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Gone Gardenin' - Touch up salad with pungent homegrown basil

‘Sweet Basil’ is a tried and true variety.

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‘Sweet Basil’ is a tried and true variety. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

Several plants can be crowded into each.

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Several plants can be crowded into each. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

More than one kind can be planted in each pot — here a Genovese and a Thai variety share a pot.

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More than one kind can be planted in each pot — here a Genovese and a Thai variety share a pot. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

It is almost time to snip some leaves from these purple basil seedkings.

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It is almost time to snip some leaves from these purple basil seedkings. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)

The excitement — and sometimes-frantic activity — of the holiday season is behind us and now we are faced with trying to endure a long, cold winter.

Cheer up, as there are many indoor gardening activities that you can undertake during the winter to keep your green thumbs in shape and to fill in the extra time you might have on your hands.

Even if you do not have an extensive indoor garden, keeping a few essentials on hand during the winter will allow you to undertake various projects as the mood strikes you.

For many of them, all you need is a table over which you can throw an old vinyl tablecloth to create an instant work surface, a sunny windowsill or small light garden, and a few necessary items that can even be stored in a box in a closest or garage (or under a bed!) if you live in a small space.

You will have to have a bag of soilless mix and a few containers — not necessarily plant pots as things you already have, such as margarine tubs, will work.

Optional items might consist of a few small tools meant for indoor gardening (but spoons, etc., work almost as well), and a soil insecticide powder if you fear fungus gnats may be a problem.

Some attractive jardinières might be nice but you already might have a few baskets or bowls on hand that will serve the purpose.

That’s it — you’re good to go!

If you enjoy cooking and savour herbs in your cuisine, one project that you might like to undertake is to grow a couple of pots of basil.

This tantalizing herb is a must in many kitchens. With variety names like ‘Siam Queen’, ’Red Rubin’, and ‘Genovese’, is it any wonder that a few sprigs of basil will perk up a salad made from store-bought greens in late winter — particularly if the basil is home-grown?

The delectable names of these basil varieties alone are enough to whet the appetite, and since this particular herb is quite easy to grow indoors, perhaps you will plant some basil seeds now. In a few weeks, the plants will be large enough so that you can add some zest and flavour to your salads from your very own homegrown basil.

When you go searching for basil seed, you will find quite a number of basil varieties available in the seed departments of garden centres.

However, generally basil has the following categories: green or purple; plain leaf or ruffled; and large or small leafed. Flavour varies according to variety as well, so read the package instructions carefully — do you want a Thai flavour such as you will get with ‘Siam Queen’ or a more traditional sweet basil flavour offered by ‘Magical Michael’?

You may even want to try more than one variety; there is no law saying two different varieties of basil cannot be grown in the same pot — or you might plant one pot of each variety. I think large leafed varieties work best for this kind of project because these kinds allow you to harvest several leaves — enough for a culinary dish — without causing much harm to the plants.

Plant basil seeds in a soilless mix, cover the seeds and water well. While the seeds are germinating, keep the seed tray warm and in good light. It won’t be long before the seedlings appear and before long they will have a couple of sets of true leaves.

This would be the time that you would transplant the seedlings if you were growing them as bedding plants, but for this project, sow the seeds rather thinly and use scissors to thin them out to avoid the task of transplanting them.

Allow all the plants to grow until they start to become too crowded, then simply snip excess plants off at soil level, leaving several plants — the biggest and healthiest — to continue to grow. Use the snipped-off plants as your first taste of fresh basil in the kitchen.

Of course, if you wish to transplant the seedlings into containers, go ahead and do so. The number of containers you plant will depend on how much basil you want and the space you have to grow it

Don’t worry if the plants are a bit crowded; you are not growing the plants as perfect bedding plant specimens to put out in the garden but for plants from which to harvest fresh basil. As harvest continues, the plants are not going to look perfect because you will be snipping and cutting to retrieve succulent greenery for your culinary use.

As the plants grow, you can snip off the tops and use them — the plants will bush out and produce many side shoots. The alternative is to snip off some of the leaves; new branches will form in the leaf axils of the harvested leaves.

You may want to fertilize the plants to encourage vigorous growth, as there isn’t much nutrient value in soilless mix. Keep the plants watered and give them all the light you can.

Keep your eye open for aphids, as basil grown indoors is susceptible to aphid attack, but unless you have other plants that might be harbouring these pests or bring a new plant into you home that might be carrying some aphids, you should be safe. Carefully giving the plants a shower under the kitchen tap once in a while will help deter such pests.

Your basil plants will keep producing succulent fresh basil well into early summer, when your main crop will come into production.

As you taste the pungent flavour of your homegrown basil at the dinner table on cold winter evenings, you will be glad you undertook this easy winter gardening project.

Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.

» communitynews@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 16, 2014

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The excitement — and sometimes-frantic activity — of the holiday season is behind us and now we are faced with trying to endure a long, cold winter.

Cheer up, as there are many indoor gardening activities that you can undertake during the winter to keep your green thumbs in shape and to fill in the extra time you might have on your hands.

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The excitement — and sometimes-frantic activity — of the holiday season is behind us and now we are faced with trying to endure a long, cold winter.

Cheer up, as there are many indoor gardening activities that you can undertake during the winter to keep your green thumbs in shape and to fill in the extra time you might have on your hands.

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