A brush with Basil: an undercover growing guide

Is winter finally over? Can we, at long last, venture out into the garden and get on with sowing and growing all the things we need for spring and summer? Among the many tasks that need sorting out is prepping my herb bed for the year. The sage has gone a bit straggly and might need replacing; the marjoram has self seeded everywhere, apart from where I actually want it; cooking with my current thyme plant risks getting thick woody twigs stuck between my teeth; and I have the less hardy herbs such as coriander and chervil to sow.

But one herb that won’t be joining them in the herb bed is basil. While this most Meditteranean of herby flavours can just about grow outside, it really craves some sheltered warmth. A windowsill will do, but give it some space in your greenhouse or polytunnel and you’ll reap the benefits.

There are a few different varieties you can sow – from the common Sweet Basil to the purple leaved Dark Opal and the bushy Greek Basil. After a foray into purple territory last year (not as productive and with tougher leaves) I’ll be sticking with the familiar variety Sweet Genovese for this summer’s pickings.

I’ll sow my seeds in the constant warmth of the house before transferring the plants to the greenhouse when they have four or five sets of proper leaves. The plants will go straight into the ground, with their roots bedded into good few scoops of compost. Once established they’re easy to look after. Although they need a good drink, particularly undercover when it gets hot and dry, overwatering is more of a danger to their health than underwatering, so make sure the compost has a chance to dry out before rehydrating.

Frequent picking will help keep the plants producing more leaves and any buds that form will be swiftly pinched out. They’ll be growing alongside my tomatoes, so the greenhouse will have a summery fragrance to it whenever I wander inside, and the two items will be best served alongside each other, straight from picking with nothing more than a pinch of salt.

 

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