Basil, Basil, Basil!

Page 7 Basil April 2018
New sweet bail planted in April 2018

During one holiday party at my family’s house, a lady brought a wonderful spinach salad with a intriguing unique flavor. When we asked her what she put in the salad, she said, “Basil.”

It was wonderful. From then on, our family always included fresh basil leaves in our spinach salads. We love to add mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, a squirt of lemon, 4-5 large basil leaves julienned and plenty of cracked black pepper for an easy lunch or evening meal.

That new habit of adding basil to our salads soon became expensive. Each plastic container of 10-15 leaves cost about $4. One day while checking out, the lady at the register was surprised at the quantity of herbs we were buying (rosemary and thyme are two other favorites). She looked up at us and said, “You know you can grow these at home, right?” Our family, renowned for their black thumbs, blankly looked at each other. Even if a person could grow them at home, that did not mean that we could.

But it turns out that you have to work hard to not be able to grow basil. In fact, at $4 a container, the goal is to plant it early enough in the spring to be able to harvest the amount I want to use (which a lot!). My frugal dad would always be proud of the seedlings his $1.99 pack of sweet basil seed produced by May. Unfortunately, though, I might have already sunk $20 – $30 feeding my spinach and basil habit at the grocery store, all the while, remembering what the wise lady at the checkout counter said, “You know you can grow these at home, right?”

This spring, I almost waited too long again. It was early May before I purchased a $10 pot, $5 potting soil, and three basil plants ($4 each) for a total cost of $27. In the past three months, though, I have harvested enough bunches to make dozens and dozens

Sweet basil after three months and multiple harvests (July 2018)

spinach salads. And still the plants are showing signs of overrunning the pot. If you have a favorite pesto recipe you would recommend, please let me know!

The reason this writer with a black thumb can grow basil so successfully is because it is native to tropical climates, and so, thrives in our hot humid Texas summers. I water it every day that it does not rain and added some Miracle-Gro sticks near the base of each plant. I doubt they are necessary but I wanted the leaves to grow as full and robust as possible.

Sweet basil, or Genovese basil, is the most common variety of the culinary herb in the mint family. It has a “highly aromatic leaves that have a pleasant spicy scent and taste somewhat like anise or cloves.” When I run my palm across the top of the of the leaves, the scent sticks to my palm and I am able to enjoy a quick sniff. When I harvest a dozen or so leaves for dinner, the scent fills up the kitchen.

Believe me, if you want to start your very own herb garden, sweet basil is a good place to start. If you have more tips or suggestions for growing basil, please feel free to let us know! Until next week, happy gardening to us all!

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