Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum
Sweet basil, one of the most popular used herbs in cooking, is a must have in every culinary garden. There are over 64 species of basil in which the most common variety used for cooking is sweet basil also referred to as large leaf basil or broadleaf basil. The most sought out variety, and my personal favorite is Genovese, a large leaf Italian variety.
Basil is used in so many cooking applications. Cooks from all around the world use basil in just about everything such as, fresh and cooked vegetables, in salads, with meats, eggs, sea food, cheeses, in soups and breads, to season vinegars /oils and most recognized in pesto and served with tomatoes.
Basil, a natural mosquito repellant and companion of tomatoes and asparagus
This herb is mostly credited for its culinary properties, but has some medicinal and insect repellant properties as well. Basil is known to deter mosquitoes, which has been said that by picking fresh basil from the garden and rubbing it on your skin can act as a natural mosquito repellant. Also when planting basil near tomatoes, it is known to deter mosquitoes and flies, and when fresh basil is laid over tomatoes in a serving bowl, will deter fruit flies as well. Basil is also known to improve the taste of tomatoes and improve the growth of tomatoes and asparagus.
Starting Basil from seed
It is recommended if starting basil from seed to start indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting outdoors. This limits the risk of seeds being washed away in heavy rains and not germinating due to cool soil. Basil is a heat loving plant that needs a bottom temperature to be about 70 degrees to germinate, and should not be transplanted outdoors until nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees. Basil is a very tender herb and will start to turn brown at temperatures below 40 degrees.
To start basil from seed be sure to slightly burry the seed and use a quality growing mix- avoid using regular top soil or potting mix. Water the growing mix so that it is not dry. Once you have sown your basil seeds cover with either a plastic dome or plastic wrap to help retain moisture. It is important to not let the soil dry out. As soon as the seeds have germinated which should be about 3 days or so depending on quality of seed, remove the plastic covering, and continue to have placed in a window that receives plenty of sun, or under growing lights. Basil is prone to damping off and fungal diseases, so be sure to provide air circulation. You can do this by occasionally leaving an osculating fan on from time to time, and do not water at night. Basil does not like going to bed with its feet wet.
Pest and Disease
Basil is known to attract aphids; spider mites, various worms and white flies, and very susceptible to fungal disease such as botrytis stem rot and Pythium. Greenhouse plants are typically more prone to these diseases and pest due to poor air circulation and humidity. Another fungus that attacks only sweet basil is the soil born fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. basilicum also known as Fusarium wilt. This one is really bad and there is no known cure. The basil plant will appear to grow normal reaching about 6 to 12 inches in height but will then begin to wilt and start dropping leaves and quickly die. This fungus can live up to 12 years in infected areas. It is not recommended to compost these dead plants or soil, and to avoid growing any herbs in the mint family in these infected areas. Mint will not show any signs of the disease but will carry the fungus from season to season.
Transplanting Basil seedlings
For easy cultivating and proper air circulation plant your basil plants 2 feet apart and in rows 3-4 feet apart from each other. Once seedlings have been transplanted they will establish and grow quickly demanding to be cut often. Although we grow these wonderful plants to satisfy our taste buds, the ultimate mission in life for these plants is to produce seeds and propagate themselves. No matter how many times we prune, eventually the plant will flower and die. We can delay the flowering by cutting the main stem and large side branches often. Cut just above a branch no more than a 3rd of the plant at a time, this will also promote more growth.
Harvesting your freshly grown basil
You can expect to begin harvesting your freshly grown basil 6 weeks after transplanting outdoors, and 8- 10 weeks if transplanted in growing beds in a greenhouse. Here are some harvesting tips.
- Always cut with clean and sharp shears or scissors, cutting just above a leaf cluster/branch. This will encourage new growth and increase yield.
- Select stems that have at least two leaf clusters or more to cut, and do not cut more that a 3rd at one time, allowing the plant a little bit of time to recover.
- Always check for insects, and do not forget to check the underside of the leaves. If insects are detected and are not easily removed by hand, be sure they are sprayed off when rinsing your freshly cut basil.
- Be sure to remember when washing basil that it is a delicate herb that bruises easily and to be gentle when washing.
For the most part, basil is very easy to grow and highly recommended for all culinary gardens. Plant some basil plants near your tomato plants this year and enjoy the wonderful aroma and flavor of this magnificent herb all season long.
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