Growing Basil – Sweet Basil, Ocimum Basilicum
Growing Basil, Sweet
Sweet basil is a fragrantly aromatic herb. Used in small quantities its leaves add flavour to salads, veal, curries, and Italian dishes. It is a half-hardy annual and so has to be raised every year: three or four plants should be sufficient for your annual needs. Unlike many, basil repays care in cultivation.
Sow two or three seeds in a small box or a half pot, or single seeds in small pots, in March, and repeat successionally. Raise the seedlings on an indoor window sill, or in a greenhouse, at a temperature above 13°C (56°F). Prick out the seedlings from boxes or half pots and pot them up individually; then harden them off, under a cloche or frame, before planting them out in June (do not transplant earlier than this because the seedlings will be killed by the slightest frost). They should be spaced about 250 mm (10 in) apart.Theshould be prepared with organic material such as compost thoroughly dug in, and the site should be sunny.
Alternatively, pot on into larger pots containing John Innes No 2 or 3 or Levington compost. Keep the soil or compost watered in dry weather. Pinch out the flower spikes of your growing basil, as they appear as this will induce bushier growth.
Harvest the leaves as required. They may be preserved by drying, freezing, or keeping in jars of olive oil. For this last method, which preserves the flavour best, clean and dry fresh leaves, put them in the jar, sprinkling salt over the layers as you go, and finally cover the contents with olive oil. Seal the jar.
Varieties: In Britain only the type plant is normally sold for culinary use, but some firms supply a purple-leaved form for ornamental purposes which also has the typical flavour.
Soil: Good, well drained, enriched with compost
Sow: March onwards, successionally, indoors in pots
Harvest: As required; preserve for winter use