I need to talk about herbs a bit because I love them, so join me in a little celebration of fragrance and flavor if you like.

The first would have to be basil, L’herb royale. I just repotted some seedlings the other day, and it was a moment from heaven. You can grow basil easily from seed, indoors or out, but don’t transplant it out until after last frost. Basil is a heat-lover and a sun-lover. As with all herbs, it has one foot in the wild, and takes almost nothing in the way of soil fertility or pampering. Plant it, grow it, eat it. It bids defiance to drought, disease , or pests. (Hoorah!)

The only variety I grow for food is Italian Large Leaf. Red basils are nice for flower bouquets, or for coloring vinegar (but don’t have much flavor), and spicy bush basil is just…well, cute. Tidy and decorative. But for cooking and pesto, Italian large leaf is the only one, in my book. In Tennessee, the plants grew to well over five feet, almost six, but up North expect 2-3-foot plants, set in 8-12 inches apart.

 Start harvesting the moment the leaves are sizeable, it won’t hurt the plant, and use them in anything with tomatoes, in pesto, or Asian cooking.

 Bride used to make a pesto that sold at the farmers’ market in Tennessee at $8 for an 8-oz jar, and we never came home with a single jar. The recipe?

            She combined in our Cuisinart the following:

2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed, chopping them up first, then added

            ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

            ½ cup walnuts (NOT pine nuts; walnuts we found have more flavor and are less expensive)

            2-3 garlic cloves, depending on size.

            Then add ½ cup extra virgin olive oil or more, to form a thick sauce.

            No salt or pepper.

            Mix all this and pour into 8 oz. canning jars.

No need to refrigerate; the olive oil floats to the top and prevents any spoilage.

 When winter approaches, pick all your basil leaves and store them in the freezer, packed in olive oil in zip-lock bags, for pesto all winter.

 With a nice nod to bride, and yourselves. You deserve it.


About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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1 Response to Basil

  1. curiositycat says:

    One year we planted a bunch of basil in full sun, because that’s what the packet said to do. A couple got tucked in by the kids and several ended up in the middle of the tipis that would support the tomatoes. The tomatoes did great, growing enormous and completely covering the tipis. The basil wilted and languished in the sun. Very disappointing.

    Then one day, I reached to the center of a tipi to pick a gorgeous tomato ripening in the shadows in there, and came out with a handful of basil. Weird. Poked my head in there, and there stood a huge, bushy basil plant, completely surrounded and shaded by tomato plants. Several other tipis had them too–best basil plants I’ve ever seen. Now I always let the kids plant at least some seeds exactly where they want them, regardless of what the seed packet says to do.

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