
3. How To Grow An Amazingly Strong, Leafy and Flavorful Basil
One of the tricks to grow vibrant, leafy and flavorful Basil is to encourage side growth. Once the seedlings have a couple of healthy leaves, you can pinch away the center shoot to encourage the growth of side branches. Repeat the pinching process whenever the branches grow tall enough. While you may be tempted to feed your plants with fertilizer, constant feeding is not necessary in herb gardening – in fact, it is not encouraged as overfeeding will reduce the flavor in Basil leaves.
As you can see, growing Basil is almost maintenance-free: the herb does not need fertilizer, and it rarely attracts bugs (in fact, Basil drives away pests for neighboring plants!)… As long as the correct condition of light, water and soil is in place, your herbs will be happy.
4. Tips In Harvesting Basil
Pruning encourages a plant’s growth, so do harvest your herbs often! When you see the flower buds appear, it is the best time for harvesting Basil, as the essential oil from the leaves is the most concentrated during this time. When pinching the leaves, please also snip away the flowers as the nutrients will all be used in growing bigger and tastier leaves. Please note, however, that you should not remove more than one third of the foliage to ensure the plant’s continuous healthy growth.
Another tip: you may want to leave a small portion of Basil to flower in order to collect the seeds…
5. The Best Way of Preserving Basil
While there are many different ways to preserve this delightful herb, their effectiveness varies and the following is my personal finding:
Drying vs freezing. Drying and Freezing are the most frequently used methods in preserving Basil and herbs in general. However, for Basil in particular, I find that drying is not the best method because the flavor tends to fade away during the process. Also, if the weather condition is not ideal (i.e. very dry), the leaves may turn into a rather unattractive brown color.
Having said that, there is a way to quickly dry the Basil leaves and preserve more of its color and flavor, by using the oven: have your oven turned on at the lowest heat and with the door slightly open to prevent the burning of leaves.
Freezing the Basil leaves is better in my opinion because the leaves manage to retain most of their flavor, and it is easy to do: simply wash and pat dry the leaves, put them in a zip-lock bag and throw the bag into the freeze. They can be kept up to six months.