Today, we explore how to cultivate basil in pots, on a balcony garden, or in a traditional garden on open ground. Basil, scientifically known as Ocymum basilicum, is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the family Lamiaceae or Labiatae.
It is a beloved aromatic plant widely used in our country.
In this article, we will learn the correct techniques for sowing basil organically. We will also cover the suitable climate conditions this herb requires and the right time for planting (or transplanting). Additionally, we’ll explore suitable companion plants and the necessary care to ensure the plant grows healthily and luxuriantly.
As always, we strive to understand the best organic defense against pests and diseases, as all plants need a well-targeted strategy. Finally, we’ll discover how to preserve basil for culinary use even outside its growing season.
Origins, Spread, and Characteristics of the Basil Plant
The basil plant originates from Asia, particularly from India, where it is still extensively used. The Greeks were the first to introduce it to the Mediterranean. Its name derives from the Greek term basilikon (royal plant).
Basil spread widely in Italy, where it became a primary aromatic plant. It has indeed become one of the symbols of Mediterranean cuisine.
The plant structure features an erect and highly branched stem, which can reach up to 40 cm in height.
The leaves are oval, lanceolate, or broad, depending on the variety. They are fleshy, shiny green, and usually 2 to 6 cm long.
Basil blooms early, between June and September. The flowers, with 5 irregular petals, are small and numerous, gathered in clusters at the leaf axils. They are white or light pink and not particularly showy.
The seeds are tiny, black, and elongated in shape.
Main Varieties of Basil
Basil seeds can also be sown directly into the garden soil. For sowing basil this way, you should broadcast the seeds. After sowing, it’s necessary to thin out the seedlings, leaving one sprout every 8-10 cm.
Direct sowing in the soil has the drawback of the long germination time of the seeds. Due to this characteristic, seedlings may suffer competition from weeds.
To overcome this issue, we advise using one of the first two options initially. This way, you’ll have an intermediate support, such as the small pot or the polystyrene seed plug.
Planting Basil in Pots or in the Garden
Once young seedlings, whether in pots or seedbeds, have developed a complete set of leaves, you can plant the basil in its final position.
Suppose you are using a small pot. In that case, at the right moment, you’ll need to transplant it into a larger pot or into the garden soil.
For lush growth, basil cultivation requires loose and fairly deep soil. It also benefits from organic fertilization, such as using results from home composting.
When cultivating basil, we have several companion planting choices. This plant thrives alongside other species.
For pot cultivation, an interesting idea is to create herb pots, combining basil with other plants like parsley or celery.
Another companion planting, when growing basil in the garden, is with tomatoes. This combination benefits from some characteristics of this aromatic plant, which can protect tomatoes from pest attacks. Basil repels aphids. At the same time, it can be used as a trap plant for other problematic insects, such as the stink bug or the whitefly. In the latter cases, the insects will be more attracted to basil, giving you time to protect the tomatoes.
Cultivating basil requires adequate water supply. The soil should always be kept moist. It is preferable to water the plant during the cooler hours of the day.
However, be cautious about waterlogging. Water is essential, but in the right amounts!
For larger cultivations, consider using an automatic drip irrigation system.
Basil cultivation essentially requires two types of cultural care. The first is weeding, the removal of weeds. This operation can be significantly reduced by using natural mulch.
The other cultural care basil cultivation needs is periodic topping. Basil plants tend to flower quickly (noticeable when the tips start elongating). At this stage, it is advisable to perform topping to delay the final flowering, which leads to seed production.
Organic Defense Against Diseases and Pests
In recent years, basil cultivation has faced challenges due to a particular type of downy mildew, Peronospora belbharii or basil downy mildew. It is a disease similar to tomato downy mildew, causing rapid leaf withering in affected plants.
To defend against this pathogen without using chemically derived fungicides, we can implement a series of agronomic techniques. Avoid soil rot due to waterlogging, as it fosters the presence of the pathogen. Additionally, ensure adequate ventilation around the plant canopy, respecting proper planting distances and thinning periodically.
As organic remedies against basil downy mildew, you can use nettle macerate or a solution of water and baking soda.
Regarding insect pests, we already mentioned stink bugs and whiteflies. For both, you can take preventive action using natural macerates (nettle, garlic, fern, and tomato). In case of widespread infestation, you can intervene with a solution based on neem oil (available here) and pure Marseille soap (this soap is available here).
Another critter strongly attracted to basil, and one we’ve already mentioned, is the snail.
How to Store Basil
If you decide to cultivate basil, it’s essential to know how to preserve it after harvest. Usually, the leaves are harvested as needed to use them fresh as a primary seasoning, for example, in tomato salads.
When harvested fresh, basil can also be used to season sauces or to prepare the famous pesto alla genovese, which we’ll dedicate a special focus to.
However, sometimes you may need to harvest basil even when you don’t plan to consume it immediately. To address this, several methods are used to preserve basil.
The leaves are harvested and then washed and dried. Afterward, they should be placed for drying in a warm, shaded place.
Once the leaves are fully dried and crispy to the touch, they can be easily ground and stored in a glass jar.
Another method to preserve basil, making it available outside the growing season, is to freeze it in suitable bags.
This method is also useful for preserving freshly made pesto alla genovese.
To facilitate this process, you can distribute the basil in small plastic coffee cups or small glass jars.
Now that you know all the secrets of cultivating basil, we wish you, as always, successful organic cultivation.
- TandFOnline – “Chemical components and pharmacological benefits of Basil” – An exploration of the chemical components and pharmacological benefits of basil.
- ResearchGate – “Basil: A Brief Summary of Potential Health Benefits” – A brief summary of the potential health benefits of basil.
- ResearchGate – “BASIL: A biochemistry laboratory CURE with flexibility across learning modalities” – A study on a biochemistry laboratory course using basil as a subject.
- ScienceDirect – “Basil – an overview” – An overview of basil, including its agricultural and biological aspects.
- ResearchGate – “Basil: A natural source of antioxidants and neutraceuticals” – A study on basil as a natural source of antioxidants and nutraceuticals.
- ScienceDirect – “Basil – ScienceDirect” – A scientific article on basil, possibly related to its properties and uses.