By Nova Cox, Contributing Writer
Well, it is for me in North Texas. I know some folks around the country are still struggling through the snow, but I’m itching to dig in the dirt. This post is for the beginner gardener who wants to see something grow and have something to show for it. I’ll be talking about basil.
Oh, sweet basil, how I love thee…
So much that I named my pound puppy dog after the herb! So, why should you consider planting it? Number one, it is pretty easy to grow. As long as it has enough sun (4-6 hours), gets enough water, and you pinch back the leaves steadily, you will have bounty. It smells wonderful and it tastes like fresh summer.
There are many varieties of basil, but the most common is sweet basil.
However, you don’t have to limit your garden selection to just this one. While I would really encourage you to keep two to three plants of sweet basil (if you decide you love it, too), thai basil is delicious and wonderful to add to curry dishes, and purple ruffles basil is beautiful in color and smells like licorice. Again, there are many variations of the herb, but these are more common and fairly easy to deal with.
Basil is a member of the mint family.
It has a particularly sweet smell, sometimes spicy and sometimes citrusy. It is also recommended for digestive complaints. Try it in a cup of tea after dinner and let me know what you think.
Fresh is best, but it can be dried or frozen, too.
For fresh basil, handle it gently as it bruises easily. Pinch off the stem right above the T, where smaller leaves are growing. If you do this, it will force new shoots from these smaller leaves, and you are helping to create a bushier plant rather than a tall and skinny basil plant. Bushy is good! It produces amply and will keep your plate full of caprese salad (if you don’t know what that is, please Google immediately and make sure you eat copious amounts of it when tomatoes are in season this summer.)
Get planting, already already.
Unless it is still snowing or freezing where you live…then you need to wait until the threat of freeze has past. Basil is a wee tender babe to establish. Once the weather permits, though, you can either throw some seed out (I did last summer and had 4 plants grow successfully without much care AND in direct Texas summer sun. Ouch), or get thyself to a nursery (besides who doesn’t love walking aimlessly around a nursery in spring time) and buy a few plants. They should really cost no more than $2.50 per and that is on the high end.
Follow through, at least at the beginning, is required.
Once established, they aren’t super fussy plants. Just make sure they have adequate water, like stick your finger in the dirt and if it is bone dry, give that plant some sustenance. Put some mulch around the base of the plant to help keep weeds away. Once the plant gets going, pinch back regularly…not down to the root, but a few T’s from the base should suffice.
Unless you are trying to harvest seeds, which you should at the end of the season, make sure you pinch off any flowers that start to come up. These are beautiful in a little vase on your kitchen window seal or can be eaten with delight in a salad.
Last but not least, get yourself a wide mouth mason jar, sea salt, some garlic and olive oil to go with your basil.
This is a great pesto starter, without any nuts. It can be made in a large quantity and will keep in the refrigerator for a while. While I give no solid expiration date, so please don’t quote me, I feel pretty confident that your nose will tell you if your basil has gone bad. Basically, do the following, but feel free to tweak according to how much garlic or salt your family cares for. • Get a lot of basil…like 4-5 cups full (washed and dried).
• Peel 8-10 heads of garlic.
• You will need a good bottle of olive oil.
• Mince the basil and the garlic, if you have fancy equipment use that instead of your hand.
• Put the mixture into your clean and dry mason jar with about a teaspoon of sea salt.
• Add enough of the oil to cover the mixture a smidge.
Use this in your salad, to marinate meat, on your caprese salad, in your rice as it is cooking, or in anything you have ever thought deserves this deliciousness. Seriously, this condiment will make you a believer out of basil…sweet basil.