How to Grow and Use Fresh Basil
I'm Italian so I always have fresh basil on hand in the kitchen. During the winter I have to pay a prime price for each bunch of fresh basil which annoys me and limits my use of my favorite herb. We are now approaching the summer growing season, though, so I've planted several large pots of it to enjoy in the coming months. I can't wait to see it happily growing in my back yard!
Here are my suggestions for growing basil in your backyard and using it throughout the summer:
1) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Basil likes to grow in a full sun (or mostly-sun) areas in well-drained soil. I keep mine in the area of the yard that gets almost full sun throughout the day. It is also worth noting that basil likes warm temperatures so you shouldn't plant seeds (or transplant your seedlings) outside until daily temps are in the 60s and 70s in your area. In New Jersey, that time is usually mid-May.
2) WATER REGULARLY: Basil enjoys regular watering but it doesn't want to be flooded. Make sure that your containers have holes punched in the bottom and the soil is a bit sandy to ensure good drainage. I keep my pots of basil outside during the summer so I rely on Mother Nature to do the watering when she can and I fill in for her when necessary. Basil is also pretty forgiving and will bounce back from serious wilting after a generous watering which is good for me because, as I mentioned earlier, I keep mine in full sun areas and they cango from okay to dried out in just a couple of hours on a 100 degree day.
3) PICK LEAVES REGULARLY: The key to keeping your basil productive throughout the summer is to pick the leaves regularly. If you just allow the plants to grow, grow, grow, they will get pretty tall and then put most of their energy into producing flowers which prevents them from creating more of their yummy leaves. During the summer, I go out with a sandwich-sized ziploc bag at least twice a week to pick leaves off of my basil. This encourages the plants to grow more leaves and prevents flowering.
4) REFRIGERATE OR FREEZE LEAVES: After picking your basil leaves, you need to either refrigerate or freeze them. I always keep a big bag of fresh leaves in the fridge during the growing season. When I have more than even I can imagine using, though, I rinse them, thoroughly dry them, and then freeze them in ziploc bags to use during the winter. Basil is one of a very few herbs that you can freeze without having to blanch it. Frozen basil isn't something that you'll want to put on a margherita pizza or use as a garnish but it tastes perfectly fine when you can mix it up into things.
5) USE YOUR BASIL IN: The only limit is your imagination. Some of the things I use basil in include:
--tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwiches
Basil has a lovely sweet flavor that you could probably also use in desserts, simple syrups, and even a drink like a mojito with basil used instead of mint.
I'm a huge fan of basil which is why I grow loads of it each summer. I use up as much of the fresh stuff as I can while it is fresh, but you can also easily freeze basil and use it in things like sauces and meatballs where you don't use the whole frozen leaves which aren't so pretty. If you like basil, try growing it in a pot this summer. It is very easy to grow and will reward you with lots of yummy leaves.
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