We get asked for tips on how to grow basil more than any other herb. Basil proves to be a tricky one for many, but with a few simple tips you can learn to grow your own bountiful plants that will provide you with luscious leaves all season long. See below for tips on starting basil from seed or tending to seedlings you've purchased or grown yourself.
Basil grows easily from seed. Here are a few things to keep in mind. Basil seeds need warmth to germinate, ideally around 21C. This can easily be achieved on a sunny window sill inside the house or with bottom heat in an outdoor cold-frame or greenhouse. On Sounthern Vancouver Island where our farm is located, we wait until mid-April or May before starting basil seeds.
Once germinated, encourage strong seedlings by giving them adequate sun and even moisture. Do not over water, basil seedlings are susceptible to ‘damping off’. For more tips on starting herbs from seed please see our other post 'Starting from seed'.
If you decide to purchase your seedlings already started for you, be sure to purchase only organic plant starts, which are raised to be adaptable to the home garden. Plants produced in commercial greenhouses are continuously fed chemical fertilizers (sometimes they are even sprayed! Yuck!). To tell you the truth, we couldn’t even keep a basil plant bought from a grocery store or commercial garden centre alive.
Growing conditions in the commercial greenhouses are kept ‘ideal’ for growth, with consistent temperature controls, lighting, moisture and humidity. Plants raised in these conditions lack adaptability to the natural fluctuations found in the garden or home cold frame setting. Basil seems to be especially sensitive this way. So if you have purchased non-organic basil plants and had them keel over on you with in weeks of taking them home, do not fret, and please try again: this time with organic starts, which can often be found at your local farmers market.
Basil is needier than many other herbs, but its needs are simple, and if you put the time in, the rewards are worth it. Basil needs a sheltered spot in full sun, adequate moisture, fertile soil and a bit of food now and then. The greenhouse is the idea spot for your basil plants, just make sure you water them frequently to prevent them from flowering prematurely. To help produce a bountiful crop of leaves, we like to fertilize our basil plants once every week or two for the first couple months with a mixture of liquid kelp concentrate and fish emulsion.
Did you know...just like so many of your favourite culinary herbs, adding basil to foods can enhance your health and wellbeing! Basil is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It is also known to enhance circulatory and respiratory function, and by helping to stabilize blood sugar, basil can reduce cravings for sweets.