How to Grow Basil

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Basil is a staple ingredient in our house as we make a lot of Pesto based dishes, especially during the Courgette glut in July. We’ve found a great Courgette Pesto recipe here! We propagate Basil in pots all year round and always have one pot in use while another is growing and whilst this fabulous fragrant herb is easy to grow it can also be super eager to bolt. However, the bonus to that is a ready supply of seeds! (Although a slightly more bitter leaf!)

You don’t just have to grow Basil in pots as you’ll see here and it’s also thought to make a great companion plant for tomatoes (and even better companions for eating!) to keep away the whitefly!

Where to Grow

Basil Herb

You can grow on the window sill, tunnel, green house or even outside; this easy to grow herb is a great one to keep on the windowsill all year round to keep fresh herbs during the winter. If you are growing outside the trick is to beat the frost because if you catch a frost it’ll kill them! Basil doesn’t do well in temperatures below about 5c and it takes eight weeks to mature so you’re looking at the end of May at the latest to get these sown outside as you might find (dependent on your area) that temperatures might dip to low at night.

The alternative is to grow in pots, that’s what we do! That way we can protect the plants a bit more by sheltering them a bit more as the nights get cooler and eventually we move them inside.

Growing and Care

The best way to ensure you have a steady supply of basil is to sow in two weekly succession throughout the spring for outside plants and all year round if you are growing indoors.

You can grow in plug trays individual or if you like A LOT of Basil you can simple sprinkle the seeds over a tray of prepared compost. When the seedlings have their first pair of true leaves (you’ll know when you have them as they look less like weeds and more like a baby Basil plant!) they’ll be ready to handle and pot on.

Once the baby plants have got to around 5cm, for those going into a green house or windowsil, or larger for outdoor planting you can move the plants to their final position. We usually mix in Mushroom compost (because seriously, that stuff is AMAZING and gives every crop we’ve used it on a yield boost!) as Basil like a good rich soil to thrive in.

The Basil you grow in the ground is going to look very different from the pots you get from the supermarket, which is often forced in some way, as they can get quite bushy! So they need a surprising amount of space between each plant. Go for spacing around 30cm apart in each direction.

A note on watering. Whilst these tenderer plants need a fair bit of watering, especially in hot weather as they tend to wilt very quickly, Basil hates being stuck in soggy soil so to test how wet the soil is dig down a couple of inches and if the soil looks reasonably damp leave it alone for another day unless there’s obvious signs of wilt!


The best bit (obviously) is the picking!!

There’s just a few hints and tips for getting the best yield from your hard work! When you harvest your Basil from pots take individual leaves (go for the big ones!) rather than cutting stems as you’ll encourage even more growth. You could also pinch out the growing tips so the plant focuses on growing out rather than up and bolting! Even though we harvest daily we still have far more than we can use so we always have a supply.

If you are growing outdoors before the first frosts arrives and the temperatures dip too low (you don’t want a bitter, or worse dead harvest) so pull all your plants and strip the leaves to dry, freeze or even make into pesto! (more on that coming soon)

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For years, soil testing was the preserve of “science geeks” who relied on £10 pH meters that, curiously enough, tended to give a different reading each time they were used, and devised planting strategies with often mixed results.

Meanwhile, the majority of us just got on with it because we knew our gardens and what would – and would not – do well in them. Alas, that is changing and there’s more than just knowing the pH of our soil at stake as the number of people starting to grow their own and focusing on eating local goes through the roof.

However, while growing and eating local, even homegrown, should ideally be what we do as often as possible, it definitely shouldn’t be dangerous but the fact is that the UK’s industrial and farming heritage has left behind much that can have a negative impact on our health.

And this is why we founded Safe Soil UK. Our aim is to make the testing and analysis of soil easy. And understandable. Whether it’s to check that soil has all the nutrients it needs to grow great veg, fruit and ornamentals or to investigate for potential serious contamination, we offer a straightforward approach to soil testing. 

Safe Soil Testing Safe Soil Uk

We have seen a steady stream of findings indicating dangerously toxic levels of the likes of lead, arsenic, cadmium and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) including benzo(a)pyrene in the samples we have processed and think it’s prudent to urge grow your own fans to: Test it before you eat it!

Britain’s proud industrial and farming history left behind a legacy of contamination, with countless substances and waste products that have the potential to harm human health being discharged into the ground. Our testing packages can give you peace of mind that your growing space is safe – so why chance it?

We’re big fans of gardening in general and growing vegetables in particular. Have been for as long as we can remember. One of my earliest childhood memories is annoying his mum by “planting” exotic fruit in various plant pots around the family home. This involved making a little hole in the soil using a toothpick and dropping orange, grapefruit and lemon seeds into the holes. Not a great deal came of these early efforts – I blame the climate – but I got better with time. And lots of practice.

Since then my interest in gardening has remained with me and flourished as it expanded to include growing my own fruit and veg. 

And that interest played a part in launching Safe Soil UK. That and curiosity. 

A few years ago I came across a local rumour that a site near our urban house was once a battery factory. At this point, my interest started to extend beyond soil basics like pH and texture and on to toxic elements that may have been lurking beneath our feet. So I started to root around (pardon the pun) for a way to check the soil.

What if our little annual harvests of veg and flowers were actually serving up a cocktail of lead, arsenic, chromium and other unsavoury (to say the least) elements while our time tending the fledgling crops was exposing us to airborne samples of dioxins, hydrocarbons and even asbestos? Posing that question marked the germination (again, sorry!) of Safe Soil UK, which aims to make the testing of urban soils easy, affordable (the scientific analysis involved in the testing is never going to be cheap but we’re doing our best) and also help interpret the results using UK government standards where they’re available and relying on international guidelines to fill in any blanks.

Box of Soil Testing Supplies for Safe Soil Uk

There’s no disputing that the UK’s industrial heritage has left behind a nasty legacy of contamination. We are descendants of a people who were at the sharp end of the industrial revolution and while this played an important part in establishing the living standards we now enjoy, there was a darker downside as the very industrial processes and activities that made Britain one of the wealthiest nations on earth also released substances and waste products into the environment that have the potential to have a detrimental impact on our health.

When we started our journey in search of peace of mind that our little patch of land was not slowly killing us, we hit a roadblock. There is no shortage of laboratories capable of testing soil but many of these charged a fortune. Then there was the problem of what we actually wanted to test for. The list of harmful chemicals and elements that a lab could test for is a long one. Which ones should we be testing for? And finally, how much of something is too much? 

The answers to these questions required extensive research but we got there in the end. And while no health authority can make a definitive call on the precise level at which something becomes harmful or even lethal, most agree on ranges. We use these to interpret results and where conflicts exist, we point them out to allow our customers to make informed decisions and, hopefully, provide peace of mind. When that’s not possible, we are happy to share recommendations on potential remediation approaches.

I’m happy to report that we’re now in position to make everyone’s journey of discovery markedly easier than the one we had to take. 

Soil Testing Made Easy

This is a guest post written for This Green Thumb. We have not received any payment or commission for hosting this article

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