Basil is one of the most popular and easiest to grow herbs and should be a staple in most gardens. Basil can be used fresh in salads, dried as a spice, or made into pesto and frozen to use later. Since basil is a very aromatic plant, it is said to repel insect pests, including mosquitos. It is also said to repel deer… but if a deer is hungry enough, it will eat anything.
Basil is a sun loving, warm season plant that does not like it cold. Wait to plant this outside once daytime temperatures are consistently in the 70s, and nighttime lows don’t dip below 50. If there is a late season frost once your basil is planted, you will need to protect it.
There are many varieties of basil, and there are differences in the size of the plant, the size of the leaves, the fragrance of the plant, and how pretty the plant is. Depending on how you plan on using basil in the garden, you can find a variety that meets your needs. In my garden, I grow basil to make pesto to be frozen and eaten throughout the year. The bigger the leaves are, the less work it is for me to make pesto… so I choose a variety with large leaves.
Some varieties of basil grow as tall as 3-4 feet tall, and it is recommended to plant them 24 inches apart. In my garden, I eat the basil and harvest it several times each summer, so it never gets that tall. I put my basil plants 6-12 inches apart, and they do fine. One of the hazards of putting the plants so close together is a lack of air flow around the plant, and the potential for mold, mildew, wilt or leaf spots. When watering, try to just water the soil without getting water on the leaves. If you notice any humidity related problems, thin the leaves out to improve air flow around the plants.
Once we get in to summer, the plant will begin to flower. If you are using basil to eat, you should pinch off the flowers as soon as you spot them, otherwise it will change the flavor of the leaves. At this point I will chop the plant down and harvest the leaves. When harvesting the entire plant, leave two sets of leaves remaining on the stalk, and the plant will grow back. I will harvest basil 3-4 times per season, chopping most of the plant, then it re-grows. Basil will keep growing until the first frost in the fall.
To make room for the basil in the WBTW garden, we will harvest the kale and remove the plant. Kale is the last of our winter plants, and it is nearing its end. Just like cabbage and collard greens, it will start to flower and go to seed if left in the garden too long into the spring. Also, kale attracts bugs, and soon will become food to scores of caterpillars. It is time to pick the rest of the kale and eat it before the bugs do.
Chop all the leaves off the kale and dig the roots out of the soil. If left behind, the roots and stem will attract pests and become a breeding ground for garden disease.