There are many wonderful fragrances on an allotment garden, but the distinctive smell of basil is a match for any of them.
Basil is a real taste-of-summer crop, especially when used in Mediterranean style dishes with tomatoes, garlic, and cheese. And the good news is that now is a perfect time to sow yourself some.
Fill a pot (a 13cm diameter one is fine) with multi-purpose compost, and scatter about a dozen of the little seeds on the surface. Use more compost to cover the seeds with a thin layer, and then water.
If you’re sowing in a warm greenhouse, leave the pot in a sunny spot but if you’re going to try on a windowsill, place a clear plastic bag or cling film over the pot rim and secure with an elastic band. This creates a mini-greenhouse and keeps all the moisture on the surface of the compost.
When the seedlings are big enough to handle, remove the plastic (if using) and start picking out the weaker ones. Although basil plants like drier soil, keep the compost moist at this stage.
If the glorious smell hadn’t tempted you already, the leaves are harvestable once the plants reach about 10cm high. Pick the leaves from the side where you can, and if you plan on using loads of basil grow a few plants so that you can give each one some recovery time and hopefully extend lifespan.
Harvest shoot tips on a frequent basis to boost branching and slow down flowering.
Use the leaves straight away and try not to cook them for too long. I tend to stir mine into a dish near the end if I can or use the leaves as a garnish.
Basil can be planted outside during the summer months, but make sure you pick somewhere sunny. I like to plant out a couple in the greenhouse as this can prolong the harvesting season of the herb well into late Autumn.
Cover All the Bases!
I find covering all bases is the best tactic for growing basil. I normally plant one outdoors, a couple in the greenhouse, and then a mid-summer sowing in pots to bring inside for the windowsill.
A potted basil plant for kitchen windowsills makes a lovely gift too, especially once the recipient sucks up the gorgeous scent.
There are lots of interesting basil varieties to try, often with their own unique colour and leaf shape. This year I am trying Finissimo, from Real Seeds, which was kindly sent to me by blog reader Darren. Finissimo is known for small leaves, but big flavour, and having just made my first harvest I can absolutely concur with that!
Other good ones to try are the British Basil, bred to be more tolerant of colder weather or the reliable Sweet Green. If you’re after something with an ornamental look too, Red Rubin is a rich, purple variety which looks very striking in a flower bed.