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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.

Herb Container Garden Collection

Creating Herb Gardens with Containers

Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant Specialist

There is value in seeing new possibilities when something you cherish dies. In this case, I recently had to remove a very old, large oak just off my deck. Where shade was present before, now there is sun. When the oak tree stood, my herb garden was in what I call my “South 40,” some distance from my kitchen, but the removal of this old tree has given me the opportunity to try moving it to a new location.

Now, in place of the tree, I have a large group of pots containing the herbs I love most and a lot of others I enjoy for their fragrance or use in cooking. They are within easy reach of my kitchen, which is ideal. I planted a cascading Japanese maple in a very large clay pot, and placed it on top of the 2 foot tall stump, thus creating a new staging area in the garden. On the shadier side of the tree stump, I’ve completed my new garden space with a large collection of annuals that are favorites of the birds and butterflies.

This type of herb garden is also something that can be achieved in small spaces. Even a sunny balcony can support a few of your favorite herbs.

Life in the garden is a learning curve and over time I have experimented with many things as I try to find the absolute best way to grow herbs. This time I am using four different potting soils for evaluation. Merrifield, Pro-mix, Espona and Foxfarms. So far they are doing equally well! After I place a piece of landscape fabric over the drainage hole, I incorporate a handful of organic Plantone, and a half handful of Greensand, Rock phosphate, and Gypsum into the soil mix. This has been working well for me, but may not be necessary for all gardeners.  Herbs don’t need too much fertilizer so I will observe to determine whether they need more during the growing season. I always hold the potting mix 2” from the top and cover with 1⁄2” small gravel (⅜” River Jacks) or Pea Gravel will work. This deters squirrels from digging and keep the soil in the pot when watering.

Herb Container Garden Collection

I choose large pots, most in excess of 16” because watering is easier. Small pots require closer monitoring. Water deeply so that the entire root ball is saturated and then again when soil begins to dry. Find that happy medium between too wet and too dry, and maintain with the proper amount of fertilizer. 

Plant the plants you love and will use frequently to cook with. I was born in the deep south where too many things were fried. Herbs came to my rescue and I learned to savor the various flavors they gave to a dish. Yes, fried chicken is a must now and then, but I rarely fry anything now. Salmon grilled with thyme and fresh dill is a party in your mouth!

Several herbs can be planted together in one large pot or the pot can be devoted to just one. I will have fresh young plants waiting in the wings for parsley, dill, and basil as they will not last the full season. I grow several varieties of Basil (sweet, thai, columnar and african), sage, thyme, oregano, chives, rosemary, lavender, and tarragon.

Container Garden with Herbs

Nasturtiums and marigolds provide color, are edible and beautiful garnish.

I did include cherry tomato and a habanero pepper plant. I hope the deer don’t harvest those! Herbs repel somewhat, are not tasty to deer, and cannot be sprayed with Bobbex, a natural spray that saves my other tasty (to deer) plants.

And so, where there is disappointment in a major loss of a big tree, I am now enjoying a particularly attractive and useful garden right under my nose. Yes, there is much fragrance and sensory delight! Harvest frequently and enjoy the organic, chemical free, delightfully tasty and diverse flavors of the garden!

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!