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Sweet, Sweet Basil: The Delizioso Italian Herb

The Sweet Basil plant is the most popular of the Basil plants. It is extensively used in Italian, French, Greek and some Asian cuisines. Would you like to have this good smelling herb flavor your dishes? If that is the case, read on. In this article, I will show you how to grow your own herb garden.

History of the "King" of Herbs

Sweet Basil is a cultivar of basil plants known for its use in Italian cooking, among others. Originally from India, this widely distributed herb is from the Lamiaceae (mint) family. In some English-speaking countries, it is known as Saint Joseph's Wort. The word basil, though, is derived from the Greek word βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning "king". Out of all of Basil's cultivars, this one is the most extensively used, not only in Italian cooking, but Greek, French, and many Asian cuisines.

We will now be considering the meat of the matter: how to plant and grow your Basil plant. Keep in mind, though, that this article speaks on account of one Basil plant. If you have more than one plant growing, then catch the main ideas of this article and apply them to your situation. For if you have more than one plant, then you must consider how far apart you want them to be. And there are a host of other factors that we will consider.

Soil

In terms of soil, you need moist, well-drained soil, at a PH level of 6.0—a middle-ground between acidic and alkaline soil.[1] The soil should be moist enough to last the greater part of the day, so the day before you sow your seeds, water your soil so it is sufficiently moist by the time you sow your seeds. Lastly, your soil should be neither hot nore cold—it should be warm, keeping at a temperature between 70 and 90 degrees F. By way of review: keep your soil well-drained and moist, like a non-dripping sponge. Keep it warm, not hot, or cold. Keep it balanced between acidic and alkaline. Next, we will talk about the germination stage.

Germination

Ideally, it would be best to keep your plant outside, at least when it is warm enough. However, sometimes you just cannot do that, and you will have to shelter it for awhile. Fortunately, Basil plants can be sowed, germinated, and grown indoors.[2]

Basil plants love heat, just like bees love honey. Your plant will do great from above 50 degrees at night, to around 70 degress F in the daytime. Due to the fact they cannot endure the cold, however, Basil plants are pegged as annuals. But if frost is no longer a problem, your Basil plant will last longer. The key is exposing the plant to hot and dry weather, and with full exposure to sunshine. Whereas Basil plants just need 3 to 4 hours of sunlight per day in the ideal climate, in cooler climates, they need around six to eight hours a day.

Germination lasts for 18 to 24 days. That makes 2-3 weeks. Once germination is finished, plants should then be thinned out to allow space between them. It is recommended that you place your Basil plants twelve inches apart from each other. [3] If you are planting in rows, allow a space of 24-36 inches between rows. [4]

When the leaves towards the bottom turn yellow, this means the plant is getting stressed due to excess water. In contrast, when leaves start to wilt, this means the plant is not getting enough water. When that happens, you can heal the plant just by giving it the water and sunshine that it would need anyway. The damage will fade away. Next, we are going to finish up this article talking about how to take care of your plant, especially when it comes time to harvest.

After Germination

It will take about two and a half months for your Basil plant to mature. Once it does, though, it can grow up to six feet tall; but it reaches three feet tall for most gardners. Dwarf varieties will be more like six inches tall. Besides the points outlined above, pests and weeds are your only other concern. Outdoor pests include slugs and beetles, which eat up the leaves; and worst of all, aphids, which leech your plant of its "blood". But growing plants in a container or raised bed removes the weed problem, at least; and there are relatively inexpensive ways of keeping pests under control.

Time for the Harvest to be Harvested

When is it time to start the harvest? When aromatic leaves start to grow at least two cetimeters (.79 inches) or three centimeters (1.18 inches) in length. Be sure to harvest leaves regularly, as this promotes growth. Why is that? Because the plant responds by converting a pair of leaflets into a new stem for making more leaves. Production increases.

When you gather your day's yield, you basically have two choices, eat or preserve your leaves. You can put cut the leaves into pieces and put them on food, or simply eat them. Or you can preserve them, but how? By drying the leaves off, or freezing them.

Drying or Freezing Leaves

Drying your leaves to the point they have no moisture in them sucks some of the flavor out, so beware. On the flip side, it increases shelf life. But you can also freeze your leaves, and this not only increases shelf life, as long as it's frozen, it does not destroy the flavor. Freezing is a doubly beneficial method of preserving herbs.

One way to freeze the leaves is by spreading them out onto a cookie sheet or any flat surface. Freeze them and take them out of the freezer, to put the newly frozen leaves into an airtight container of choice. A baggie will work, just squeeze the air out. You can thaw out the leaves at will and use them.

If that does not suit you, then try this method instead. Cut up the basil leaves into small pieces. Take out an ice tray and fill up a few holes halfway. Grab a spoonful og herbs and put in one of those holes and repeat the process until you run out of freshly picked herbs. Freeze them, take the ice tray out, fill the holes up al the way through, and refreeze them. You then will have ice cubes with herbs in them. Just chuck any one of these into a stew or soup that will taste better with Basil. Make sure you have your own little spot in the freezer for your cubes, in case you are not living alone.

Next, we will talk about what to do when flowers start growing. This information is vital to your success as a Basil gardner!

Flowers

Basil plants will eventually make flowers, which create seeds for you to sow next year. However, leaf production slows down and eventually stops, and the affected stems become woody. As a result, the Basil plant only blooms flowers until the day it dies. At least the flowers are edible too, though they do not replace the aromatic and delicous leaves. Yet, you can prevent this from happening. How? By pinching off the flower buds before they open.

It should be noted, however, that only the stems that blossom flowers will be affected. So it is possible to have some stems grow leaves while others blossom flowers that create the seeds. Eventually, thouh, it will come time to completely resign your plant to becoming a flowery ornament, before it is too late. Basil plants die in freezing-point weather, so time your seeding carefully.

At this point, we have covered a lot of aspects on how to sow, grow, and harvest an excellent Basil plant. We even briefed on the history of the plant, and what it is used for today. Now you are ready to start growing your very own herb garden!

Review:

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Sources


  1. University of Rhode Island Website
  2. Ehow about Basil
  3. Wikipedia: Basil entry
  4. Gardening on About.com
  5. pH Scale: Elmhurst College
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