Growing Basil: Tips and Tricks for our Favorite Herb
For the gardener who may be timid in regards to cooking and gardening in the front yard, a delectable and beautiful plant to consider is basil. Growing basil is delightful and easy; it can be direct seeded in the garden or started indoors in a seed flats to later be transplanted. And if you’ve no desire to start seeds, good garden centers, co-ops, or farmers at your local farmers market will likely have a selection of basils that are ready for you to transplant immediately into your garden.Direct seeding can be done into mid-summer for a late fall harvest. If starting indoors, plant seeds just below the soil surface 4-6 weeks before setting out. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist for germination, and do not plant outside too soon as these are tender plants susceptible to light frost. You can grow basil outside in the garden or in various types of container gardening.
Be sure to “harden-off” seedlings before setting them permanently in the garden so that they get accustomed to winds, rain and the stronger light of the sun. If you should leave them out in the sun too long, the tender leaves will burn, and you will need to start over. Yet do not worry if this does happen, as it is a common experience for new gardener’s. An additional tip is to “pinch-back”stems to a leaf nodule to encourage branching in order to grow more leaves that can be used in immediate cooking, dried, used to flavor olive oil or to freeze into pesto for a winter time flavor-packed treat for tomato bisque soup.
Basil can be found in shades of green, purple, purple stems with green leaves and even one more chocolaty in color. Below are many of my favorite basils with some description of each variety.
1) Lettuce Leaf: light to medium green, large crumply like leaves of 3-4 inches long, with the plant growing from 18-24” in height. The plant is the largest basil I’ve yet grown. Although I love the large leaves to eat on top of French bread with a slice of fresh mozzarella and slices of fresh tomato or to make larger quantities of pesto, many prefer the stronger more defined classic basil flavor of Genovese.
2) Sweet Thai Basil: purple stem with medium sized 2 inch long lighter green shiny smooth-edged leaves . The plant that grows from 12-18 inches tall with lovely purple flowers. This spicy anise-clove scented plant is often used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.
3) Red Rubin: purple coppery colored medium to large 3 inch leaves may have edges with a bit of green, particulary if grown in more shady areas. The stem is purple as are the flowers. leaves are thinner and more delicately flavored than Genovese.
4) Cinnamon: similar to Sweet Thai in that the leaves are green with a violet stem, although violet will also be found in the veining of these medium length leaves. Flowers are violet colored and grows from 26-30 inches, although they will not grow so tall in shady areas. This basil has a cinnamon scent and a slight cinnamon flavor to add diversity to your culinary creations.
5) Holy Basil: these small to medium length green leaves grow on a plant that is used in the Hindu culture and Ayurveda. It is also commonly used in Thai teas and cuisine, as well as to aid digestion and to support the immune system. It grows to from 12-18 inches tall.
6) Genovese: medium to dark green leaves, the classic Italian basil growing from 18-24 inches tall. With a spicy flavor and larger leaves (though smaller than Lettuce Leaf) it also sports the classic basil scent that you dream of when stepping into an Italian eatery.
7) Spicy Bush: small leaved plant that can be more easily grown in a container with a height between 8-14 inches tall with a more rounded habit than other basils. Leaves are green and a small sweet flavor growing no more than 1 inch long.
Gardening, like many other endeavor’s, becomes easier with time and practice as knowledge and skill build. Growing basil is just one step along that flavorful gardening path.