Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tips for Basil Cultivation

I have had some growing questions from Etsy customers about cultivating various plants from my Free Seeds with Purchase section.  So I will do my best to give you all the tips you need for growing successfully as needed, starting here with the Basils.  I have 4 types of Basil in my Etsy shop presently: Thai Basil (pictured above), Holy Basil (Rama & Vana varieties), and Genovese.  The directions apply to all the basils.  I am a Central Florida gardener so I planting times I will leave out, except to say that I am lucky enough to grow it year round here (I just cover the plants with a sheet when a freeze is coming).  If you live in a more temperate area, then wait until after the last frost to plant outside.  

The first step for growing basil is a rich soil and a large pot.  For seeds that I haven't grown before I like to start them in large plastic or glazed ceramic pots.  Orange clay pots are too drying for basil in general and other seedlings.  I fill the pots with homemade or store bought organic potting soil or top soil.  Fill the pots to the top with this soil.  The next step is optional, but sometimes I like to soak my seeds in water before planting; rain or well water is best.  If you want to soak your basil seed just a few hours is sufficient.  I sprinkle the basil seeds evenly over a container and then gently shake a handful of soil just barely covering the seed.  Put the pot in full or partial sun and keep watered daily.  You can put a catch pan of water underneath the pot to keep the soil moist.  When the plants start to come up you may want to thin them in case some of them come up right next to each other.  Next the plants will start getting tall and leafy.  When there are about six leaves I pinch off the top two leaves so they can bush out.  From this point on you will be in harvesting mode for a while.  If they over grow their pot you may have to divide them and put them into the ground or more pots.  Keep collecting the nice fresh big leaves and flowers to use.  You will want to keep the plants well watered during this time.  You can add small amounts of coffee grounds or composted manure at the edge of the pot during this time too (once or twice during the harvesting period).  The harvesting period can go on for months depending on your growing zone, and you can continue to pinch them back to encourage growth and bushiness.  It is very important that you keep picking off the flowers during the harvesting phase.  Once the flowers go to seed then the plant dies back.  Eventually though the plants will start to get more woody rather than tender stems, and the leaves will become smaller and smaller.  At this stage, I let the plants flower and go to seed.   Snip off the long stalk when the seed pods turn completely brown.  Rub the pods gently to get the seeds out.  Put the seeds in envelopes to save them with the date and store them in a dry place for next year.  

Good luck with your basil plants!
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