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Basil Fresh Herbs

Basil Growing Guide

The key ingredient in pesto, ensalada caprese and tomato sauce, or a garnish to anything and everything, basil is my favorite herb. It must be fresh, possibly frozen, but never that culinary abomination, dried. Fortunately for chefs and gardeners, it is easy to grow anywhere you can find at least a half day or more of sunlight.

Basil in Container

Planting, Feeding and Watering Tips

Basil is easy to grow in pots or in garden beds as long as it is placed in a sheltered area where it can remain slightly moist. Wind and extremely hot, dry conditions will damage the plants. 

You can get a head start on the growing season by purchasing transplants as opposed to planting seeds. When planting, amending your soil or potting mix with Bumper Crop or Garden-Tone helps to ensure balanced nutrition. Basil is not a “heavy feeder”, but fertilizing once every 4-6 weeks will improve it’s growth. Water often enough to keep the soil feeling moist, but not wet.

When the fall arrives, you can further extend your growing season by bringing your basil plants or cuttings indoors when temperatures begin falling below 50 degrees. Basil can be grown indoors in a very sunny window. It will not be as vigorous or productive, but some fresh basil is better than none.

Maximizing Your Harvest 

Extending Your Harvest

Basil is an annual plant. It’s mission is to sprout, grow, flower and produce seeds as quickly as possible, which has to be accomplished during warm weather while temperatures remain above 50 degrees. As gardeners, we want to keep this from happening for as long as possible. After the plant flowers, the leaves become less aromatic, and it develops a bitter flavor. By delaying the flowering, you can extend the time of harvest and increase yield of tender, tasty leaves from your basil. 

Removing (pinching) the growing tips encourages the basil to branch out and produce more leaves. For the same reason, we remove (deadhead) the flowers to encourage the leaves to keep growing and prevent the plant from completing its growth and blooming cycle. Frequent pinching of the new growth is also a good source of fresh basil to use in the kitchen.

Basil Pesto For Freezing

Storing Your Harvest

If you harvest more basil than you can use, there are a variety of ways you can store it for future use. My favorite way to harvest and store basil is to turn it into pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. This way I can easily adjust the serving size. Because I don’t like the texture of frozen cheese, I add this later, at the time of use. (3 cups basil leaves, ¾ cup olive oil, ¾ cup walnuts, 3-4 cloves garlic)

Basil Spoilers

Basil Downy Mildew (BDM) is the most troublesome disease of basil. It was discovered in 2007 in the United States after accidentally being introduced from Africa. The spores can be transported with contaminated seeds or soil and are dispersed by the wind. It infects plants during warm, humid, wet weather and the spores can persist in the soil for several years. It can be treated with fungicides, but that is not generally a good option considering you want to use your harvest for cooking. Sweet basil, the most popular variety of basil, is particularly susceptible to this disease.

Disease Resistant Basil Varieties

Fortunately for all of us, beginning in 2018 BDM resistant varieties of basil were introduced and are gradually making their way into local garden centers. I grew ‘Amazel’ last year (and again this year) and it lives up to its’ name. ‘Amazel’ is prolific and disease resistant. The flavor is more pungent and leaves are not as tender as other sweet basil, but it is excellent when used in sauces or for pesto.

Japanese Beetle

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles and slugs also like basil. Covering the plants with a row cover or micromesh in July while beetles are active is an easy and effective way to manage this problem and Sluggo is an organic, people and pet friendly way to manage slugs.

Mint Basil Lemonade Blog

Basil and Mint Infused Lemonade

By Lyndsey Bridgers, Marketing Director

The summer sun has us daydreaming of ice cold drinks and relaxing in the shade with family and friends. One of our favorite refreshers this time of year is a chilled glass of lemonade. You can whip up a nice infused simple syrup to give your lemonade a little more flavor. And it’s a great way to use some of your garden-grown herbs!

Basil Fresh Herbs

To begin, select your herbs (typically about a cup total if you’re using greens, such as basil, cilantro, mint or rosemary) and combine them with a cup of sugar and a cup of water into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then, turn off the stove and let the herbs steep as the mixture cools, about 30 minutes. Once it’s cool, discard the herbs.

