Growing Sweet Basil

Latest Update 22nd July 2016.

Sweet Basil
  • Sweet Basil is easy to grow as an annual and provides my tomatoes with protection against insect pests.  As a culinary herb I use it to flavour tomatoes, but I like it most in Pesto.
  • Similar to most herbs it is very rich in minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre.
  • Grown from Australian organic seeds its usually pest free in my garden.
  • The leaves are at their tastiest harvested before the plants starts to flower.
  • I store surplus basil in small bottles dried and ground to a course powder, but to preserve its flavour best, it can be pureed with water and frozen for later use in soups and casseroles.
Details.
  • Variety:                                                        Sweet basil
  • Family:                                                         Lamiaceae. (Mint).
  • Garden bed type:                                           Garden Ecobed.
  • Recommended soil pH:                                  5.5 - 6.5.
  • Minimum sun per day:                                   3 hours.
  • Weeks to harvest:                                         10-12 weeks.
  • Plant size:                                                    Up to 600 x 600mm.
  • Plant spacings (centres):                               500mm.
  • Good companions:                                        Tomatoes, capsicum, apricots and parsley.
  • Climate:                                                       Warm temperate.
  • Geographic hemisphere:                                Southern. 
Nutrition
  • This food is low in saturated fat, and very low in sodium and cholesterol. 
  • It is a good source of protein, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), riboflavin and niacin, and a very good source of dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese
  • More from nutrition data.self.com.
Growing Conditions.
  • Basil needs full sun, although broad leaf varieties will tolerate semi shade.
  • It is frost tender, but even in warmer climates it is usually grown as an annual.
  • It prefers well-drained soil, and grows best if the soil is kept moist.
Soil Preparation.
  • In September, remove organic litter and old mulch from the selected space in an Ecobed.  Add a 60mm layer of homemade compost and cover with 50mm of straw mulch.
  • Leave the bed for 4 weeks to build up worm and microbial activity.
Growing Instructions.
  • Sow basil seeds in August on the surface of an organic seed growing mix in a mini pot.
  • Soak the mini pot for an hour in a tray containing 10mm of water (preferably rainwater).  The water will move up into the soil without flooding it. 
  • Sink the mini pot up to its rim in a propagator.  This will keep the soil moist until the seedlings are ready to transplant.  Protect the seedlings from frost. 
  • After 4 weeks transplant the seedlings individually into organic potting mix in jiffy pots and returned them to the propagator.
  • After a further 4 weeks clear some spaces in the mulch in the selected bed and plant the seedlings, still in their jiffy pots, 500mm apart .
  • Cover the exposed soil with mulch once the sweet basil is established. 
  • Apply a foliar spray of aerated compost tea every 4 weeks when the other edible plants are sprayed.
Harvesting and Storage 
  • Sweet basil can be harvested from December till May.
  • Handle basil carefully to avoid bruising and blackening the leaves. Harvest a few leaves at a time when the plants are big enough.  Take a few from each plant to stimulate new leaf growth without stripping any plant bare.
  • Remove flowers unless you are seed saving.  The leaves lose their flavour as the plant diverts its energy and nutrients to developing flowers and seeds. 
  • You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches of leaves, but it retains its flavour best when frozen.
  • To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick pourable paste. 
  • Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labelled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto. 
  • Pesto  Pesto is a creamy mixture of basil puree, chopped garlic, grated cheese,roasted chopped pine nuts and olive oil.  Once made, it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator with a thin layer of olive oil on top.
Organic Pest Control.
    • Basil needs protection against slugs and snails, so use self adhesive copper tape around the base of the Ecobed to keep them out.
  • Greenhouse whitefly.  
    • Aerated compost tea improves the plants resistance to whitefly damage.
    • Exclusion netting is very effective against whitefly, but they are very small and will occasionally breach your defences, so you will need to check your crop regularly.  
    • Control any infestations by spraying your crop thoroughly with organic horticultural oil (Eco-oil in Australia).
    • Spray again in a few days to ensure second generation whitefly do not survive.
  • Aphids (greenfly). 
    • Use the same method described above for whitefly.
  • General.
    • Repeated foliar sprays of aerated compost tea should deter most airborne pests and diseases.
    • Proper soil preparation and regular applications of home made compost should control soil borne pests.