How to Grow Basil to Produce a Bountiful Harvest All Season Long

basil

Sweet basil is a culinary herb that’s at the heart of Italian cuisine, and it’s also the base of most varieties of pesto. There may be a discrepancy in how to pronounce it (“bay-sil” or “bah-sil”) but there’s no denying it’s delicious aroma. Although sweet basil may be the most famous of its kind, there are many different cultivars. 

Whichever variety you choose to grow, basil plants will keep on giving. Unlike a crop of beets and radishes which end after the harvest, basil will continue to produce for months if they are treated well. Best of all, once you get the hang of it, basil is easy to grow. 

How to Grow a Healthy Basil Crop 

Basil plants prefer warm weather although they can tolerate higher heat. They require well-drained but moist soil. Choose the area to plant them accordingly, whether you pick a spot in a garden or in a windowsill gardening bin. The area should be able to get full access to open sunlight.  

Wait for warm weather before planting the basil seeds. Trying to jumpstart these plants will just be a waste of seeds. If you want to get the gardening started early, use a grow light and a heat mat to grow them indoors to ensure the soil temperature is warm enough before you transport the seedlings into the outdoor garden.  

Water the basil plants regularly and deeply, and dress with compost or aged manure.  

Basil plants vary in height but most grow to about one or two foot tall. [1] 

How to Harvest Basil 

These guidelines are applicable to indoor-grown basil, but they won’t need to be trimmed as often since they usually won’t grow as quickly as outside in a sunny garden.  

The best part of harvesting basil is that you can harvest leaves whenever you need to cook with them. Ensure this happens often to prevent the plant from flowering. Pruning the leaves regularly will allow the plant to generate more leaves that you can enjoy all summer long. 

If you do see flower heads forming, pinch them off to prevent the plant from putting energy into producing seeds, instead of producing more leaves. 

Prune the basil by using scissors to snip off the upper leaf clusters close to the set of leaves below it. If you don’t have scissors, just pinch the basil off with your fingers. New growth will sprout from the point of the cut, continuing to grow basil throughout the season.  

Prune at least once a week or every two weeks. If your plant is healthy, it will produce a lot of leaves and stems, so stock up on basil recipes, like Italian dishes or the pesto recipes below. [2] 

Saving Basil Seeds 

If you had a successful harvest, save some seeds to plant for next year. Here’s how: Designate one basil plant as your seed producer. Avoid pruning it and allow it flower until those flower heads turn into seeds. Allow the seeds to brown while they are on the plant.  

If the rainy weather threatens the seeds, clip them, and bring them indoors to dry out. Pull the dry seed pods from the stem and remove the small black seeds from the pods. Seal the fully dried seeds in a paper envelope and store in a cool, dry environment until the warm weather arrives next year. [3] 

Read: Use This Guide To Know When Fruit and Vegetables Are In Season To Save Money

The Different Varieties of Basil 

There are numerous kinds of basil to plant depending on your taste preferences. Here are a few to choose from: 

Sweet Basil 

Sweet basil is the go-to variant. If a recipe calls for just ‘basil,’ it’s referring to this kind. The dark green leaves have a sweet but slightly spicy taste. 

Thai Basil 

Thai basil has a bold spicy flavor reminiscent of licorice. The leaves are small and narrow alongside pretty purple blossoms. Thai basil does well in high-temperature cooking, such as in stir-fries. 

Holy Basil 

Holy basil got its name for being a sacred plant in Hinduism. It’s in many Thai dishes like pad kra pao. It’s bitter when raw, so ensure you cook it to enjoy it in recipes. 

Lemon Basil 

This version of basil is sweet with a strong lemony scent. It goes well with grilled veggies or fish and chicken recipes. 

Purple Basil  

Purple basil leaves are purple in color, as so named, with large leaves. They have a strong clove aroma with less sweetness than other varieties. It’s best used in salad, pesto, or other recipes with fresh basil since the leaves turn an unappetizing black shade when heated. [4] 

Read: How to Prune Tomatoes for a Successful Harvest

Cooking with Basil 

Basil is very versatile and works well in salads, wraps, sandwiches, pasta, and soups. The most popular way to enjoy it is in pesto. So check out this 5-Minute Classic Pesto Recipe or try out this recipe below if you prefer to swap the usual pine nuts with cashews. 

Basil Cashew Pesto  

INGREDIENTS 

  • ½ cup cashews 
  • 2 cups packed with fresh basil leaves 
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • Juice of ½ lemon (store-bought lemon juice works in a pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (more to taste) 
  • A generous pinch of pepper 
  • ¼ cup water (you can add more for a thinner consistency) 

INSTRUCTIONS 

  1. Pre-soak the cashew nuts in a bowl of warm water for 3-4 hours and strain the water through a sieve. 
  1. Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender. Process into a thick mixture, adding a little more water if the consistency is too thick. Taste the mixture for salt and lemon, and add more to taste. 

NOTES 

Store this creamy cashew pesto in an airtight jar or container for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. 

Keep Reading: Gardening Experts Say You Should Always Plant Flowers in Your Vegetable Patch

[1] “Growing Basil.” The Editors.  The Farmer’s Almanac

[2] “Does Basil Grow Back After a Year?” Nat Howard. SFGate. August 26, 2019 

[3] “Growing and Harvesting Basil So it Produces All Season Long.” Kris Bordessa. Attainable Sustainable. October 19, 2019 

[4] “Your Guide to All the Different Types of Basil.” Lindsay D. Mattison. Taste of Home. June 8, 2020 

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