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Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is most commonly used for flavoring Italian and Asian dishes. Fresh or dried its versatility has graced many a dinning room table. These annuals grow between 18 to 24 inches and are extremely prolific. Lets first take a look at growing basil in your garden or in containers:

How To Grow In Your Garden or Containers

This herb thrives in either garden soil or containers and prefer full sun, regular watering, a fast draining environment and rich soil. Prior to planting, be sure to mix compost or aged animal manure into the soil.

Planting Basil

You can either sow seeds indoors for approximately 4 to 6 weeks before moving outdoors or when the soil is warm and the temperature does not go below 65 degrees F. You should space the plants 4 to 5 inches apart from each other.

Seeds should not be planted deeper than just below the soil surface. Germination will take from 5 to 30 days and you should keep the soil moist. It is suggested you apply organic fertilizer once or twice during the growing season to ensure robust growth.

Be sure and pinch back the flower spikes to promote bushiness and prevent spindly growth. Sow regularly for summer use and then freeze the rest for winter needs.When summer comes to an end, allow Basil to go to seed, this will attract bees and other beneficial insects.

How to Harvest

When the plants reach 6 inches in height they are ready for harvesting. You want to wait until morning dew has dried just above the leaf nodes. Basil's aroma is important for many dishes, therefore do not wash the leaves or you will lose their aromatic oils.

To dry basil, hang the plants upside down in a dark, dry, well ventilated room then store in air tight containers.

If you harvest basil frequently it will encourage new growth from the plants.

Treating Diseases and Insects

In order to prevent fungal diseases make sure your site has good air circulation. Should you notice symptoms of fungus, apply a fungicide.

The most common pests that can plague basil are aphids, slugs and Japanese beetles. Use natural pest controls if any of these pests surface on your plants. Natural pest controls include keeping your garden weeded and clean. Use good composts and mulches in the soil and only use organic pesticides when necessary.

Harvest Seeds

Basil forms seed capsules that contain four seeds. You should allow these capsules to dry before harvesting and then separate them by hand.

Now that we have covered outdoor gardening, let's take a look at growing basil hydroponically. Growing basil year round makes this great herb available for all your fine cuisine. You could collect and freeze basil from your garden, or you can enjoy fresh basil by growing it hydroponically!

What you Will Need

Getting Started

First off, purchase basil seedlings from your local nursery or transplant from your garden early in the year.

Once you have your seedlings, remove them from their containers (if applicable) and rinse the roots completely. Hold the root ball under a gentle flow of water while working the root mass apart with your fingers. Remove any clinging soil, being extremely careful when cleaning the top area of the root ball where it joins the body of the plant.

Select four or five plants for each hydroponic container. Add water, following the manufacturer's instructions for the particular container you have purchased.

Once the plants are in place, put your container in direct sunlight. Southern exposure is really the best, but if you do not have that luxury, buy a fluorescent growing light and place your container under it.

Take your hydroponic nutrient and fertilize the plants. The rate should be 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. If you will be harvesting often from the plants, increase the fertilizer to 25%.

The Sky's The Limit

Growing hydroponic basil is really very easy to do and will give you wonderful crops to enjoy year round. As you become more knowledgeable with hydroponic containers, you'll want to add other plants to enjoy fresh produce even in the dead of winter.