By E. VinjeTweet
Native to Mediterranean climates, home herb gardeners are growing basil (Ocimum basilicum) for its luscious flavor and wonderful aroma. Excellent fresh or dried, the classic large-leaved variety is a favorite in Asian and Italian cuisine. Fragrant plants grow 18-24 inches and are very productive. Annual.
Basil thrives in soil gardens or containers and prefers full sun, regular water and fast draining, rich soil. Work in plenty of aged animal manure or compost prior to planting.
How to Plant:
Sow seeds outdoors when the soil is warm and the temperature does not drop below 65 degrees F. Can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before planting out. Space plants 4-6 inches apart in all directions. Plant seeds just beneath the surface. Seeds germinate in 5-30 days, so keep moist. An application of organic fertilizer once or twice during the growing season will help promote sturdy growth. At the end of summer, allow the plants to go to seed to attract beneficial insects and bees.
Note: You must keep the flower spikes pinched back to promote bushiness and to prevent plants from becoming woody.
Tip: Make successive sowings for continuous summer supplies and freeze any excess for later use in winter.
Basil is ready to pick when it gets to be about 6 inches tall. Cut in the morning after the dew has dried just above a leaf node. Do not wash the leaves or aromatic oils will be lost. Basil is best used fresh but can be stored frozen in plastic bags. Dry basil by hanging it upside down in a dark, dry, well ventilated room and store in air-tight containers.
Tip: Harvest frequently to encourage plants to produce new growth (and more basil).
Insects and Disease:
Some common insect pests found on basil are aphids, slugs and Japanese beetle. Watch closely and use natural controls when necessary.
To prevent many fungal diseases, choose a site with good air circulation and apply organic fungicides (copper, sulfur) early, when symptoms first appear.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Basil will cross-pollinate with other varieties of basil and must be separated by 150 feet while flowering. Plants form seed capsules containing four seeds. Allow seed capsules to dry, then harvest and separate by hand.