Sweet basil is extremely easy to grow from seed, and the seeds stay viable for a long time. I found out the hard way this spring when I took a couple of old packs sprinkled them in a flat and ended up with seven flats of basil to show for it. In some instances it will even self sow, as I have several plants to show for it this year. You can start the seeds inside in the early spring to get a head start. Just use a soilless mixture (I recommend coconut coir), put them in a bright sunny window, and keep them moist, not wet. In 7-10 days you’ll see your plants begin to emerge.
Plant basil outside after all danger of frost is past as it is not tolerant of frost even a little bit, even temperatures near freezing can do it in. Once planted basil is an easy care plant. Just water regularly and fertilize as you would any other annual. It is recommended to use organic fertilizers, since you are going to eat it. I’ve never had a pest problem with basil, and I’ve lived in several different states, and climates.
You can start to harvest basil at almost any stage, but definitely start harvesting when it gets to its sixth set of leaves. That is when it will start to flower. You want to harvest before it flowers if possible, as the taste is better. I never manage to make it all the time, but keep up with it if possible.
You will not need a lot of basil plants even 3 or 4 can provide you with all the fresh and dried basil you’ll need for the coming year. I had sixteen plants last year and have enough basil for several years!
Harvesting involves cutting the leaves and either using them fresh or preserving them for later use. Fresh cut basil should be put in a container with water and set on your counter. DO NOT put it in the refrigerator or you’ll come back to find a glass full of black slimy leaves. On the counter it can last as much as two weeks. I’ve even had it root in the glass and stay fresh even longer, but don’t count on that.
To preserve basil you can dry or freeze it. If you dry it, try to use a dehydrator with temperature control. Set the temperature at 90°F, place the leaves on the racks spread out in a single layer and allow them to dehydrate overnight. Doing it at a low temperature preserves some essential oils that are lost when dried at a high temperature. Your basil will taste just like fresh!
If you want to freeze it you will need to put it in a carrier oil to keep it from turning to slime when thawed. You can use any oil, but olive is typically used. Place basil in a food processor and chop it into fairly large pieces. Drizzle just enough oil on them while they are being chopped to coat the leaves. Put spoonfuls into ice cube trays and put in the freezer. Once frozen you can pop them out and store them in a bag. One cube will be enough to flavor a soup, salad dressing, or any main dish.
Next blog will be about the different varieties of basil that are available and how to use them.