Growing herbs, especially basil, in your square foot garden is a great way to have a vegetable garden right outside your back door. Herbs mixed with fresh vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, leeks, and beets is easy to do with Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening method.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Mel’s book, All New Square Foot Gardening, you shouldn’t delay. In it, you will find a great deal of information about growing basil. In addition to learning how to grow basil, you will find helpful information on growing other herbs such as coriander, mint, and oregano. There are many varieties to choose from.
Basil, particularly ‘Sweet Genovese’, is the best for Italian pesto. But be sure to experiment with basil flavors like cinnamon, licorice, and lemon which are also good in many dishes. Six “Sweet Genovese” plants will produce enough leaves to make pesto all summer long without you being overwhelmed. Of course, any variety of this wonderful herb is easy to freeze if the need arises.
Another variety to try, especially if you like Asian cuisine, is ‘Siam Queen’. A spicy Thai basil, with an intense flavor and fragrance of its own, makes it an excellent choice. Another great choice is ‘Holy Basil’, which was introduced to Europe in the 16th century as a culinary and medicinal herb. You will want to experiment and have fun growing all the different varieties of basil in your garden.
Many varieties of basil seeds are available at garden centers starting in February. Even more varieties, like the ones mentioned above, can be found online at seed companies. Some companies, such as Pinetree Seeds, cater to square foot gardeners by offering fewer seeds per pack.
Growing and caring for basil
There are two ways to grow basil. The first way is to start sowing within 4-6 weeks before the date of the last spring frost, or choose to start sowing well outside after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.
The second way to grow basil is by purchasing transplants (ready-to-plant plants) from your local garden center. They are usually sold in 4-inch pots.
A good rule of thumb for when to plant is that if you need a sweater outside, it’s too cold for basil. To give your plants the best chance to bloom, plant them outside after all chances of frost are gone and it’s nice and warm.
One of the benefits of square foot gardening is that you can put plastic over your raised bed to warm the soil. If you are surprised by a cold snap after the frost-free date, as we did a few years ago, simply place a glass bell or greenhouse ring over your bed to protect yourself.
When planting basil in your square foot garden, it’s a good idea to plant it alongside your tomatoes to help them grow stronger and tastier. Plant one basil per square foot if you don’t plan to harvest very often. Plant two per square foot if you plan to harvest often to use fresh, dried (less desirable), or frozen.
During the growing season, pinch off flower buds to save plants energy for leaf growth. Pinch the stems just above the leaf nodes where new stems will sprout. If you have two basil plants planted per square foot, focus on harvesting the side stems to prevent them from becoming too crowded.
Harvest the basil anytime and use only the leaves for cooking. The stems can be placed in the compost pile.
You’ll quickly see that growing herbs, especially basil, is easy to do using Mel’s method of square foot gardening. It has been a proven system for more than 25 years around the world. Create your own vegetable garden on your deck or anywhere near your home for easy access and making herb growing a lot easier.
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