Mint Basil Lemonade Blog

Meanwhile, juice your lemons. I used a citrus press, but you can also squeeze them by hand, cut-side up to prevent the seeds from dropping into your cup. Add your lemon juice and water to the simple syrup and stir to combine. If you have the time, refrigerate your lemonade so it stays nice and cool once you add it to your iced glasses!  

Mint Basil Lemonade Blog

Herb Infused Lemonade Recipe

Ingredients (makes four servings)

  • 2 cups of fresh lemon juice (from about 12 – 15 lemons)
  • 2 cups of water
  • Herbed simple syrup

Herbed simple syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • ½ cup fresh basil, washed and stems removed
  • ½ cup fresh mint, washed and stems removed

Place your sugar, water, fresh basil and mint into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Let simmer for ten minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the simple syrup cool while the herbs steep. Once it’s cool, remove the herbs and pour the simple syrup into your serving pitcher.  

Juice your lemons and add the juice to the simple syrup. Mix in your water and add ice or set the lemonade in the refrigerator to chill as the flavors combine.

Serve in a chilled glass with lemons, basil and mint and enjoy!

Watermelon Gin Cocktail Blog

Watermelon Cucumber Gin Cocktail

By Lyndsey Bridgers, Marketing Director

There is nothing as delicious as perfectly sweet, chilled watermelon on a hot summer day. This thirst-quenching fruit always accompanies a delicious spread of grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and casseroles at my family’s Fourth of July cookout. To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, we’re whipping up one of our favorite cocktails using sweet watermelon and garden-grown cucumbers and basil.

I started by juicing my watermelon. I used a citrus press (mostly because I already had it out for making lemonade), but you can also use a blender and then strain it with a mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a jar. Afterwards, prepare your glass by running a lime wedge around the rim and rolling it in kosher salt. Set the glass aside.

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, add your lime juice, elderflower liqueur, cucumber and basil and muddle using a muddler or a wooden spoon. Then, pour in your watermelon juice, gin/vodka and ice and shake vigorously.

Add ice to your glass and strain in your cocktail and top with a lime wedge, cucumbers and sprig of basil. And enjoy!

Watermelon Cucumber Gin Cocktail Recipe

Ingredients (for two cocktails)

  • 1 ounce of lime juice (from two limes), with one wedge reserved  
  • 2 ounces of elderflower liqueur
  • 2 ounces of gin (or vodka)  
  • 6 ounces of watermelon juice (about three cups of cubed watermelon)
  • 6 slices of cucumber
  • 6 basil leaves, plus two small sprigs for garnish
  • Kosher salt

Run a lime wedge over the rim of the glasses, then roll the rims in the kosher salt and set aside.

Add the cubed watermelon to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the mix through a fine strainer or cheesecloth draped over a glass to separate the juice from the fiber of the fruit

Watermelon Gin Cocktail Blog

Add the basil leaves, 4 slices of cucumber, lime juice and elderflower liqueur to a cocktail shaker and muddle. Next, add your watermelon juice, gin and ice and shake until cold. Fill your cocktail glasses with ice, then strain the cocktail into the glasses. Garnish with sliced cucumbers and the basil sprigs and enjoy!

Looking for more garden fresh drinks for summer parties? Try out our herb infused lemonade!

Rosemary, Orgegano and Basil, Herbs

Easy to Grow Herbs

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Herbs are a great way to take the plunge into growing your own edibles. They have a wide variety of uses, are easy to grow and fit very well even in small gardens! By establishing a herb garden on your patio, windowsill, or balcony you can reap the benefits of its fresh flavors and aromas all summer long.

Whether you are growing herbs indoors or out, it’s best to place them in a location where they will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

The following are some of the easiest types of herbs to grow:

Basil

A fast-growing herb, basil is a favorite among gardeners of all levels. Known for its rich peppery flavor and fresh aroma, it makes a great addition to pizza, pasta, salads and sauces. Basil does not need quite as much sun as other herbs and likes to be kept moist. When growing basil, be sure to prune the flowering tops to allow new leaf growth.

Chives

In addition to great flavor, chives have beautiful blooms. The leaves give a light spring onion flavor. This is probably the easiest herb to grow! To harvest it, simply cut at the base of the plant, one to two inches above the soil,  as if trimming grass and bring your fresh cut chives right to the kitchen. Do not cut more than a third of the plant off at a time to allow healthy regrowth.

