Basil, also known as the “King of herbs”, has been cultivated in a diverse array of growing conditions for several millennia. It is also one of the most popular plants grown in urban farms across the world.
In this article we will discuss a bit of the history of basil, some of its distinguishing characteristics, and then, of course, optimal growing conditions in the urban farming environment, with helpful tips sprinkled in.
Basil is one of the oldest documented herbs, it has been grown in regions in India since at least 3,000 BCE. There are four main types of basil: sweet basil, also known as Genovese basil and used in Italian cuisine, Thai basil, also known as licorice basil, lemon basil, and purple basil, also known as holy basil.
Thai, lemon, and purple basil are all extensively used in Asian cuisine, and all of the four major types are cultivated annually, although some hybrid basil types have been bred for tropical climate seasonal growing patterns.
Contrary to popular belief, there is little to no scientific proof that consumption of basil specifically has any health benefits, although the herb does contain essential vitamins with proven health benefits such Vitamin K and does not contain cholesterol or substantial amounts of calories (duh).
Essentially, many of the health claims of basil are extrapolated from healthy compounds present in basil but have not been verified clinically as whole plant.
Introduction to growing basil
Basil grows best in arid and warm conditions. It has a high affinity to light relative to other herbs, and can be grown in a variety of urban farming contexts, including completely indoor with LED lighting, on a windowsill indoor, or rooftop / outdoor urban gardening with ample light exposure.
The flowers of the basil plant are small and white in color, once the flowers blossom, the basil plant will cease to grow in size. To combat this side effect, we suggest gently snipping off any blossoming flowers at the stems before they fully develop.
How to grow tasty organic basil:
1. Pick a growing location that will see 6-8 hours of direct light per day. If growing outside, ensure the last spring frost is over. For indoor growing, find a suitable LED light for urban farming.
2. Procure soil (one simple way is to search ‘organic potting soil’ on Amazon), and purchase basil seedlings (‘organic basil seedlings’ on Amazon). For both indoor and outdoor cultivation any type of plastic, ceramic, or glass pot or container will suffice. Other tools may be useful but for now these are the only necessary components to acquire.
3. Plant the seedlings approximately 12 inches from each other. For indoor LED farms, this can be closer to 8-10 inches. If seed labels designate other distances, follow the specified directions. Ensure the seeds are planted approximately 1/4 inch / 6mm below the surface
4. Once planted, focus on keeping consistent leave moisture and soil drainage. Water daily, but make sure that the soil stays loose without holding too much water. Improper drainage in basil plants leads to root decay and is the most common mistake beginner basil urban farmers make. If planting inside, try to mist the leaves every day with a bottle sprayer, this will maintain freshness but also minimize the chance of pest infestation .
5. Monitor the soil quantitatively. The soil temperature should be approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the soil pH should be in between 6 and 7. Adding organic mulch can also benefit plant health but is not necessary.
6. Harvesting leaves any time after the plant has grown over 6 inches in height. Be careful to pinch off the leaves with care (may be helpful here to use a fine snipping tool), especially if you plan on continuing to cultivate. As a rule of thumb, 2-3 basil plants will produce enough leaves use for a dish in a family sized meal (4-6 people), but more leaves are generally required for preparation of basil pesto.