Basil – surely one of the best known herbs in the world, and with good reason! It’s tasty, it’s attractive and it’s dead easy to grow. With over 100 different species to choose from, Basil is never faulty! So, let’s get growing!
The most common type of basil grown in the home patch is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), so let’s focus on that one. Bear in mind that most basil species enjoy similar growing conditions, so these handy hints will apply pretty much across the board!
Warm Areas: September
Temperate Areas: September
Cool to Cold Areas: October (once frost risk has passed)
Position, Position, Position!
Like me, Basil doesn’t really like the cold, which is good news for people in warm and temperate areas, but can lead to a bit of strife in colder regions. Sweet basil is what we learned horticulturists refer to as a “summer growing annual” meaning that, in theory, basil will die back once the cold hits every year. But, for those of us lucky enough to live in frost free tropical areas, a well tended basil plant can kick on for years!
So, where to position your basil plant(s) in your Yummy Yard? My hot tip would be somewhere… well… hot! Basil loves full sun, but in really warm areas, they don’t mind part shade. In the cooler climes, ensure your basil has at least four hours of sun each day.
Sweet Basil loves a beaut, rich soil, full of organic matter, but not chook poo! Try enriching your soil with chook poo free compost… your basil will thank you for it! The more fertile your soil is, the better flavour and performance your basil will have. And, as with all our Yummy Yardies, mulch with pea straw or similar.
What I am about to say flies in the face of normal, sustainable horticultural practice, but, like me, basil needs food, and lots of it! Sweet basil is what we call a gross feeder (a bit like some of my work colleagues) and will eat anything it is given. Liquid seaweed, worm wee or liquid manure is the best, and this should be applied fairly frequently through the growing season, for fragrant, healthy, tasty basil. And remember, the more you pick, the more you need to feed!
What about the Water?
Let’s talk watering, ‘cos basil likes it fairly damp. Now, before you go nuts on the end of the hose, use your soil moisture sensor! What do you mean you don’t have one? Your pointer finger is the greatest soil moisture sensor in the world… and most of us have two of those. Stick your chosen finger in the soil, and remove. Is it damp, and is there dirt stuck to your finger? If yes, it doesn’t need a water. If no, read on! Water in the morning, to avoid water on the foliage as the temperature cools down. Never ever ever water your basil with greywater!
Are We There Yet?
There is no set time to eat basil… essentially any time you feel like it is great. And remember, the more you eat, the better the plant will be, especially if you give it a feed after using.
Pests and the Rest
Now here’s my red hot tip for growing basil – pick often! Oft picked basil will not go leggy and doesn’t set seed too early, leaving you loving your basil for longer. Oh, and the pretty purple/white flowers should be removed to… if you want luscious leaves and fragrant flowers for longer.
Eat me! – (BLT) Basil Loves Tomato
Basil and Tomato Salad
This is the ultimate basil and tomato salad.
Thinly slice freshly picked home grown tomatoes and lay them on a serving plate. Thinly slice a red onion and scatter on top of tomatoes. Season by shaking salt and ground black pepper on top.
Pick your home grown basil, stems and all.
Pick the larger leaves off the stems and set side.
Place the smaller leaves and the stems into a saucepan with ½ Cup balsamic vinegar, ½ Cup olive oil and 1 Tb brown sugar.
Bring this salad dressing to boil, then simmer gently until it is reduced by half.
Strain the dressing to remove the basil leaves and stems.
Drizzle dressing over the salad, then garnish with the larger basil leaves you set aside.
Adding bocconcini or other favourite soft cheese on top.
Placing the salad on crusty bread and pouring the dressing on top for a different type of bruschetta.
Basil pic © Elaine Shallue (SGA)