Thursday, October 09, 2008

Garden Bounty: Basil

Who doesn't love fresh basil?

Such was my thinking when I planted three varieties of basil in the spring: regular basil, purple Thai basil, and lemon basil. As with the lettuce, I was totally stoked about having this homegrown herb, and from what I was told, it would grow anywhere - even in my gravelly garden. I had images of pesto and sauces and roast chickens fragrant with basil. Alas, it was not meant to be.

I'm not sure what exactly went wrong. It could have been our atrocious spring and late summer, and therefore our shorter growing season. In the case of the Thai basil, it was the wind. In the case of the other two varieties, it might have started out all wrong when I didn't label my seedlings so I'd know one basil from the other. I guess I was thinking that since they'd be distinctive, labeling wouldn't be necessary.

Anyway, after our June 10 snowfall and a horrendous windstorm shortly afterwards, I assumed all would be smooth sailing. The basil grew - to a point. The Thai basil reached a few inches and was totally felled by another windstorm and didn't grow any further. It was pretty tasteless, too. As for the lemon basil, it had - and I am not kidding - a distinctly anise-like scent and flavour.

I hate anise!

To top it all off, I guess the lemon basil and the regular basil got mixed up by some stray garden gnome, because what I thought was a nice crop of regular basil turned out to be approximately 80% anise-like. To boot, the plants didn't grow well and never developed a deep green, lush colour; as you can see by the photo above, they are yellowed and spotted with brown (the marigolds kept no bugs out, I tell you! None!).

So, on all sides, a complete disappointment. I picked what I could of non-anise-smelling basil and turned it into pesto - yielding less than 1 cup in total. The pesto itself was OK; you can disguise anything with enough garlic and Parmesan cheese.

Today, however, I did something spectacular with the pesto - and it didn't involve pasta at all. I made pesto pretzels, and I must say they outdid my pizza version by just a tad. Instead of putting on pizza sauce, I just smeared on pesto, added some grated mozza, baked, and Bob was my proverbial uncle. The aroma coming from my oven as they baked was mouthwatering, and the oil from the pesto made the bottoms crisp up very nicely.

So, I got something good out of my basil experiment after all, and it wasn't a complete loss. I have, however, learned some lessons: plant only regular basil and nothing labeled "lemon," and label the baby plants in their starter pots. As for the stunted growth and yellowness...I'm not sure; I cannot control the weather, after all (though God knows I'd love to), but I can put down a bit of topsoil to give my dirt a slightly higher nutrient level. Apart from that, who knows? Gardening has been a bit of a crap shoot for me.


Meg said...

Putting it on top of pretzels..GENIUS!

Emily Rose said...

wow those pretzels look great! I am lucky to live in a sub tropical environment where herbs thrive almost year-around. However, the trade in is that we continue to have summer like weather until late October/ early November!

Tamara said...

Bummer about the basil. I LOVE basil. I hope to try an herb garden next year. Just too much going on this year with our move and all. But, I also know ZERO about gardening so I am sure it is going to be quite a challenge!

tshsmom said...

Do you compost?
Nice, loamy compost will do a lot for gravelly soil.

Wandering Coyote said...

Tshs: composting in Bear Country is discouraged, otherwise I'd be doing it!

tshsmom said...

I've been composting for 22 yrs, and we always have bears in the neighborhood. They've never gone anywhere near my compost.

You can always just compost leaves and grass clippings.

Cherie said...

I think it was Tom's rich compost that gave my basil the deep green color and good flavor we enjoy. I put my basil in pots this year just for fun. I moved them into the shade when we had really hot days and back into the sun when the temps and sun were kinder. I just pulled them all up as we had a frost warning last night. The last leaves look just like the ones in your photo, WC. But they still smell great!

Alyse said...

I just started a basil plant, among a few other herbs. It almost died, but I started actively watering it and it's fine now

Wandering Coyote said...

Alyse: yeah, water helps! ;)


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