May 3, 2011

Time to Plant Basil

We're a little behind in the greenhouse. Luckily, Willa is excellent help.

See here Mama, it says basil can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost. But I say we get a start now by putting the seeds directly in my mouth.

Basil is quite possibly my favorite crop. I love to plant it, I love to harvest it, I love to eat it, I love to sell it.

But, it can also be sort of tricky. So, here's a few tips I've gathered over the years:

  • Keep seeds warm during germination. One mistake I made my first year was starting too early in the winter and then getting increasingly frustrated when germination was slow. It was because, among other things, the soil wasn't consistently warm enough. Keep that in mind.
  • Prune. Once you have at least two sets of "branches" on your plant, start pruning to keep the plant bushing instead of growing tall and leggy. 
  • Some people wait to harvest big long stems but I like to harvest young, tender leaves. This does the pruning I mentioned above while giving you nice, bright, tender green leaves ready to toss into salads, pasta and well, in our house, just about anything else. 
  • Don't let it flower. Like most others, the minute the plant starts putting its energy into seed production, the leaves get bitter. Another reason to stay on top of the pruning/harvesting.
  • Keep the frost imps at bay. Basil will be the very first thing in your garden to blacken at even the threat of frost. When in doubt, cover.
  • When preserving, don't be shy with the olive oil. The best way to preserve basil is to process with olive oil or make pesto. If you're doing either, put a nice film of oil on the top of your container -- that's what will seal the green in and keep the black out. 

My favorite varieties are your standard sweet basil, sweet thai basil and Genovese basil. 

I'm dreaming of the first harvest already.



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