Mint

Mint gives off a strong aroma and flavor that can be used in appetizers, entrées, desserts and cocktails. Try adding it to homemade tzatziki or steeping to make tea. Mint is an aggressive spreader, so you will want to plant it separately from your other herbs in a pot or container. To harvest mint, cut the stems up to one inch from the ground or just pick the leaves as you need.

Rosemary

Delicious fresh and dried, rosemary brings wonderful flavor to your meat and poultry dishes all year long. This herb is drought tolerant and requires little maintenance, making it a great option for gardener’s who travel frequently or have a tendency to neglect their plants. There are many varieties of rosemary. Look for winter-hardy varieties such as Arp Rosemary, Trailing Rosemary and Salem Rosemary. When gathering rosemary, pick the new, fresh growth at the top of the plant, leaving the old stalk alone.

 Oregano

Oregano is a great choice if you love cooking Italian food. This herb’s flavor is strongest during the summer, and it is very to grow at home. You can harvest oregano leaves as you need them. The leaves have the best flavor flavor right before the flowers bloom in the summer.

Lavender

Lavender’s vibrant color and lovely scent will make your herb garden pop. This versatile herb can be used in baking, cooking, teas, candles and even in a variety of home remedies. It is very easy to grow, just plant it in well-drained soil and your lavender will flourish. When harvesting, treat it the same as rosemary, leaving the old stalk alone and cutting off newer growth.

Thyme

Thyme is great to use when cooking meats and vegetables. This low-maintenance herb thrives when you let it be and allow nature to take its course. Collect thyme leaves as you need them, although they will be packed with the most flavor in the summer just before the plants bloom.

Seven Tips for Growing Herbs

There’s nothing quite like the wonderful aromas and tastes of herbs you’ve grown at home. Whether you enjoy cooking with them, using them for their scent, or for other projects, herbs grown at home have a freshness and good taste you just can’t get from store bought. Thankfully, there are many options that are great for beginners.

If you are looking to grow herbs for the first time, this post will cover some of the key things you need to know.

Provide at Least 6 Hours of Sun

With the exception of basil, which likes a little shade, most herbs need at least 6 hours of sun per day. Choose a spot in your garden where they will get plenty of light.

Herb Container Garden Collection

Plant in Well-Draining Soil

If you are planting herbs in the ground, add VoleBloc or PermaTill to the soil to improve drainage and, if necessary, add lime to adjust the soil pH. If you’re planting them in container, use a potting mix that drains well. We recommend Merrifield Potting Mix, but there are plenty of other options to choose from.

Fertilize Lightly

Basil, once again, is the exception here. For all other herbs, fertilizing your plants once at the beginning of the growing season with an organic fertilizer, such as Plant Tone, is enough. It is best not to fertilize most herbs more than once. Basil, on the other hand, can be fertilized every 4-6 weeks.

Herb Garden

Plant Similar Herbs Together

When selecting locations for your plants, place those with similar light and water requirements together. For instance, rosemary, thyme and lavender all prefer to be kept slightly dry, while parsley, bail and Vietnamese coriander need consistent moisture.

Know Your Basil Varieties

One of the most popular herbs is basil, which comes in many different flavors, sizes, shapes and textures. Genovese sweet basil is the classic flavor for pesto and other Italian dishes. Thai basil is spicy. And lemon or lime basil add their own distinct flavor to your dishes. A popular, new variety is boxwood basil. It looks adorable – like a miniature boxwood – and its tiny leaves pack a strong scent. Pinch basil often throughout the year to remove flowers and keep the plants full.

Visit our basil growing guide for a full guide to growing this popular plant.

Separate Quick Spreading Herbs

Mint and its close relatives (lemon balm, horehound, catnip) should be planted in their own container(s). Mint is a hardy, perennial plant that can spread rapidly through the entire garden. You can prevent this from happening by planting it in a container.

Plant Your Cool Season Herbs at the Right Time

Cilantro, parsley, celery and dill all grow best when temperatures range between 50 and 70 degrees. When the temperature begins to warm up, these plants will start to bloom and will no longer produce flavorful leaves. This makes them a great choice for fall gardens, or to plant in the early spring.