Growing herbs, especially basil, in your square foot garden is an excellent way to have a kitchen garden right outside your back door. Herbs mixed with fresh vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, leeks, and beets is easy to do with Mel Bartholomew's method of square foot gardening.
If you haven't picked-up a copy of Mel's book entitled All New Square Foot Gardening, you really shouldn't delay. In it, you will find a wealth of information about growing basil. Along with learning to grow basil, you will find helpful information on growing other herbs like cilantro, mint, and oregano. There are many varieties to choose from.
Basil, particularly 'Sweet Genovese', is the best for Italian pesto. But, be sure and experiment with basil flavors like cinnamon, licorice, and lemon which are also good in many dishes. Six plants of "Sweet Genovese 'will yield enough leaves to make pesto all summer long without you being overwhelmed. Of course, it's easy to freeze any variety of this wonderful herb if the need arises.
Another variety to try, especially if you are fond of Asian cuisine, is 'Siam Queen'. A spicy Thai basil, with an intense flavor and fragrance all its own, makes it a great choice. Another great choice is 'Holy Basil' which was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century as a culinary and medicinal herb. You will want to experiment and have fun growing all the different varieties of basil in your garden.
Many varieties of basil seeds are available at garden centers starting in February. Even more varieties, like the ones mentioned above, may be found online from seed companies. Some companies, like Pinetree Seeds, cater to square foot gardeners by offering smaller number of seeds per packet.
Growing and Caring for Basil
There are two ways to grow basil. The first way is to start seeds inside 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date, or choose to start seeds outside well after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.
The second way to grow basil is by purchasing transplants (plants ready to set out) from your local garden center. These are usually sold in 4 inch pots.
One good rule of thumb for when to plant is that if you need a sweater outside, it's too cold for basil. To give your plants the best chance to flourish, plant them outside after all chances of frost are gone and it's nice and warm.
One of the benefits of square foot gardening is that you can put plastic over your raised bed to warm the soil up. If you get surprised by a cold snap after the frost-free date, as we did a few years ago, simply pace a glass cloche or greenhouse hoop over your bed for protection.
When planting basil in your square foot garden, it is a good idea to plant it next to your tomatoes in order to help them grow stronger and more flavorful. Plant basil one per square foot if you don't plan on harvesting very often. Plant two per square foot if you do plan on harvesting often to use fresh, dried (least desirable), or frozen.
During the growing season pinch off flower buds to save the plants energy for leaf growth. Pinch stems just above the leaf nodes where new stems will sprout. If you have two basil plants planted per square foot, concentrate on harvesting the lateral stems to keep them from becoming too crowded.
Harvest basil anytime and use only the leaves for cooking. Stems may be placed in the compost pile.
You will quickly see that growing herbs, especially basil, is easy to do using Mel's method of square foot gardening. It has been a proven system for over 25 years all over the world. Create your own kitchen garden on your deck or anywhere next to your house for easy access and to make growing herbs that much easier.
(Permission is granted to reprint this article, unedited, provided proper attribution is made and the signature line – the resource paragraph – is kept intact)