Fresh basil is a wonderfully sweet, and aromatic herb. If you have ever had the opportunity to taste a few freshly picked leaves straight from the mother plant then you will understand why it is one of the most popular of all the culinary herbs.
Luckily, given the right conditions basil is easy to grow from seed, but because basil needs a reasonably high, and stable temperature to initiate germination it is one of the latest edible crops to be sown and therefore tends to be forgotten. With that in mind, it is always best to sow basil seed indoors - irrespective of whether it will end up being planted up outside or not.
Sowing basil seed indoors
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Once the seedlings have emerged through the compost keep them in a light position but out of direct sunlight. After the second set of ‘true’ leaves have fully formed, transplant each seedling into 3 inch pots allowing no more than four plants per pot. After a couple of weeks - when the young plants have had time to establish - they can be gradually made accustom to outside conditions if that is to be their final position. Harden them off for a couple of weeks or so before planting outside, but only do so one the threat of frost is over. Choose a sunny, sheltered site for best results allowing 12 inches between each group of plants. The young tender leaves can be harvest any time, so long as the plant is big and strong enough, any time from May until September.
Sowing basil seeds outdoors
The benefit to growing basil seed directly outside is that you do not suffer delays in growth when basil grown under protection and in a commercial compost mix are planted outside into soil. It takes time of the roots to adapt to the new environment and this delay is known as root shock.
Of course, by choosing to wait until later on in the year to sow your seed your basil crop will have a shorter growing season.
To begin with, you will need to prepare an area of free draining soil, that receives as much sunlight as possible. Then make sure that it is free of weeds.
With regards to heavy soils, you can improve the drainage by creating a raised bed and add plenty of horticultural grit. Do not add organic composts or fertilisers as this can encourage your basil to bolt and as a consequence, loose flavour.
Sow the seed lightly on the surface then gently agitate the soil surface in order to give the seeds a light covering. Water gently but thoroughly using a watering can with a rose or a hose with a soft, shower attachment. Water regularly but only once the soil surface has dried, and do not allow the seeds to become waterlogged.
Your basil seedlings should emerge within a couple of weeks, at which point you will need to keep an eye out for slugs. Thin out the seedlings where necessary and begin harvesting when the plants reach a height of about 3-4 inches.
As the plants continue to grow, remove any flower buds as they arise as this will signal a change in the flavour of basil, making the leaves bitter and even unpalatable for some people. Flowering will also cause a significant reduction in the growth of new foliage, reducing the amount which can be used for cooking.
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SWEET BASIL - Ocimum basilicum