Aloha Hawaii Home & Garden Network,
Have you ever been interested in a creating a great dish that calls for fresh basil, as if it were plucked straight from a home garden? You think to yourself "delicious", I’ll add it to my list of other ingredients and pick some up at the market. You look around the produce department for fresh basil. No luck. OK, the dried basil in the glass containers will have to do. Such a letdown. If you can find basil, it will cost you about $3.00 for a couple of leaves. An alternative that’s easy, convenient, cheap and fun? Freshly picked basil from your own personal home garden. You’ll have fresh basil whenever you need it.
You can plant basil for your own home garden from seeds or use starters. I prefer to use the 2 to 3 inch starters from local home improvement stores or nurseries. I like starters because they are easy to get going and you can pick them up for under $3.00. I found the most common basil varieties of starters are lemon, Thai and Genovese. Seeds come in a wide selection of basil varietals. However, using seeds extends the process and growth time. Seeds usually begin to germinate 7 to 20 days after planting and leaves appear several weeks later.
Basil likes hot sunny weather so it can be grown all year in Hawaii. You can easily include basil in your backyard home garden or if your space is limited, it grows great in a container on your lanai home garden.
If you are going with containers, choose your planter. It can be as simple as a $5.00 terra cotta pot or as creative as an old water can. The size of the container depends on how much basil you would like to grow for your home garden. If your space is very limited, you can grow basil in a smaller container in your kitchen – if there is good sunlight. Your plants will need proper drainage, so make sure there are a couple of holes at the bottom of the container. I usually create three holes about a ½ inch in diameter. Again, it depends on the size of the container. If your container is indoors, make sure you have a plate under the container to collect excess water.
If I am using starters in a container for the home garden, I place some inexpensive potting soil on the bottom of the container and gently remove the basil from its original container. Protect the fragile roots of the plant with your palm as you transfer it to its new container. I usually use more than one starter per container, so repeat the process and fill in the remainder of the container with planting soil.
For a backyard home garden, dig a 3-inch-deep hole and gently place the starter into the ground protecting the roots. Water the plants and make sure there is enough sun exposure. Also, make sure the basil plant is easy to access, as you will be harvesting and trimming on a regular basis.
Seeds can be used for both a container home garden and backyard gardens. With either, sprinkle the seeds about ¼ inch in the dirt and gently cover with dirt or potting soil. Follow planting and care information found on the packaging.
Start from the top when harvesting. Cut the stem right above the next set of leaves exposing another set of leaves.
Basil requires a good bit of sun and consistent watering. I rely on my mauka afternoon rain to keep my plants moist and healthy in my backyard home garden. If you don’t get a lot of rain, water enough to keep the soil moist to the touch. That could be every couple of days. And definitely water if the leaves begin to wilt.
You can begin to harvest when there are enough layers or sets of leaves to maintain the plant, typically three sets. To harvest leaves, start with the top set of leaves and cut at the stem right above the set of leaves located below. You should always see leaves, not stems, on the top of your plant. Keep the leaves pinched back so the plant becomes thick and keeps producing new and tasty leaves. Cut back any flowering buds to maintain a healthy productive plant. The harvested leaves will quickly wilt if the stems are not placed in water. In water, they stay fresh and smell great for days.
I find basil in containers don’t get bothered too much by critters. If you include basil in your backyard home garden and you are getting bugs, consider using neem oil instead of harsh pesticides. The oil is extracted from the neem tree and is organic and safe for you and your plants. It can be found in numerous products and in most home improvement stores and nurseries. For more information on neem oil, check out http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html.
Finally, besides smelling incredible and adding a distinct flavor to various recipes, basil provides quite a few health benefits. Basil is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic (pain reliever) and can improve your immune system. And besides, putting dried basil on a fresh caprese salad is just wrong and could probably get you banned from Italy.