Herbs on your patio: Basil
Basil is probably the winning herb to grow in a container. If you have a balcony or patio spot that gets full sunlight, you’ve got it made!
Start the seed indoors in April, or outdoors in May. Don’t put a basil plant outside too early, tempting as it may be when we get warm, sunny spring days. Cold is the enemy of basil, and one cold night will be the undoing of your efforts. May is a more reliable time to move basil outdoors.
If you are starting basil from seed, be aware that it is very susceptible to damping off, which means the stem is attacked by a fungus that causes the plant to wilt and die. To help prevent damping off, place your pot in an area that gets good air circulation and bright light. Indoors, I keep my seed-starting flats under an old aquarium canopy, propped up by some blocks so that the light is close to the seedlings. This gives them a good start until they are ready to move outside for the summer.
Whether you start your basil from seed, or have purchased seedlings, you’ll want to transplant the basil into a container with fresh, rich soil. Mix in some compost if you have it to promote good foliage growth. When it comes to container size, bigger is better! With more room to spread its roots, you’ll get larger, bushier plants. If you have room for a 14” pot, that would be ideal for basil, however you will still get nice results with an 8” pot.
As basil grows, keep the tips pinched so that the plant will grow side shoots and fill out nicely. The tips you pinch are the start of your harvest! Continue pinching tips all summer long and use in recipes such as the classic summer tomato and bocconcini salad. Simply alternate slices of tomato and bocconcini, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a scattering of chopped fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper. These Lemon Basil Crêpes are a great option too!
Herbs on the patio: Parsley
Parsley is a great choice for container planting, and one of the most used herbs in the kitchen. You’re in luck if your balcony or patio isn’t in the sunniest of locations, because parsley will tolerate a bit of shade. That said, it will do its best when it has at least five hours of sun.
If you want to grow it from seed, you’ll need to be patient. Parsley can take up to three weeks to germinate! It’s best to use a seed starting soil, the type that will hold onto moisture well. Sprinkle parsley seeds on the surface of the moistened medium, then cover with a very thin layer of the same soil. As soon as the seeds sprout, give the plants good light. It’s ready to transplant once you see the true leaves, the leaves that appear following the seed leaves that emerge from the seed.
Whether you have bought transplants or raised your own, you’ll need to move your fledgling parsley plants into a large container for growing on your balcony or patio. You can move the plants outside as early as April. Pot them up in a rich soil amended with compost, if you have it. A larger pot is better, because it will be able to go through a winter more easily without freezing. Yes, we are already thinking that far ahead! Parsley develops a long tap root, so choose a pot that is taller than it is wide. A 14” pot diameter is a good choice.
Parsley is a biennial plant, which means it will grow for two seasons, flowering in the second season. You’ll be able to cut parsley for your kitchen needs summer and winter. Move the pot close to the wall of your building and protect it from wind to help it survive the winter. In coastal areas, this may be all the protection it needs. Next spring, you’ll still have parsley leaves to cut, although not as much as in the first year. You’ll want to start fresh plants next year to keep a continuous supply of parsley on the go.
Next time you make Potato Leek Soup you can proudly say, “It’s garnished with my own parsley.”
by Sydney Massey, MPH, RD
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