Thursday, 23 May 2013

HOW TO GROW BASIL




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Basil is a great culinary herb as it is really versatile.  It has a strong, clove like flavour that is perfect with tomato and pastas dishes or fresh in salads.  Used profusely in Italian dishes it is no wonder it is one of our most popular herbs.

Basil is an annual plant and so is very easy to grow from seed.  It requires  a consistent and high temperature to initiate germination.  Basil is easy to sow from seed indoors on a windowsill or in a greenhouse in March or April, ready to be planted out in early June.  You can sow the seeds direct into the bed during late May and early June. Alternatively sow basil seed anytime if growing inside in pots in a light warm position.

Fill a pot or a seed tray with damp John Innes ‘seed and potting compost’. Thinly sow your basil seeds over the surface.  Gently cover with compost and water.  Move to a light warm position such as a windowsill. 
You can speed up the germination period by covering your pot with glass or placing in a propagator.  This will ensure that moisture and humidity levels are maintained at a constant. Ensure you permanently remove any coverings as soon as your basil seedlings have germinated or they will be prone to fungal infection.
Your basil seeds should germinate between 7-14 days depending on variety and species.   Water your pot but do not allow the compost to dry out, or over water .  A light watering twice a day should be about right. When the seedlings have emerged move to a light position out of direct sunlight. You can transplant each seedling into a 9 cm when the second set of ‘true’ leaves have fully formed. Plant 3 seedlings in each pot.

If planting outside, ensure that you fully harden off your plants for several weeks. Plant basil outside after the risk of frosts have passed, usually the end of May.  Select a well drained, sunny spot.  Cultivate the soil and incorporate a general purpose fertiliser.  Space the plants 30 cm apart.
Pinch out the growing tips regularly to produce a bushy plant.  Harvest the leaves regularly as this will prolong the life of the plant.  Remove any flower buds as they arise as they make the leaves taste bitter and reduce the grow of new foliage.
Harvest the leaves during the summer.  Any extra leaves can be made into pesto or chopped up and frozen in ice cube trays.

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