Versatile Basil: Companion Planting, Bee Forage, Herb and Pesto

| 8/3/2010 8:59:11 PM

I do appreciate basil when making spaghetti and pizza, but otherwise fail to give it much thought. After a morning of contemplating this herb while making pesto, I’d like to give it proper credit. 

We grow a lot of basil because I start it indoors from seed at the end of March. When it’s time to transplant it outdoors in May, I hate to discard any of the numerous seedlings. The result is that I plant basil wherever I find room. Other plants don’t get this much priority and I realize now that basil gets special treatment because I value its wonderful versatility. 

It’s not by chance that it’s interspersed with the tomato plants and that there’s an entire row of basil by the asparagus. It makes an excellent companion plant for both tomatoes and asparagus. In fact, some claim basil improves the growth and flavor of tomatoes. Another claim-to-fame is that it acts as a pest-deterrent when planted with broccoli, cabbage and other brassica. Because it’s such a pretty plant and grows quite rapidly, I also choose it to “fill space” and keep weeds down while the tomatoes and brassica are growing. 

The bees are delighted that the basil is already flowering here in Ohio. I might pinch off blooms to encourage growth of other herbs, but having bees in hives has made us more aware of these endangered pollinators. We attempt to create forage for them and so the bees are definitely welcomed to the pollen and nectar that the basil flowers provide. 

While the bees are buzzing, I continue to use the leaves in a variety of ways. Our soil is enriched with compost from the farm, and so I assume the basil is top-quality and want to use it all year round. Therefore, besides using fresh basil in the summer, I tie branches of basil together and hang them to dry in the greenhouse. I dried them once in the solar food-dryer, but that was too warm and the leaves actually burned. The greenhouse is fairly empty in the summer and makes a good place to dry herbs. 

The next logical step to having dry basil in winter would be to shred the dried leaves and put them in air-tight containers. I never seem to be this organized in the busy summertime, however, and usually put the dried basil in labeled zip-lock bags and keep it in the freezer. In the winter I just grab a handful of the frozen leaves and crumble them into the pot. Not fancy, but it works. 

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