Learn how to successfully grow basil this summer season with our short guide on growing basil plants. This aromatic herb has so many delicious uses from fresh pesto to Italian pasta sauces, salad dressings, herb rubs for barbecues and even acts as a surprising ingredient in some desserts. Learn how to grow it properly this summer and you won't be disappointed with the results!
There are plenty of varieties of basil seed out there, so the first task is to choose which kind you would like to grow. It's nice to grow a variety, but try to plant the different varieties apart from each other to avoid cross pollination if you want to collect seed at the end of the season. The best variety for pesto making is Genovese basil, which is bright green and has a more rounded leaf than some of the more spear-shaped varieties. This variety tends to produce more leaves (which is want you want), doesn't bolt to seed production, and produces very large leaves is allowed to mature.
It's best to start basil seeds indoors or in a greenhouse/polytunnel situation, to give these high maintenance seedlings a chance to grow strong roots. Once early summer comes you are likely safe to plant basil seeds straight into your garden beds. Basil is a sun worshipper, and also require more watering that most other Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano. Once the seeds have unfurled into tiny little plants, let them grow to a few inches tall before feeding them some compost around their roots. You can choose to mulch your basil plants with a light layer of sand, as this will help retain moisture and reflect the sunlight on to those heat loving basil leaves.
Start harvesting basil leaves once they are plentiful, usually once the plant has reached at least 4-5 inches in height. Cut off the young tips of the plant alongside any of the larger leaves at the base of the plant. If your basil plants are growing very fast, cut them at the stem, leaving at least 4 inches of the plant in the ground. In hot climates or with faster growing varieties you will find that small flower heads will start to form at the tips of the plants, which is a signal for the plant to stop producing leaves, so snip them off to keep the leaf production up until you are ready to harvest seed.
Remember that making even a small batch of pesto requires a lot of leaves; so plant enough to take you through the season and for to put some up for the winter. You can also dry your basil by hanging it: harvest stems of basil and keep the leaves on, tie a rubber band around the stems, make a hook with a twist-tie and then hang somewhere in your kitchen. The leaves should be dry and ready to store in an airtight container out of the sun in about a week.
5 Delicious Pesto Recipes to Try This Summer:
1. Basil Walnut Pesto Recipe from Vitamix.com
2. Spinach Basil Pesto (Nut-Free) from Two Peas & Their Pod
3. Freezer Pesto Recipe from Mother Earth Living
4. High-Protein & Oil Free Vegan Pesto from Oh She Glows
5. Skinny Basil Pesto from Skinnytaste
Try Your Fresh Pesto in These Recipes from Organic Authority
Image: Cinnamon Cooper