Basil Feature

Self Herb: How to Cultivate Your Own Basil at Home

How many times did I buy a pot of basil for my kitchen at the farmers market, rather than just getting a few bunches – hoping I could harvest my little plant whenever I need basil for cooking (sustainability!!…plus it looks so nice and chefy to have a basil plant on your window sill <3). That was the plan every single time. It must be possible that the plants can survive my care a little longer than just two weeks!? But it did not work once and I was buying a new basil pot every time the old one died.

This story reached a turning point though, when I finally learned about the cause of the problem: the purchased plants where not designed to last! A, they are sold in a way too tiny pot, and B, their fertilizer lasts just until they leave the market. No surprise that the basil plants cannot survive that way at home!

In this blog post I will list a few easy steps how to cultivate and even propagate the purchased basil plant on your window sill or balcony. You really do not need to waste your time and money on buying a new plant over and over again – plus you can even reduce your waste at the same time. One single plant is enough to endlessly harvest basil leaves with the following simple tricks:

Location

  • bright: at least half-shaded, the sunnier the better (at home e.g. south facing window)
  • protected (avoid air draft and direct rain) and warm (no temperatures below 12 °C/50 °F)
  • indoors: window sill (year-round), outdoors (during the warmer months): balcony / window sill or plant bed
  • settling in a newly purchased plant at home: first half-shade, then move it to a sunny location after a few days
  • bring your outdoor basil inside before the first freeze (in September or when it is permanently below 10 °C/50 °F)
  • basil gets along well with parsley, chives, tomato and cucumber plants
  • basil does not get along well with marjoram, thyme, melissa, and dill

Cultivation

  • extremely easy 🙂
  • keep the soil moist and do not let it dry completely (water regularly)
  • basil doesn’t like to be watered over its leaves; therefore water at its base
  • avoid waterlogging; use a container with holes on the bottom so the remaining water can drain off
  • fertilize from time to time, every 4-5 weeks (with organic fertilizer, e.g. compost or coffee grounds)
  • basil plants will die shortly after they bloom; therefore always cut back the top of the sprouts as soon as flower heads start to appear (see harvest); this will also make the plant bushier and lusher

separating the basil

Repotting

As mentioned above, most basil plants are sold in a pot that is way too small for them to keep growing. Therefore, it is essential to repot them after they have moved into your home:

1Place a newspaper underneath your workspace. :)

“2”Carefully remove the entire herb from the pot.

“3”Cautiously separate the individual plants from each other. It is easier when you gradually remove the soil from the roots. Try not to damage the plants and roots – you might need to have a little patience here.

“4”Plant the separated plants in a bigger pot or individually in different pots, so you can also experiment with different locations. Leave gaps of about 5 cm/2 in between each plant.

“5”Water the basil plants well (see cultivation).

Problems and Problem Solving

  • symptom: small, expanding, brown spots (fungal infection) on the leaves, so that they dry out and fall off
    reason 1: planted too close to each other
    solution 1: cut back affected stems and repot the plans with a larger distance
    reason 2: plants get to little light
    solution 2: search for a brighter location; cut back affected stems
    reason 3: too moist
    solution 3: water less; cut back affected stems
  • symptom: yellow leaves
    reason 1: sunburn
    solution 1: put plant into the half-shade for a few days to let it recover
    reason 2: water balance is not in order
    solution 2: dip it (if potted): put the pot into 5 cm/2 in deep water – remove when the surface of the soil is moist; water less when in a plant bed
  • symptom: mosaic-like stains on the leaves (infection due to greenflies)
    solution: destroy affected plant

Harvest

  • indoors: year-round
  • rather harvest stems instead of single leaves (except when you only need a few leaves of course)
  • cut the stem at approx. 1 cm/0.4 in above the lowest pair of leaves
  • new side shoots will sprout after 1-2 weeks; harvest the upper part of the stems at these new side shoots and so on
  • never harvest more than 2/3 of the entire plant
  • use basil freshly after the harvest or preserve

Propagation

Basil can be propagated by seeding or via cuttings.

basil scion

Propagation via cuttings can be done year-round and works as follows:

1Choose the cuttings: Top of a strong and healthy looking basil plant that is not floriferous yet; cuttings should be approx. 8-15 cm/3-6 in long.

“2”Cut: use clean and sharp scissors and cut directly above a pair of leaves.

“3”Remove the lower leaves of the cuttings.

“4”Put the scion in a small glass of water.

“5”Look for a half-shaded, warm location for the cuttings.

“6”Change the water daily.

“7”Fine roots will form after a few days already.

“8”When the roots are 4-5 cm/5 in (after about 10-14 days), plant scion into soil, so that the lower pair of leaves is just above the surface of the soil.

9Do not expose to too much direct sunlight, therefore keep in a half-shaded location for a bit.

Propagation via seeding works as follows:

  • outdoors: from April to June; indoors on the window sill: year-round
  • scatter the seeds onto loose soil with a distance of about 5 cm/2 in and press on slightly
  • do not cover the seeds with soil (they are light germinators)
  • spray with water regularly and keep the soil moist at all times; at the same time do not moisten too much to avoid rottenness
  • germinates best at 20-25 °C/70-75 °F
  • germination time: approx. 1-3 weeks

Collect the seeds of the basil plants:

1Choose one of your basil plants that you want to let flourish (the plant will die after the florification).

“2”Do not cut the flowers at the top of the plants and let them bloom.

“3”Wait until all flowers have withered, then harvest the stems (check if the seeds are ready by gently shaking a bud: they are ripe if tiny black grains fall out).

“4”Strip off the flowers and seeds over a container using your fingers.

“5”Sift out the leaves and flowers so that only the black seeds are left.

“6”Store the seeds in a dark and dry location.

 
Preserve your Basil

Basil can be dried or frozen.

To preserve as much of the flavor and vitamins as possible, harvest the basil in the morning and choose stems that are about to start developing blossoms.

For both methods you need to harvest full stems – only one pair of leaves should be left on the branch.

Dry:

1Cut the basil stems with scissors.

“2”Remove brown and damaged leaves.

“3”Rinse stems with running water.

“4”Pat dry gently with a kitchen towel and let air-dry for a bit.

“5”Tie the basil stems together at their ends (5 stems max.), e.g. with a cord.

“6”Hang up the bunch(es) upside down in a warm, dry, and airy location.

“7”Herb will turn dark green while drying.

“8”Drying time: about 2-3 weeks (they are dry when they rustle at a touch and you can brake the stem easily).

9Strip off the leaves from the stem with your fingers and rub the leaves into small pieces with your hands.

“10”Store in a closable, dry container in a dark location.

Freeze:

1Cut the basil stems with scissors.

“2”Remove brown and damaged leaves.

“3”Rinse stems with running water.

“4”Pick the leaves from the stems.

“5”Optional: blanch (preserves the flavor and prevents the leaves from becoming squashy):

  • prepare a bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes
  • bring some water to a boil in a small pot
  • use a strainer or skimmer to plunge the leaves into the boiled water for 5-10 seconds, then put them directly into the ice water

“6”Gently pat the (chilled) leaves dry with a kitchen towel and let them air-dry for 10-15 minutes.

“7”Spread the leaves on a plate and put them into the freezer for 1-1,5 h to flash-freeze.

“8”Fill the completely frozen leaves loosely into a freezer container, close and store in the freezer.

Use within 6-12 months: just crumble the frozen leaves and use them for cooking.


Order your basil seeds online at Amazon

This post is also available in French and German. //
Ce post est également disponible en français. //
Diesen Post gibt’s auch auf Deutsch.

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