WHEN TO HARVEST BASIL – GARDENING TIPS 2021

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when to harvest basil

Basil is an annual herb that is surprisingly easy to grow, especially in warm, sunny weather. It’s a versatile plant that you can eat raw, but it is more commonly used for cooking.

Harvesting basil is also exceptionally easy, and, if you time it right, you’ll have fresh basil to pick right through the growing season. 

The beauty of basil is that you can pick the leaves regularly and the plant will grow more vigorously. But when should you start your harvest? Many experts recommend waiting until your basil plants are 6-8 inches tall before you harvest them. But you can start snipping when they are established and only about 4 inches tall. 

How Do You Know When Your Basil Is Ready to Harvest? 

Growing basil is easy and immensely satisfying. Harvesting is easy too, although you need to be careful not to kill the plant by cutting it too low to the ground. 

How to Harvest Basil Grown From Seeds

Size is a good indicator for harvesting basil. But, in any case, it will usually be ready to harvest about a month after you have planted the seeds. 

Basil will grow continuously from mid-spring until winter, so this will be the first harvest of many. Given the right growing conditions, you’ll be able to harvest fresh leaves from the moment your basil plants have at least three or four sets of leaves.

At this stage, your plants will probably be between four and six inches tall. When you harvest leaves you also generate new growth that will make the plants bushier. 

So, every time you trim your basil plants, they will regrow, and you can harvest leaves again and again. 

You will get an even more prolific harvest by simply pinching off the growing tips when you see flower buds forming. In fact, this is an essential step to keep your basil growing. 

How to Harvest Basil Grown From Seedlings 

If you’re growing basil from seedlings, it’s better to let them grow taller than this, to give the roots time to establish. 

After the first harvest, it’s important to pick more leaves before the basil flowers bloom. If there are tips with flower buds, this is a good time to harvest.

As winter approaches, pay attention to the ambient temperatures outdoors. If it is likely to dip below 50°F (10°C), harvest your entire crop. 

How to Harvest Basil? 

how to harvest basil

The best time to harvest basil is in the morning before it gets too warm. The leaves should be dry, so avoid harvesting after heavy rain, and if there’s dew on the leaves, wait for it to dry.

Before your first harvest, when your basil plants are 4-8 inches tall, they will have three to four sets of leaves growing on a single stem. Cutting it back generates new growth with new stems, and will make it bushy. 

If you’re growing basil from seedlings, it’s better to let them grow taller than this, to give the roots time to establish. 

Use sharp pruners or secateurs to trim the plants. For the first harvest, you can safely trim the plant above the first set of leaves. But you can also cut random leaves off plants if you wish. 

After the first harvest, it’s important to pick more leaves before the basil flowers bloom. If there are tips with flower buds, this is a good time to harvest.

If you choose not to harvest at this time, be sure to pinch off the flower buds so that the basil plant growing will continue to bush out. 

Once the basil plants are bigger, you can harvest the top two-thirds of the plant.

As winter approaches, pay attention to the ambient temperatures outdoors. If it is likely to dip below 50°F (10°C), harvest your entire crop. 

Can You Harvest Basil Without Killing It?

Of course you can harvest basil without killing it! It’s largely common sense. 

Make sure there is always at least one set of leaves on the stem when you cut very young plants. And don’t harvest more than two-thirds of larger, more mature, basil plants. 

If you cut them down to the ground, you will kill your plants!

Should You Wash Basil after Harvesting? 

Whether you are going to eat your basil fresh out of the garden or store it, you need to wash it after harvesting. When you wash it, also pick out any blemished leaves. 

Can You Eat Basil Immediately After Harvesting? 

can you eat basil after harvest

Yes, you can eat basil as soon as you have harvested it. In fact, this is when it’s at its best in terms of flavor. 

It’s best to pick basil leaves shortly before you intend to use them. If you want to store fresh basil for more than a couple of days, be sure to keep it in plastic bags in your refrigerator. 

If you have loads of it, and you want to harvest leaves and store them for a longer period of time, the two best options are to: 

  • Dry it
  • Freeze it

Both freezing and drying basil will keep you stocked up with this healthy herb for many months. 

How to Dry Basil

Fresh basil is full of flavor, and nothing like the dried basil they sell in supermarkets. But if you have a glut of fresh basil, drying it is a good option because it lasts longer than frozen basil.

There are two popular ways to dry fresh basil:

  • In an oven
  • By hanging it out to air-dry

These methods work with all basil species including sweet basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil. 

How to Oven-Dry Basil 

Once you have harvested your basil, remove the leaves from the stems and wash them thoroughly. Dry them. 

Heat your oven to the lowest possible temperature. Put the leaves on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and place it on your oven’s upper rack. Bake for 2-4 hours.

When you remove the basil, the leaves will be crumbly and hot. Let them cool before storing them in airtight containers. 

How to Air-Dry Basil

You need to cut stems that are long enough to hang, but they shouldn’t be any longer than 12 inches. Wash them carefully and allow them to dry thoroughly. 

Hang them bud side down in a cool dry area that has good airflow. They will dry in a week to 10 days. 

When the basil has dried out, strip the leaves from the stems. You can leave the leaves whole or crumble them as they do for most commercially dried basil. 

Place them in an airtight container. If you keep it in a cool, dark cupboard it will last for about a year. 

How to Freeze Basil

Freezing is regarded as the best method for storing basil long term. Even though it doesn’t last for as long as dried basil, frozen basil keeps its distinctive flavor for longer. 

You can blanch basil, transfer the leaves to an ice bath, dry and then freeze it in layers separated by plastic wrap or parchment paper.

However, the Washington State University Extension advises lightly processing basil leaves in a blender with a little bit of olive oil. Then spoon it into an ice cube tray and freeze. 

You can store frozen basil for about six months. Once the cubes have frozen in the ice cube tray, you can transfer them to a sealable container for ease of use.

Frozen basil is great for making pesto. But you can also make pesto and freeze that for months.

You can make a classic basil pesto by combining: 

  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves 
  • ½ a cup of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of pine nuts, walnuts, or blanched almonds
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

You can also use Thai basil to make pesto. Use cashews and/or peanuts instead of pine nuts, and add a bit of minced ginger and some chili pepper. 

How Long Does Basil Take to Grow?

Basil germinates in 7-10 days after you plant the seeds. You can usually harvest a relatively small number of leaves after about four weeks. 

Then your basil plants will continue to grow for up to eight months, depending, of course, when you planted the seeds. 

You can also plant basil seeds right through the growing season, which will ensure you have fresh basil to pick in every season except winter and very early spring. 

Conclusion

Basil is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow in a home garden. It’s prolific and delicious raw or as an ingredient in many cooked foods.

If you plant it in the fall, you can start harvesting fresh basil after about six weeks. Then you can continue to harvest it periodically for more than eight months. 

Ultimately, knowing when to harvest basil doesn’t take any skills at all! Once your basil plants are established, you can harvest them whenever there are enough leaves to harvest.

The only thing you do need to be careful about is to ensure that the plants don’t flower. Pinch off flower buds and remove basil flowers if you miss the buds.

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