How to grow basil
Basil is an aromatic plant which is part of the mint family that can be grown all year round. A plant native to tropical Asia but believed to have originated from India, the leaves are used as a culinary herb, particularly in Mediterranean dishes.
One reason for Basil being a much favoured herb in many national dishes is its versatility to be grown in a greenhouse, conservatory or on a windowsill. As long as there is a sunny but sheltered position, with no frost and a free-draining soil rich with nutrients, basil can be grown anywhere by anyone.
To grow a small personal crop of basil for your kitchen couldn’t be simpler and can be done indoors or out. The process for each is virtually the same and can even be combined, starting the growing process in a container indoors, then being moved to a sunny position outdoors once the weather permits it. Read on for our brief guide how to grow basil in your home or garden.
When to grow basil
Between March and April is the right time to start growing basil. Sow basil seeds initially indoors in pots of compost. Add a layer of vermiculite to the top and water. This will provide excellent insulation as well as water retention which is essential for providing perfect conditions for germination.
Planting & growing basil
The best time to plant your basil is in June. Place around 5 seeds in 5-7cm diameter plant pots on a moist potting compost, ensuring the pots have sufficient drainage holes at the bottom. Lightly cover the seeds with a dusting of compost, this can be done using a flour sieve for consistency, then place in a warm spot.
A piece of cling film can be used to cover the pot, secured with an elastic band, in order to create a microclimate to encourage quicker germination. Once the seedlings appear the cling film will need to be pulled back to allow fresh air flow for a couple of days before being completely removed.
Stand the pot in a shallow dish of water to provide moisture for the seedlings without damaging them, ensuring the compost at the top of the pot is sufficiently moist but not wet. After around 2 weeks all seedlings should have emerged, then after around 3 weeks the smaller, weaker seedlings should be removed leaving the 3 strongest plants in the pot.
The final stages of growth
Once each of the stems has grown more than five ‘true’ leaves they can be transferred to a larger plant pot, or if preferred to an outdoor pot, for the final stages of growing. If continuing the process indoors the pot will need to be at least 10cm in diameter and placed back on a sunny windowsill or on a greenhouse bench.
If transferring to outdoors it will require a warm, sunny position, sheltered from harsh winds and after all risk of frost has passed. Each seed will need to be gently removed and placed in a 1cm diameter hole roughly 10cm apart. The soil will need to be packed gently back around the base of the basil and watered well. They can then be left to grow, checking moisture levels regularly.
Harvesting your basil plants
Once the basil has grown to around 10cm tall with plenty of fresh green leaves it is ready to harvest. This can be done by pinching or cutting the leaves off as required. Basil will regrow leaves and continue to produce them for a couple of months after first harvesting, therefore it is best to avoid chopping whole stems from the plant as it can weaken the plant and prevent further growth.
As growing basil is more difficult to grow in the winter months due to poor light conditions, you can dry some of the leaves grown in the summer harvest to use later on. In order to do this, cut the base of the stems, tie them in a bunch and hang them upside down in a dark, warm place until they are dry. Afterwards they can simply be crumbled into an airtight jar. Alternatively you can place a handful of leaves in small bag and store in the freezer.
So there you have it, the easiest way to grow your own basil and create delicious additional flavours to include in all of your favourite dishes!