Sow seeds 1cm (½”) deep in sterilized seed starting mix. Basil is prone to damping off, so once seeds sprout, make sure they are adequately ventilated, and kept under very bright light. Thin to 20-25cm (8-10″) apart. Using bottom heat speeds germination.
Use any rich, loose, well drained soil. Once plants are 15cm (6″) tall, pinch out the growing tips to encourage really bushy growth prior to harvest. Watch for signs of flower buds forming in mid-summer, and pinch these off to promote more foliage.
Frequent harvesting will prolong the life of the plant. Basil leaves have the best flavour just before the plant flowers, and if you plan to preserve some of your basil or make a big batch of pesto, this is the best time to harvest. Flowering can be delayed by pinching or clipping off new flower buds.
Tear basil rather than chop with a knife because chopping tends to bruise the leaves. Add basil to food just before serving so as to get the full aroma and effect. Cooking for any length tends to make the minty side of basil come to the forefront.
Basil is best fresh, but can be preserved by drying or by freezing. To freeze, tear the leaves into small pieces and freeze small batches of them, with water, in ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes can be saved in zip-lock type bags and labeled for later use. This will preserve the fresh flavour of basil for up to four months.
Usual seed life: 3 years.
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