Beautiful Basil

Basil is beautiful for so many reasons. Shall I list them for you? OK, just for you:

  • Basil has an amazing aroma and flavor. It has the ability to transform a simple dish into something spectacular.
  • Basil has a gorgeous appearance–it is like a beautiful houseplant but is one you can also eat.
  • Basil is great for your health. It is high in Vitamin K and offers smaller amounts Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It’s aroma will lift your spirits.
  • Basil will regenerate. That is right. Clip off  a bunch and even more beautiful stems and leaves will grow back.
  • Homegrown basil is beautifully easy on your purse. The only cost is a few dollars for a seed packet and a bit of soil. Store-bought fresh basil will only provide enough leaves for 1 or 2 meals, and at a steep cost of $5.00 or more.
  • It is beautiful that a flush of basil leaves growing now can be preserved for use later. I slice up the leaves (see chiffonade of basil) and then stir in a quality olive oil until well coated. I loosely pack about a tablespoon of this mixture into the cups of  mini-muffin tray, to about 3/4 full. I add a bit more oil to cover. Then I take the tray to the freezer overnight. I remove these “basil hockey pucks” from the tray and store them in a freezer bag. Later, when I want to add basil to a dish or sauce, I can simply add the quantity I need from the freezer. Coated in the oil, the basil is preserved such that when used, it is closest to fresh. In this way, I have fresh-tasting basil all year long!
  • Basil is truly beautiful to grow, and it will add what my daughter, Keepsake Collector, calls a “pop” of gorgeous green color to your kitchen.

We grow basil year round–you can too! I promise. It is so easy and it takes very little time.

Steps to Grow Basil

  1. My favorite basil variety for cooking is Geneovese. I also like growing other varieties. Select which kinds you want to grow and purchase a packet, or get one of the packets that has mix of several types.
  2. Fill a 6-8 inch decorative houseplant pot with moistened potting soil. Firm the soil down, adding more as needed. (If you have seedling mix, you can improve germination by add 2 inches of seedling mix in a layer above the potting soil.) You should have 1-2 inches of space left between the soil and the top edge of the pot.
  3. Plant 6 or 7 basil seeds in the dirt. They should be scattered evenly, not just in one spot. Add a very thin, light dusting of soil to barely cover the seeds.
  4. Cover the pot with a layer of plastic wrap to keep things moist.
  5. Place the pot in a sunny windowsill or under indoor plant lights where it will receive 8-10 hours of strong light each day. All will be ok if the soil gets warm, but avoid locating the pot in too hot of a place or nothing will grow (I use plant lights and a heating mat with a plant thermometer that together keep things at about 80 degrees.)
  6. Wait. Practice patience. If the soil was moist and you keep it covered with the plastic, you shouldn’t need to add water until after the seeds germinate.
  7. Germination can take 5-10 days. When you see the tiny green seedlings begin to emerge, you can check the conditions. If all is moist, keep things covered for a few days longer as the tiny seedlings get their start. Then uncover the pot.
  8. Watch the seedlings. If your light source is insufficient, the seedlings will shoot up in search of light and become fragile and leggy. Also, watch the conditions of the soil. Add water before the surface of the soil begins to dry out. (I use a spray bottle for the first weeks as the subsoil will still be moist but the first few inches need to be misted.)
  9. Depending on the brand, there may be some slow release nutrients in the potting soil or there may be very little. If I am uncertain, I begin to add diluted liquid fertilizer with each watering (25% of the strength described on the product) after the seedlings are about 2 weeks old.
  10. Because germination won’t be 100%, I encouraged you to plant more seeds than is advisable in a small pot. After the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, select the best seedlings and cut out any others that could compete and create crowded conditions. The pot in the photo below is 6-1/2 inches across and is full with 4-5 plants. IMG_5358
  11. To achieve a bushy plant full of leaves, basil plants should be “pinched.” Without this step, the plants will grow along a single main stem and develop very few leaves. I start once the seedlings have 3 or 4 sets of leaves. I use my fingernails to “pinch” the main stem just above the 3rd set of leaves, being careful not to damage the tiny waiting buds that form in the leaf nodes. I use the trimmed leaves in my cooking. Additional details and photos can be found in How to Pinch Back Basil and Make Pesto.
  12. Once the weather is warm enough for tomatoes to be planted, take your basil starts out to the garden too. Plant them in a rich bed of soil and continue to maintain similar conditions and continue to pinch the plants as they grow. You’ll be amazed by the results. Enjoy!

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