NZ Gardener - Garden Diary 2018 - - Herb Of The Month -

AS SUM­MER TEM­PER­A­TURES get un­der­way, so too does this heat-lov­ing herb. It can be tempt­ing to start sow­ing and plant­ing basil as soon as spring be­gins, but as the seeds re­quire soil tem­per­a­tures to be 20°C or more to ger­mi­nate, this of­ten ends in dis­ap­point­ment. The only way around this prob­lem is to raise seedlings in a green­house or grow­house where it's warmer – or use a heat pad to in­crease soil tem­per­a­ture.

HOW TO GROW To raise basil from seed, fill a tray with seed-rais­ing mix and firm down gen­tly. Scat­ter the fine seed spar­ingly and sprin­kle a lit­tle ex­tra seed-rais­ing mix over the top. Wa­ter lightly and place the tray in your green­house.

Ger­mi­na­tion can take up to a fort­night, so don't de­spair if you don't see any ac­tion straight away. Thin out seedlings as they emerge and trans­plant to your gar­den when they reach 5cm tall. Space seedlings at least 5cm apart and keep well wa­tered. Plants ma­ture two months after trans­plant­ing, but the leaves can be picked at any time.

In the warmth of sum­mer, you can also sim­ply scat­ter seeds straight into the gar­den. The soil should be warm enough not to re­quire any un­der-cover mol­ly­cod­dling, al­though this will de­pend on where you live. In the gar­den, basil needs full sun and a reg­u­lar sup­ply of wa­ter. If it's left to sur­vive in very dry soil (or in small con­tain­ers) for long pe­ri­ods, it will wilt or bolt to seed pre­ma­turely. Basil growth is stunted in small con­tain­ers.

To mul­ti­ply an ex­ist­ing plant, take cut­tings and place them in a glass of wa­ter. Keep the cut­ting in a warm spot out of di­rect sun and leave for a week or two. Roots will form. Pot up and keep warm un­til a root sys­tem has de­vel­oped, then plant out­doors.

VA­RI­ETIES TO TRY There are four types of basil grown: sweet basil, dwarf basil, pur­ple-leaf basil, and scented-leaf basil. Of these types there are: • ‘Dark Opal': A strik­ing dark pur­ple plant in the gar­den but with the clas­sic basil taste. • ‘Mrs Burns Lemon': Lemon-scented basil with a cit­rus kick. Great in sum­mer sal­ads. • ‘Sweet Gen­ovese': This basil has broad green leaves with a strong flavour. Per­fect for pesto. • ‘Cin­na­mon': A Mex­i­can basil with a cin­na­mon taste. • ‘Greek Mini': Dwarf basil with a com­pact habit and tiny leaves. Looks fab­u­lous in con­tain­ers. • 'Thai': It has a sweet taste with a pep­pery fragrance. Used ex­ten­sively in Viet­namese and Thai cui­sine. A highly or­na­men­tal va­ri­ety.

• 'Holy': Also called Tulsi or sa­cred basil. It's highly revered in In­dia and grown around tem­ples. Holy basil is spicy rather than sweet, with notes of cloves and musk and a hint of mint and cam­phor. If a recipe calls for holy basil and you don't have it, use sweet basil and mint.

VIR­GIN PLUM & BASIL MOJITO Mud­dle to­gether ¼ cup sugar syrup (1:1 wa­ter and sugar), the juice of ½ lemon or lime, 2 finely chopped plums and 12 basil leaves. Pour one-third of the mix over ice in a glass and top with sparkling wa­ter. Add a tot of white rum if you wish. You can make mo­ji­tos from ber­ries, wa­ter­melon, or mint and cu­cum­ber too.

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