Basil is a herb that is native to India and tropical Asia, but grows well in the warmer months of cooler climates or all year around in warmer climates. Used in a wide range of foods, mostly Italian and Asian, it is one of the easiest herbs to grow even from seed.
Basil loves to be grown in pots or in well drained humus rich soil. It loves to have rich organic matter such as rotted manures and compost blended with the soil, as the more nutrients and food you give it the bigger the leaves will grow.
For a quick result purchase a punnet of 8 seedlings, these are usually six to eight weeks old and are ready for picking within about 4 weeks. Plant them in a large pot (~750mm) or plant two to a 250mm pot. Ensure they get plenty of water and a mixture of seaweed and fish emulsion every two weeks. Start picking the leaves when obvious new growth is occurring.
TIP: if you use fish emulsion on the leaves, make sure you wash them before using them in the kitchen!
Basil seed looks a lot like fine charcoal. To grow from seed, 4/5 fill a 250mm pot with quality potting mix and top off with a seed raising mix. The best way to get the correct depth is to take a couple of handfuls of soil out of the pot and set aside, firm down the mix then spread the seed evenly from the packet over the pot and cover with the removed soil. Firm it down, then water.
In cooler climates germination may take up to 10 days, but warmer climates expect to see seedlings within 7 days. When the seedlings grow their second leaves, you will need to separate them into individual pots two to three seedlings fit nicely into a 250mm pot.
Pick your basil regularly! You will encourage new growth and better flavour. While saying that you must also continue to feed your basil to maintain the vigorous growth. 8 weeks after the plants mature you will notice that flower buds are forming, pinch these off as soon as you see them to increase the lifespan of your plant. Basil will try and seed as it matures but this is also increased when not enough water is applied.
If I get a good pot of plants that are very healthy and grow well I will let it go to seed to collect the seed and plant out again.
How to preserve Basil
Basil is a vigorous producer and you will need a method to store it. Drying basil works well but the dried product only remains good for a couple of months, then it begins to taste different and not unlike hay.
The best method to store basil if you can not keep a plant all year is to pick a batch of leaves, wash them under cool water then quickly blanch them in boiling water for a few seconds. Transfer from the boiling water directly into ice trays (1 or 2 leaves per cell) then fill with fresh cool water and freeze them.
When you need some basil, simply take a basil cube out of the freezer and throw it into your cooking. Alternatively you can defrost and chop to the required size.
It may be possible that you could blanch the basil and chop it prior to freezing.
If you are looking for a place to plant your basil, plant it beside your tomato plants. Basil and Tomato are great companions as the sweet aroma from the basil keeps pests away from your tomato!