Planting Basil

Fresh Basil leaves

Fresh Basil leaves

For me, the middle of October is basil planting time. Although I have experimented with lots of different basils I still seem to prefer the annual sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).
Fresh Basil is a must in Thai beef salad, with fresh tomato on bruschetta, on pizza, in a Napolitano pasta sauce and ratatouille, when the late summer veg are abundant.
I love to have fresh basil in the kitchen, so after a winter of using preserved basil or pesto, to add the fabulous basil flavour to dishes, I am anxious to get some plants started so I can use fresh product again.

I preserve it in the form of pesto, to have with pasta or on chicken or as Basil butter which I use with steak or added to tomato soup in winter. If I have further surplus I also pack fresh leaves into jars and top with olive oil to use during the winter months. All these preserving methods are great but they do not compare to the fresh leaf. So I try to have plants growing as long as possible so I plant early and do successive plantings till late summer.

Basil loves full sun and hot weather, but dislikes drying out, so keep the water up to your plants for lots of lush green growth. If the plants become water stressed they will bolt into flower and that will be the end of your crop.

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The soil is still too cold in the highlands at this time of year to get seed to germinate in the garden, so I will get my first crop of the season going in a pot in a warm sunny spot.
I simply fill a 20cm pot with good quality potting mix; leave about a 5 cm gap at the top. Firm down and place 2cm of seed raising mix on top. Scatter about 10 to 15 seeds evenly over the seed raising mix, cover with a another thin layer of seed raising mix, firm down again and gently water in.

Once they have germinated and have two sets of true leaves I start to liquid feed them with ½ strength Powerfeed every week. The Powerfeed will keep them growing quickly and will promote the growth of lots of leaf for use in the kitchen.

I start to use the leaves as soon as the plants are 10 to 15 cm high, though I only pick 2 or 3 leaves off each plant when they are this small.
Once the soil is warmer I will direct sow seed into the garden. I usually sow a crop in early December another in mid-January and then my final planting in mid-February. I plant about 20 seeds each time and then thin them to about 20 cm apart leaving the best 10 plants.

Other than protecting young basil plants from snails and stopping the bower birds from eating it, Basil is fairly trouble free.
By doing successive planting I am assured of having fresh Basil leaves all through the warmer months with lots of surplus to then preserve for the cooler months. Why not have a go a growing this wonderfully fragrant herb, your taste buds will thank you.

Sharing is caring, and I would love to see your new basil plants – if you start growing some at your place, please post a photo on my Facebook page so I can check out your garden!

Happy gardening
Kathy