Growing something from a seed is hugely satisfying and well worth the weeks of tender love and care that you have to provide. If you’re new to the notion of growing things from scratch (much like myself), then basil is a great plant to start with as it’s fairly hardy when grown in the right conditions.
In the UK it is generally better to grow basil indoors, although this depends on which part of the country you live in and the type of basil you’re planning on cultivating. Up here in the rainy North West of England we get some sun over the summer months and a fair amount of rain; basil isn’t keen on being over watered, so I’ll be keeping mine indoors indefinitely.
What you’ll need
- A sunny window ledge
- Enriched compost
- Small plastic pots
- Basil seeds (Ocimum basilicum or ‘Sweet Green’ is a cooking favourite)
Step 1 – sow seeds
Sprinkle seeds on top of the surface of compost, then cover with a light dusting of vermiculite – this retains moisture, helps to insulate, and prevents the seedlings from becoming mouldy. Germination takes 14-21 days, with sunshine speeding up the process considerably. Late spring or early summer is good time to start the whole process.
Step 2 – water regularly (but lightly)
Water the seeds well as seedlings begin to emerge, but don’t over water. I tended to opt for a ‘sprinkling’ method at this stage, until the shoots developed more. If the plants begin to wilt, water more, but never allow the soil to become soggy.
Step 3 – repot and repot again
I repotted my basil plants a couple of times as they reached maximum growth. As a general marker, if the roots are starting to appear at the bottom of the pot in the draining holes, then the basil needs a bigger home. If the plant becomes crowded, survival becomes difficult as all the different shoots compete for water and light.
It’s also worth remembering that any repotting should be done with enriched compost, and should be followed by a good feed (standard water soluble feed is fine). At this point, the plant will have literally sucked the soil dry that it was initially planted in, and will likely be in need of more nutrients.
Continuing care and things to look out for
Basil doesn’t like too much water – a small watering about once a week will probably suffice. The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy. Basil also hates having wet roots overnight (don’t we all?), so watering is always best done in the morning or middle of the day. When it comes to watering, it’s a tricky balance to strike – too much water can cause mildew in the stems and leaves, whereas too little encourages flowering, which reduces leaf production.
It’s important to pull off leaves regularly, in order to encourage regrowth and, of course, to make your food as delicious as possible.