Tips for Picking Basil to Get the Flavor and Produce

Tips for Picking Basil to Get the Flavor and Produce

Harvesting basil from the garden is one of my favorite summer activities. We use the flavored leaves in pasta, pesto, on pizzas and in fresh salads such as Caprese salad. In addition, excess basil crops can be frozen or dried for future meals. How and when you harvest basil can have a big impact on the health, taste and production of the plants. Below you will get my tips on how to harvest basil, including types of basil such as genoese, Thai and lemon, to ensure you have an uninterrupted supply of this popular herb.

Why it is important to know when and how to harvest basil

Harvesting basil at the right stage of growth and at the right time of day can have an impact on the quality and taste of the leaves. For example, the best harvest comes from tender young leaves picked early in the day. The older leaves are harder and contain fewer of the tasty essential oils for which basil is prized. Ditto for the basil picked at the end of the day. You will find higher levels of aromatic compounds if you harvest the basil in the morning. Read more about the science of basil flavor here

It is also important to learn how to pick basil, because pinching the plants correctly promotes the growth of side shoots and increases the yield. Harvesting does not mean tearing off all the leaves from the stems, leaving them completely defoliated. Instead, it is better for the plant to pinch or prune the stems into a strong fan of afteral shoots. More information on all this below.

How does basil grow

Before I get into the details of harvesting basil, let me explain how basil grows. By understanding the growing habits of basil, you can harvest more efficiently and promote many new shoots for future harvests. Most basil varieties reach heights of 24 to 36 inches, although there are small varieties such as ‘Prospera ® Compact DMR’ and ‘Pluto’ that remain very compact.

Basil varieties such as genoese, lemon, cinnamon and Thai basil produce a central stem with many afteral branches. Regular pinching of plants promotes the development of new dense growth. Greek basilisks, on the other hand, have compact rounded shapes and are only 10 to 12 inches tall. Each plant produces hundreds of small leaves and dozens of stems. Frequent harvesting also promotes the formation of new shoots.

When to start harvesting basil

Many gardeners are reluctant to use their herbs during the growing season, preferring to harvest them at the end of summer to dry or freeze them. Although I certainly keep a lot of home-grown basil, I also pick it almost daily since the beginning of summer and until the frost kills the plants in autumn. We love the spicy-sweet taste of basil and frequent picking means a lot of fresh growth. Harvesting begins about a month after transplanting when the seedlings are about 8 centimeters high. The first harvest consists in cutting the main stem into a solid set of afteral shoots. This favors well-branched plants, increasing production.

Most basil varieties take 60 to 70 days to go from seed germination to harvestable size. Some varieties, such as Greek basilisks, are even faster to grow and you can start picking only 50-55 days after sowing. Use the information about the days to maturity on the seed packaging or in the seed catalog as a guide for the time of the harvest season.

You will also notice that most varieties of basil begin to bloom in the middle of summer. Flowering is not a bad thing, because bees and other pollinators like delicate flowers. But as soon as a basil plant blooms, the production of new leaves slows down. To delay flowering, use your fingers or garden shears to remove the flower buds from the plants as they form. The fragrant buds are edible and I like to use them as I would use basil leaves.

The best time of day to harvest basil

Is there a better time of day to pick basil? Yes! It is best to harvest early in the morning as soon as the dew is dry, because it is at this time that the leaves contain the largest amounts of essential oils. If you wait until after in the day to harvest the basil, the taste quality will decrease. This is especially important on hot, sunny days because the high temperatures expel the oils in the leaves. When I harvest basil for drying, freezing or large batches of pesto, I always harvest early in the day.

However, if I’m making dinner and I need basil for immediate use in the kitchen, I go out into the garden to cut a few stems. It may not be as tasty as basil harvested early in the day, but it’s still delicious.

Harvesting basil

There are many types and varieties of basil that you can grow and my favorites are Genoese basil, lemon basil, purple basil, cinnamon basil, Thai basil and Greek basil. Below you will find more information about the harvest of some of these different basilicas. Once you have picked the basil, place the stems in a harvest basket, vegetable garden or other container to avoid damaging the leaves.

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