The first harvests of the year have been especially delightful for us. They are, after all, the first fruits of our homestead. Thus far we’ve had a steady trickle of cherry tomatoes, large tomatoes, and ground cherries with the rest of our vegetables and fruits on the cusp of ripeness.
That is, except for one extraordinary plant that is far out competing the rest in its abundance so far.
I planted somewhere in the realm of 12-15 of these plants along what we’ve termed Swale 1 for the purpose of keeping our plantings as diversified as possible. The basil is a strong smelling herb meant to deter pests from the tomatoes, peppers, currants, and fruit trees. We intermingled it along the entire row with calendula and onions in our first attempts at drawing in the beneficial insects and deterring the “bad guys”. So far, the practice is working quite nicely.
To be fair, I must mention that we’ve lost a few basil plants, or rather, can’t find them due to our tomatoes growing wild and free. I’m not too worried about it as we seem to be up to our ears in basil and asking one very important question: What do I do with all this basil??
Sure we eat basil on our grilled cheese sandwiches with strawberries, and we throw it in pasta dishes and the occasional caprese sandwich or salad, but to be honest, Adam and I aren’t big basil people. Or at least, we’ve never tried to be.
Until now. Our basil plants look incredible, they are flowering, and getting out of control. So we harvested the leaves and cut the plants back.
I must admit that when I harvest herbs, I am a little ruthless. I’ve found it to be most beneficial for our plants if I am that way, so when we harvested the basil, we really cut them back.
The secret to cutting basil and have the plant grow back fuller than it was the first time is where you make your cuttings. Sure, you can just pluck the leaves off the plant and let it grow, but if you want to direct and encourage new growth, simple and precise cuts are the way to make it happen.
To cut basil properly, you need to find a plant node. The node is the spot where the side stems branch out from the main stem. Usually, if your basil plant is growing well, there will be small leaves growing from the point in the node where the two stems meet. Cut the basil 1/4 inch ABOVE that node.
The goal is that you want to harvest the basil leaves above the node, while having the plant redirect its growth into the new leaves that are growing at the node. The pictures below are of my basil plants post-harvest. You can see where the cuts are on the main stem and the resulting new growth that is taking place as the plant redirects its energy.
This will also help delay your plants from flowering as you are completely removing the flowering portion of the plant, and not just the leaves around the flowers. Pinching off basil flowers will help for a while, but it’s best practice to cut your plant back.
Forewarning: it will look a little odd and you will probably feel like you’re cutting too much of the plant off. As long as the plant retains 1/3 to 1/2 of it’s original leaves, it will be fine. In fact, it will grow back bigger and better than it was before with proper care.
As long as you follow these simple rules for harvesting your basil, your plants will produce well all summer long. They don’t like the cold, so they’ll keep on going up until the first few frosts kill them off.
And as for what we did with all our basil, we froze it as pesto for a time when it IS COLD and we DON’T have fresh produce.
I followed this woman’s recipe on The Yummy Life except that we used walnuts instead of pine nuts because I didn’t feel like going to the store. We also froze our pesto in 1/2 pint (8oz) mason jars because we are working on going plastic free this month and its a good amount for two people. Our generously doubled recipe made four jars to freeze with enough left over to make a delicious Chicken Pesto Pasta.
Yum. Summer in a dish.
Hope this inspires you to do more than just watch your herbs grow!