Lola Digs: Starting Basil Indoors

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Just beyond the last chill of winter lies a place where perennial patio dwellers linger over glasses of wine and caprese salad.  If you close your eyes for just a moment you can probably place yourself there and imagine plump, red tomatoes and the tangy bite of balsamic vinegar.  You can likely see the vibrant green of the fresh basil, too.  There… right there… is where our story begins today.

Blame it on my Mediterranean blood or my love of food, but I cannot get enough basil.  It regularly claims the majority percentage of our garden space.  Summer is filled with pesto, salads, pastas and even cocktails all fragrant from fresh basil.  To have enough ready we start it from seed inside.  It’s easier than you may think and the results are well worth it.

savour…  fresh ingredients

The good news is basil grows very easily from seed.  In fact, because basil likes a relatively high and stable temperature to get started, it is actually best under most circumstances to start your basil inside.  Do this whether you will be planting outdoors later or not.

Before you start:

Do not allow soil to dry out completely, but do not over water it either.

For our example we used starter pots that will be headed outside when the weather improves.  We also put some in very small pots that will be used for a future project.  If you’d like to play along, dip a few mini terra cotta pots in chalkboard paint and sow 2-3 seeds in each.  We’ll use them in an upcoming post soon.

We live in Texas and spring comes earlier here than in many places.  As a rule of thumb, start your basil inside 6 weeks before the last expected hard frost.

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The steps:

  1. Fill a small terra cotta pot (4 inch wide) or two with moist potting soil.  Mix in a bit of perlite for drainage at this point if you wish.
  2. Spread 5 or 6 seeds across the top of the soil.
  3. Cover lightly with a bit more soil and then water gently.
  4. Move the pots to a bright, warm room.
  5. Place plastic wrap over the top of the pots to promote germination.  Remove the plastic as soon as you see new seedlings emerge.
  6. When seedlings emerge keep pots in a bright place but out of direct sunlight.
  7. When second set of leaves are fully formed, move the basil to its final position.  If keeping indoors be sure to choose a sunny spot.
  8. At 3 or 4 inches tall, pinch off the top leaves to encourage more lateral shoots.  This will produce a fuller, more productive plant.
  9. As the plant continues to grow, pinch off what you need for cooking and be sure to pinch off any flowers that form.  This will enable future growth and maintain the flavor of the leaves.