Italian basil is now consumed in various parts of the world. Used in soups, salads, pasta, pizza and sauces, it is a much-loved herb. If you have always wanted to cultivate your own mini garden of the herb, you can now do so easily.
Here are the steps to grow and nurture Italian basil at home.
- Buy good quality Italian basil seeds. Make sure the seeds do not contain pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
- Plan to grow basil during the spring and summer months. These plants don’t do well in the cold. For indoor gardens, you can plant the seeds in the spring. But for outdoor gardens, wait till the soil is warm from the summer light. If you are growing basil in a container, make sure the soil is moist and well hydrated.
- Dig about ¼inch into the soil and plant the seeds. Make sure the seeds are at least 10-12 inches apart. Continue to water them well all through the summer months. You can also use saplings instead of seeds.
- Pluck the flower heads as they appear. This helps the leaves to grow properly.
- Add manure minimally so as to not alter the flavour of the basil. Make sure the plants receive at least six hours of sunlight daily. However, eight hours of sunlight are ideal.
- Basil does well when grown near tomato, lettuce or parsley plants. If you have a big garden space, you can grow a nice vegetable and herb patch with these plants.
- Basil can handle very acidic to very mild soil. The ideal pH range for basil is between 5.5 to 6.5; former being very acidic and the latter being quite mild.
- You can also grow basil using coco peat or potting mixes.
- If your house doesn’t receive adequate sunlight for basil growth, you can use fluorescent lamps over the plants. Keep the standard light at least 4 inches away from the plants and high-intensity lights at least 4 feet away. This situation is not ideal for basil growth. But in lieu of sunlight, you can certainly make do with this trick. However, try to provide at least a few hours of sunlight to your basil plant for best results.
The Harvesting Process
- You can start picking basil leaves once the plants are about 6-8 inches in height. If you regularly pick leaves, the plant will continue to grow well. The leaves are ready to use in about 2-3 months.
- You can freeze any extra leaves to use at a later time. To freeze them well, dry basil sprigs. Once dry, pack the leaves in airtight bags or containers and place them in the freezer.
- Continue to hydrate the plants well during the entire harvesting process.
Keep a good garden cultivator handy at home
- Always keep the soil hydrated. If you live in areas with extreme hot temperatures, add mulch in the soil. Mulch is organic matter like compost or leaves that help keep the soil moist.
- Pruning is essential for optimum basil growth. Once the first few leaves have appeared, prune the branches to the growth of the first leaves.
- Keep cutting the flowers. Or else the plants won’t grow properly. When you prune, the two set of leaves near the top leaves transform into stems.
- If you forget to water the basil plants well, the leaves will begin to wilt. To remedy it, water the plant immediately and the plant will recover. If its day time, also place the pots in sunlight, if not already.
- Refrain from excessive watering the plants. If you notice the soil dry, it is indication that your basil plant needs hydration without delay. But do not water before the soil is dry.
A water can ensures that you your plant gets just the right amount of water.
You can continue to enjoy fresh basil as long as the plant is blossoming. If you live in places with cold winter temperatures, you might not get fresh basil all through the year. But you can still enjoy preserved herb until your next harvest.
Think of homemade tomato soup topped with fresh basil leaves. Or a wholegrain sandwich made with cheese and freshly-ground basil leaves. And about relishing fresh pesto anytime you want it. The possibilities with basil are endless.