Last year I tried to grow Italian basil with disastrous results. First off, I used some clay soil I dug up to my back yard. This was neither the most well-draining nor fertile choice! The basil survived but hardly thrived. This year, I vowed to do things right! That includes:
- Good soil. Basil loves well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
- Full sun. To thrive, basil needs the heat of summer, but appreciates a bit of afternoon shade around July & August when the summer sun is at its hottest.
- Harvest early & often. Harvest as soon as plants have several sets of leaves. Wherever you cut/pinch off, the basil will fork thus becoming more bushy & more productive. About once a month in the summer, do a big harvest and remove about 2/3 of the plant (leave a few sets of leaves at the bottom). The plants will come back bigger & badder than ever in just a few weeks!
- Pinch off flowers. I've read that basil is predetermined to flower after they get a certain number of leaf sets. If this is true, then harvesting often or doing one big harvest a month will help prolong the plant's life. If it's not true, just pinch off the flowers, preferably the node below where the flowers are.
- Freeze pesto.
- Wash, dry, & place into ziploc bags. Place these bags in the freezer.
- Chop up basil, mix with a little oil, and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.
- Chop up basil, mix with a little water and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.