Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet Basil Starts

In just six short weeks our "last day of frost," May 15 will arrive. I usually don't attempt to put much in the ground before this date with the exception of cool crops; and even then you're taking a chance and will be lucky if anything germinates.

The best way to get a jump on the season is to start seeds indoors. This may sound like a lot of work, but it really couldn't be easier. You don't need fancy lights and trays and soil -- in fact my best success has been a sunny windowsill, recycled "lettuce" boxes and standard potting soil. It's a great way to get a jump on the season and save a couple of bucks by starting your own plants.

I've been starting basil indoors for three years now and have had great sucess. The seedlings are easily transplanted to pots or directly in the garden, and we enjoy fresh basil all summer and pesto all winter.

Here's what you need: plastic lettuce containers and lids (or plastic wrap); potting soil or seed starting mix; and peat pots., You can put the soil directly to the container and not use peat pots. I've done both and found the peat pots work better for transplanting; either way works.

I use seed start mix, but again, my first year I used regular potting soil and everything came up just fine. However, I don't recommend using garden soil.

Just put the soil in the container (or peat pot); dampen the soil (a spray bottle works best for this), poke a small indentation in the soil and drop in a few seeds! Gently cover the hole, spray once more and pop on the container's lid. No lid? Cover with plastic wrap.

After a day or so, I poke a few air holes in the lids and keep the soil moist (condensation will help too). Once the seedlings are up and going, you can take the lid off. Do keep them moist, but don't over water.

You can start taking them outside during the day, after May 15th, to start hardening them off, but don't forget them! Last year I lost a whole batch because I left them outside overnight. It just happened to be the day we got our baby chicks. In all the excitment of the new arrivals I completely forgot my starts and they all froze! Basil is very, very tender.

This year I have 50 peat pots of basil started -- it certainly is less expensive than buying plants at the big box or farmers market. Speaking of FM, you might just see me this year...with basil plants and fresh eggs for sale!

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Thanks for reading and sharing your comments! Candace

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