Growing, Harvesting, Using and Storing
BASIL The King of HerbsThai, Lemon, Greek, Sweet, Napolitano, Red Ruben to name just a few. We have all bought them at supermarkets and mercilessly slaughtered them on the kitchen windowsill and sworn never again... until the next time we need some for a recipe. So this time we buy cut leaves for at least £1 to use half and abandon the rest to the moldy cavern aka the bottom of the fridge.
I'd be lying if I said growing basil was easy, it is a tricksy little plant, and won't be ignored. It may take a couple of attempts to get it right in your kitchen. But you will be rewarded with tasty crops for cooking or my favourite, leaving the leaves whole in salads for surprising bursts of flavour
If we take supermarket basil as a variety, there is cut and come again (which you grow yourself) or there is one crop basil (which you buy from the supermarket). With the supermarket kind, harvest at will, the pot is used up and you buy another. With the cut and come again variety, and gentle harvesting, your plants will re-generate and keep growing, and offer you fresh leaves time and again.
So, how do you grow basil?
There are hundreds of articles and blogs out there explaining how to grow basil, I don't want to re-invent the wheel so just a couple of tips. All varieties have very similar needs.
|Aluminium Herb Trough in Anthracite|
2. Once you have baby plants (home grown or bought!), they need plenty of sunshine, but not necessarily the hottest window you can find, as this will often
frazzle your plant. In the UK, it is safer indoors unless you have a very warm sheltered outside spot.
2. Out of preference, find a self-watering container, it makes life much easier. We've tried our the vertical garden kits and they are good, the SKY Planters weren't appropriate for all of the little basil stems.
3. Very, very good drainage such as grit in the bottom of the container and a saucer. Soggy soil does not give great results, the odd stem will flourish and you'll have plenty of flies.
4. Water when your plants look a little wilted. And here is the trick, just water a little down the side of the pot (not over the leaves) and preferably in the evening. By morning your plants will be looking perky again.
Harvesting? But it's just a basil...
Yes, but you see I used the term 'plants'. A pot of basil is made up of lots of little plants, each is individual and needs to be thought of like that. This is particularly important when it comes to cropping or harvesting.
Each plant needs at least a couple of leaves so that it can re-generate (grow back), so when you are harvesting just pinch off the tops of each plant. This is why you need a few plants. The supermarket kind encourages you to cut down a whole plant. Whereas we sell ours as plug size, each plug containing at least a couple of stems. Most kitchens need 2-3 sets (so up to 18 plugs) to keep a fresh supply of leaves.
Watch out for strong central stems, and pinch them off. These are the plant trying to flower. The flowers are edible, and so are the strong stems but the plant depletes it's strength forming the flower and will reduce the number and flavour of the leaves that remain.
Again there are 100's of recipes and ideas on the interweb, my favourites are pesto, risotto, raw in salads, on a cocktail stick with cherry tomatoes and pearl mozzeralla (snack adapted from The South Beach Diet - low carb!).
Tom Moggach's new book "The Urban Kitchen Gardener' has this fabulous recipe for basil and lime ice-cream. (Published by Kyle Books, priced £16.99. Photography: Laura Hynd. If you'd like to buy the book, click here).
|From 'The Urban Kitchen Gardener' by Tom Moggach|
Published by Kyle Books. Photography: Laura Hynd
|Thai basil leaves ready for drying|
Links to buy stuff:
Greek basil - from £3.50 for 10 stems, fragrant and the easiest to grow!