Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 15, 2014
Beautiful, fragrant and tasty basil

The first annual “Walk and Talk” at the Fawson homestead in Grantsville was a strong success! Last Saturday’s tour of the grounds was extremely enjoyable, even with the cool weather.  Gary Fawson was the consummate host and a walking encyclopedia of horticultural knowledge of the plants, shrubs, flowers and trees scattered across the acres of ponds, paths, pergolas and bridges. We all walked away richer for the experience. For those of you that missed the “Walk and Talk”, the Fawson residence will be featured once again on the Master Gardeners’ Garden Tour coming up Saturday, June 14th. Stay tuned for more details!

Remember to join me this coming Saturday at the monthly Gardener’s Breakfast Get-Together at the Stockton Miner’s Café. We’ll meet from 9 to 11 AM and enjoy breakfast and talk about this year’s growing season and what you’ve got going on and what you’d like to know more about. The price of admission is whatever you buy off the menu! Our first get together last month was very enjoyable and it will be even more so if you are there. Join us!

Basil is one of the most enjoyable and dependable kitchen garden crops you can grow. It’s well adapted to our area, and easy to tuck into compact spaces. While you can grow it in a dedicated garden plot, it’s attractive and fragrant, and will do just fine growing among ornamentals in your flower beds. There’s no rule that you can’t plant ornamental shrubs and flowers alongside edibles like basil! There are several tasty crops that are pretty to look at and do double duty both in the yardscape and on the dinner plate. Cabbage, kale, beets, mustard greens and turnips can all be interplanted right in your flower beds.

Basil should be one of your top choices for a flowerbed space near the back door. Basil is an ultimate “pick and come again” crop, allowing ongoing harvest until the first frost in the fall. Because basil is frost tender, don’t put it out until danger of frost is well past.

To get the best growth, flavor and tender leaves, you’ll need to follow some simple steps for growing your basil. First, the plant needs consistent moisture – don’t let it dry out. Water right away if you see it wilting. Second, avoid disease by irrigating at the base of the plants instead of sprinkle watering. Third, pinch out the tips of the branches to encourage new growth from lower leaf junctures. This will keep the plant compact with plentiful leaves. Continue to pinch out tip growth throughout the season to prevent the plants from blooming and going to seed. The goal is lots of tender green leaves, not woody stems. As for fertilizer, use about once a month  with a light 10-10-10 application around the plant base, and water in right away.

Why has basil become so popular? When you see potted basil plants being offered in the produce section of your favorite store, you can be sure that it’s in demand! Basil is appealing to so many because it is so versatile. It can be used fresh, dried, cooked or processed into sauce and is readily available in varying colors and tastes.  Delicious and familiar to many in Italian cuisine, it is also becoming increasingly present in pan-Asian dishes. Colorful, flavorful and aromatic, chefs and home cooks alike are incorporating it into more and more dishes.

Seeds for both ornamental and culinary basil are readily available. Culinary basils include sweet, Thai, lemon, lime, Greek, Italian, purple and the brown leafed cinnamon. There’s something for just about everyone! You’re probably familiar with an Italian type of basil called “Genovese.” Boasting tender, sizable, deep green leaves, it’s a dependable and flavorful. It has the characteristic taste that is experienced in many Italian dishes. It’s a great one to start with if this is your first foray with basil.

There are several “Genovese” dishes we enjoy. Caprese salad is simple, tasty and colorful. Consisting of sliced tomato, fresh sliced mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, it’s fast, refreshing, tasty and economical. We’ve enjoyed many a margherita pizza with basil, onion slices, mozzarella cheese, and thin sliced tomatoes.  Fresh pesto sauce, on larger pasta (such as linguine or fettuccine) is incredible.  Popular for centuries in Italy, this sauce boasts ingredients such as handfuls of basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, romano or parmesan cheese, and garlic. Fresh spaghetti sauce from tomatoes, garlic, onion and basil picked right out of the garden is a great experience all around. Harvesting, processing, and actual preparation of the dish is easy and very enjoyable, and the taste is hard to beat.

Basil leaves are very simple to dehydrate. You can do this using a solar dryer, an electric countertop dehydrating unit or in the oven. I prefer the oven, simply because you can do a large amount in a very short period of time. Using cookie sheets, spread washed and patted-dry leaves over the surface, set the oven to about 140 degrees, and place the trays in the oven. In a couple of hours, the leaves will be dry, green in color (not black) and easily crumbled.  Scoop them into a one gallon freezer bag, zip the bag almost shut. This will leave a place to air to escape. Now, use a rolling pin to lightly roll back and forth over the bag until the basil is in small flakes. Continue the drying and crushing process until you’ve used up your harvest or made enough to last you through the winter! Dry-pack the processed flakes in a “Mason” jar with a lid and ring.  Be sure to store only well dried leaves to prevent spoilage.  Now, you can have a taste of summer every time you use the basil in sauces and soups. Remember that drying intensifies the flavor of the basil, so use it sparingly and add more if desired. It’s easy to add more – and not so easy to reduce the taste if you’ve put in too much.

With all that basil has to offer, you may find yourself stopping by that back door flowerbed so often to enjoy the scent of basil or a handful for a fresh dish, that you convert the whole patch to a kitchen garden! You know, that’s actually not a bad idea.


See the Bulletin Board on B6 for upcoming gardening events!

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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