How to grow basil, one of my favourite herb crops in the organic garden. If handled well, its a massively productive plant for a small space that crops over long periods of time in your organic garden, especially if you live in a warmer climate. These are my how to grow basil tips after working with basil every year for the last 15 years, at our food gardens in South East QLD.
It is also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb“. …Basil is native to India, and has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. I tend to grow sweet basil and lemon basil, but mostly sweet basil. Its in the picture above on the left and curry bush, another of my favourites with the greyish leaves, is on the right.
Growing conditions – soil and climate
Since you are growing basil primarily for leaf, they need reasonably fertile soil and plenty of moisture. Its ideal to have the bed well composted before planting. If your soil is low in fertility and quite sandy, you will find the plant will not leaf much and will go to seed quickly. Basil likes warmer conditions and in our sub tropical climate, sweet basil can grow well for about 9 months of the year. Quite amazing really. It really seems to thrive in the warmer times and slows down a lot in our cooler months. So in a temperate climate, mid spring through to early autumn would be ideal. Its frost sensitive.
Planting and growing
Use a level bed and at 80cm wide, you will get 2 plants across and 3 rows of 2 plants per 1 m2, thus 6 plants to m2. The plant grows like a bush and it will get to full size within about 6-7 weeks if happy. Keep it well watered and its ideal that you plant in full sun. Plant well developed seedlings as these will set faster and check the source of the seedlings. To keep the soil fertile, add organic liquid fertiliser, we use biodynamic soil preparations. You do not need to stake the plants, they are very robust as they grow. Tomatoes like to grow near basil so if you are planting staked tomatoes, put basil in between them.
How to harvest and eat basil
With growing basil for the leaf, you can harvest daily once it reached a reasonable size. Its best to have a number of plants on the go so you can harvest a small amount from each and don’t deplete one plant too much. The plants will then keep growing for an extended time. I have harvested for up to six months from some plants. We can harvest at least 20 bunches of leaves from each plant, so that is 20 meals of pesto and by growing 6 plants to m2, that is 120 meals to the m2, not bad for a small space. In the photo above I am harvesting seeds in our home garden with the children in my wife, Vicki’s child care service. We cut off the seed stalks during the hot season when plants want to seed. Removing the seed heads extends the leafing period and the seeds can be dried and turned into a very healthy tea or ground and used as a powdered seasoning.
Home made pesto with our basil, organically grown almonds (can’t grow them in our climate but we can use macadamias when our trees starting thriving again), garlic (from our garden) and olive oil (doesn’t grow around here), all eaten with pasta and completed with salad from our garden. Its a meal we can rely on for 6-9 months of the year.
Enjoy your pesto and basil tea and hope you now feel like you now know how to grow basil, well at least give it a go.
Authored by Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au