It should come as no surprise that of all the plants I grow, basil is by far and away my favorite. I love everything about this herb from its interesting history to the versatility of its culinary uses.
However, since we moved to the lake, I have struggled to have a significant basil harvest. In Kentucky, I simply scattered seeds and voila basil seedlings everywhere. So the first growing season in Brown County I followed the same pattern. Sadly I barely had enough to make a batch of my famed Opal Basil Vinegar. Also I had no success with different varieties.
The second growing season, I once again did direct sowing with the seeds but in grow pots. I also amended the herb bed with compost and better soil. However, I experienced the same sad result in the herb bed but did achieve a better harvest in the grow pots. But still I was not able to have the diversity and quantity that I so desperately yearned to accomplish.
This last season, I went down a different road. For the first time in my 50 years of going basil, I started all my basil inside under my grow lights. Since Basil is one of the last herbs or flowers to go in the garden, I was able to space out the timing so I had plenty of open spots on the seed trays (Basil can not go in the garden until the night time temps stay above 50 degrees). Starting basil inside was totally new for me. I will continue to do a bit of direct sowing of basil but the majority of my basil plants will be started inside.
Bingo! Summer Growing Season 2023 was a very successful Basil Season. In addition to starting the seeds inside, here are a few of the other factors I believe upped my game.
#1 Brown County Indiana is about 1/2 to a zone colder than my gardens were in Shelbyville KY. Basil is so finicky. It is super sensitive to temps; not only day and night temps, but also soil temp and wind speed. I think in the past two years, I was rushing to plant the seeds too early and they never adjusted. I was more patient this year.
#2 The condition of the soil in the garden was very poor. I have worked hard to remedy this situation and planting more in raised beds and containers also became valuable tools.
#3 I tried several new stronger varieties and was amazed. (You can teach an old dog new tricks) I am in the process of ordering seeds for the next years growing season. This year I am trying very hard to be mindful of what I order. I tend to get so excited with each new arriving catalogue and order and reorder. I am trying hard to order smart vs emotional binge seed ordering. New basil varieties are a particular weakness for this gardener.
Ok... which basil varieties were the most successful. Therefore making the list for 2024. Here we go!
#1 In all categories is Everleaf Emerald Towers (Ocimum basilicum)
This is the best basil I have ever grown. The seedling transplanted easily, and quickly. It shot up into a tower of close, glossy, emerald green, smallish leaves. It had no mildew whatsoever, and no blooms until the very last couple weeks of the growing season. It provided me an endless supply of leaves for salads, fresh tomato dishes to pesto. The more I cut, the more it grew. I purchased the seed from Botanical Interests.
In the same large container, I grew my #2 favorite. They were a beautiful combo. Pesto Perpetuo (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum).The variegated leaves (cream and light green) made for stunning contrast in the container. It never bloomed and provided me with a wonderful collection of leaves. They added an interesting color contrast to salads.
#3 BasilBecky has a love affair with purple basil. I make a beautiful Herb Vinegar out of the leaves and dry the foliage and blooms for arrangements. I found that Basil 'Red Rubin' and Basil 'Dark Opal' kept the dark purplish red color best in my garden. I also plant some basil that has hints of the purple in it, like 'Cinnamon' basil or 'Sweet Thai' basil to have a blended contrast. I did try 'Blue Spice' basil but was not over whelmed and will probably not go that direction again.
#4 Traditionally I always plant a row of the 'Bush Spicy Globe' for several reasons. Firstly, I love the small leaves. They can be picked and used for example in a caprese salad without chopping. The plants make a very impressive border as they turn in to a unique round ball shape and remain short. I did try Basil 'Purple ball' loving the idea that I could alternate the 'Spicy globe' and 'Purple ball', however I did not have good luck with the 'Purple ball'. I love the thought of it so I will try again.
#5 Of course, I will always have Basil 'Genovese' or some version of large leaf basil handy. I had one whole birdie metal planter full this year. Yummy basil always at my fingertips.
Lastly, but by far one of my favorites is 'African Blue Basil'. I have had this beauty in my garden for about 5 years. The thing is you can not start this plant by seed and it is hard to find. So I started taking cuttings a couple years ago from a mail order plant I purchased early in the spring and the results were excellent. I even had enough to share.
Although I do not eat this plant, I am enamored by its beauty and value. It has a special place in my pollinator garden and is allowed to pretty much bloom freely during the summer. It is absolutely stunning in the garden and attracts so, so many pollinators. In fact it is hard to cut because I have to dodge all the bees.
So there you go. I am not sure that this helps me take some varieties off next years list. But it helps me organize my thoughts and perhaps focus in and avoid falling in the seed ordering pit as all of the tempting catalogues start arriving daily in my mailbox.