Kitchen Garden – Basil

>> Saturday, April 23, 2011

Basil is one of the most popular herbs grown today and there are a lot of varieties divided into four main groups- sweet green, dwarf green, purple-leaved, and scented leaf. It’s best grown in raised beds or in containers. Either way it needs good drainage.

Like most herbs, basil needs six to eight hours of sun, which is commonly considered to be ‘full sun’. They are easy to start from seed, beginning around the average last frost date – here around the Salt Lake area of Utah (zones 5 and 6) that would be about mid-May. Or, many people prefer to buy basil as small plants from garden centers priced anywhere from $.99 to $2.49. Either way, they can be grown right through August.

 To get the plants full and lush, pinch the ornamental flowers off before they open to force the plant’s energy into making leaves.

I prefer to allow some of my basil to flower, just for the ornamental value – they won’t be good for cooking purposes after they do – but they still get pinched once or twice in order to get them to ‘bush’ out a bit.
purple basil

For cooking purposes, leaves have the best flavor just as the flower buds begin to form. Regular harvesting will keep the plants producing new shoots. At some point in time, basil plants will wear out and need to be replanted. Consider growing a regular succession of transplants that will take the place of old plants and continue your basil harvest without too much interruption.

Basil is also a good companion plant for several vegetables as well: asparagus, beans, beets, cabbage, chili and bell peppers, eggplant, oregano, potatoes and tomatoes.

Tomatoes, planted alongside basil are said to taste better, although I must say that my own personal taste tests have not shown this to be true. But they do look good together. One expert did suggest that the only benefit of planting basil and tomatoes together was the ability to harvest them at the same time. Try it for yourself and late me know what you think.

If you want an easy to grow ornamental or you want an easy to grow herb for cooking, this is the plant for you.


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