By MEREDITH KIRTON
The fragrance of basil has made it incredibly popular for many cuisines and sacrosanct in some cultures; Italians can hardly imagine a tomato without a leaf of sweet basil and Thai curries wouldn’t have the same freshness without a garnish of Thai basil. There are many different varieties such as lemon, purple, Holy or Sacred Basil, Aniseed Basil and bush basil, each with a unique aroma, but still the most popular is sweet basil, which has a lovely fresh green colour and is the ingredient used in pesto.
Basil is an annual herb, which means it needs to be replanted each year in springtime again. It is cold sensitive, and will blacken if the temperature drops too low. Best planted out in late September into well dug over, organic matter enriched soil with good drainiage. The seedlings will need protection from snails and slugs which also think this herb is delicious! Try using a shallow saucer of beer to attract (and kill) them.
Keep trimming off the flowers as they form, which will encourage bushiness and more foliage. Once they have reached maturity, your bush should be about 60cm tall. You can let it flower and seed at the end of April, as many baby basils will germinate themselves in your patch the following year.
If you love basil so much that you want to have it all year, there is an answer to your prayers. Perennial basil will over winter well, and although more pungent in flavour, it is still edible. The other alternative plant is actually in the mint family, but smells a bit like basil. Known as Basil Mint, it will grow in any moist spot easily, but can romp and take over a patch. If you’re worried about a basil mint invasion, grow it in pots.
This February has been very hot and humid in Sydney, so proper storage of seeds is especially important. Seeds need to be kept cool and dry. Before I realised how important this was, my germination rate was very low. Once I planted sugarsnap peas three times in one year, and only managed to grow a few small plants. After that lesson, I now keep my seeds in the fridge, in a Tupperware container. One useful addition to the container is a small envelope of desiccant, such as dried milk, which helps the seeds keep dry. I make my own seed packets out of paper and glue, and on them I write the name of the plant, date of collection and the place that they were collected from. Taking these simple steps keeps my seeds happy and healthy, so the effort involved feels worthwhile.
Photography by SUE STUBBS | Blog designed by RED PEPPER GRAPHICS